Two-thirds of high school students say that social media conversations influence their decision on where to enroll in college. So if you’re not actively leveraging social media for admissions, you’re missing out on new recruits.

Whether your university is big or small, private or public, liberal arts focused or research driven, it’s critical to attract the attention of college-bound students, who will be doling out—on average—between $17,000 and $51,000 a year.

The investment on the admissions team is high as well. As a division of the university that is beholden to some very clear targets, you understand it pays to think like a business—one that needs new customers every single semester. And like any smart business, a clearly defined social media strategy is essential to your efforts.

This guide offers four steps to help you find the right students and nurture them throughout the entire college admissions process:

  1. Structure your admissions team for social media success.
  2. Build a steady following of eligible prospective students.
  3. Create and share content that nurtures interest.
  4. Facilitate a social media friendly application process.

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1. Structure Your Admissions Team for Social Media Success

Is your university’s communications team doing the lion’s share of social posting? That’s a good start for general awareness building and continued engagement from a broad perspective. However, you’ll likely discover language that isn’t speaking directly to prospective students.

Build your admissions team a social presence of its own across platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Pinterest). Below is an example of how UW-Madison’s Admissions Team maintains their own Instagram presence.

Don’t sell yourself short either by thinking that only the biggest universities need a designated social media presence for their admissions staff. If you can take advantage of a separate profile, you should.

Once you’ve picked the right platforms and created accounts for the admissions team, make sure everyone understands the objectives. Get your staff set up with access to your pages and social management tool, and train them thoroughly. Then, encourage active participation.

2. Build a Steady Following of Eligible Prospective Students

Now that you’ve built a social environment where prospective students can engage and you have thought through how your team will interact with them, it’s time to build a community of strong leads. Here’s how:

Discover Who Is Reaching out to Your School

Find out who is already reaching out to your school on social media by doing some quick searches for your name. Bonus points if those students are already reaching out to the school’s main channels with questions on the application process.

Moving forward, your team running your university’s main brand channels refer prospective students to your new admissions handles.

Monitor Social Media for School Mentions

People discussing you on social won’t always tag you in their posts. That’s why it’s a good idea to monitor for when your school isn’t mentioned directly on your page. For instance, your admissions team could also monitor for phrases such as “applying to NYU,” “Northwestern admissions” or “UCLA acceptance rates.”

For example, the tweet below shows someone incredibly excited to get accepted to the University of Illinois at Chicago without actually tagging the page.

This would be a really amazing tweet for the admissions team to interact with if they were able to find it.

These would be interested people with whom your team should foster relationships. Keyword monitoring in Sprout makes this process efficient.

Monitor Social For “Brand Adjacent” & Education Phrases

How about prospective students who are undecided about even attending college? With intent to act, these are important relationships to build. The prospects may not mention your school by name (or even any school by name), but they’re talking around the category.

Try monitoring social media for keywords such as “best colleges,” “best schools applications,” “great universities to attend” and other brand adjacent phrases that are typical of people starting the college selection process.

Above is an example of prospective students mentioning “where to apply to school.” Simply following these individuals could get them look at your school.

Pro tip: Add additional layers of filtering to your searches, such as location filters near your university, to find even better candidates. This can be done with a social media monitoring tool.

3. Create & Share Content That Nurtures Interest

Every university boasts unique characteristics. Make sure you showcase yours across your social platforms. Use media—images, infographics, videos and testimonials—to create interesting, useful content that will aid in the decision-making process.

Do You Have a Beautiful Campus?

Show off your campus through pictures of storied buildings, handsome statues and secret study spots that students will have the joy of experiencing.

Are You Known for Your Sports Program?

Highlight recent box scores, pictures of your team in action or tailgating videos.

Does Your School Have a Rich History?

If your institution has deep roots, share some of those off to show students the kind of organization they’re joining.

A recent report from the Word of Mouth Marketing Association shows that 81 percent of US consumers are influenced by their friend’s social media recommendations. Take advantage of user-generated content to shape your story. Retweet and share posts that have a positive message about your university. If someone posts about being accepted to your college, why not retweet it for all to see?

4. Facilitate a Social Media Friendly Application Process

All your social media efforts will be in vain if it isn’t easy to apply. To ensure prospective students understand what next step to take, include a link to your admissions website in your social media profile and call attention to this link frequently around application deadlines.

Furthermore, consider the life cycle of prospective students as they interact with your school—what information is needed at each stage?

  • Inquiry
  • Application
  • Admission
  • Enrollment

Final Review

The decision on where to attend college is both practical and emotional. Perhaps the student is interested in one of your academic programs. Maybe their parents went to your school. Or it could be that the student has an affinity for your sports team.

The more you highlight these assets while delivering necessary information around dates and deadlines, the more likely you are to bring in the right students at the right time.

As students gear up to make that big decision, and you work to shape the ideal freshmen class, make sure you’re providing an exceptional social experience—on campus as well as online.

Create a Sense of Urgency

Let’s face it, high school students may not have the most developed time-management skills. Frequent deadline reminders will encourage them to plan ahead, manage the process and submit their materials on time. Consider it a crash course in college itself.

Distribute FAQ documents and resources.

Social media runs 24/7. Your team, however, does not (though sometimes it might feel that way). Post documents on your social channels that answer common questions about the admissions process. Self-service tools can be more efficient for prospective students and of great relief to your team.

Host Live Chats to Add Context

Set aside regular times to host live Twitter or Facebook chats with interested students. It’s best to plan topics and announce themes in advance so that students come prepared and you are able to guide the conversation.

Coach the Students Through the Process

Social media allows prospective students to interact in real time with admissions representatives. The experience you create here, like the one you provide in person, should be welcoming. If students feel overwhelmed in any way, they may opt out of your social media all together and, with it, the application process.

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About Sprout Social for Higher Education

Sprout Social provides social media engagement, publishing and analytics tools for leaders in higher education, including Marquette University, Oklahoma State University, Seneca College, The Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania and Yale University.

A powerful platform for communication, Sprout enables colleges and universities to more effectively manage their channels, collaborate across teams and offer an exceptional student and alumni experience. Headquartered in Chicago, Sprout is a Twitter Certified Product, Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer and Google+ Pages API Partner.

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