Digital marketing, despite its potential to reach more customers than any other type of marketing, is seen by most consumers as distracting, intrusive, and inauthentic. This trend has only intensified since COVID-19 shutdowns accelerated the move towards digital-first marketing strategies.
But social media can help break that trend; consumers find social media ads less bothersome, and in many cases even appreciate a brand’s marketing when digital ads are accompanied by a strong organic social media account. A recent study found that online consumers are 61% more likely to convert when they are exposed to an organic social account in addition to paid advertisements.
What is organic social media?
Social media content that account owners do not pay to actively promote. It refers primarily to content associated with an institution's account(s).
Most professional, continuing, and online (PCO) marketing strategies rely heavily on email, paid digital advertising, and web presence, but they tend to neglect the social media platforms where prospects spend their time and expect to see a presence from institutions. However, building a strong organic social strategy can be a low-cost way to overcome digital fatigue and foster relationships with prospective students.
To guide your unit through the process of developing social media content based on today’s consumer preferences, EAB created a step-by-step social media toolkit. Read on for two key recommendations from our work.
Tip #1: Feature user-generated content to combat consumer distrust
Not only do consumers find themselves uninterested in paid advertisements, they also don’t trust them. This trend is particularly pronounced among Gen Z and Millennials, who have become increasingly skeptical in an era of online misinformation.
What is user-generated content?
User-generated content is just what it sounds like—content developed by other users on a social media platform, not by the brand itself.
Consumers do, however, trust content produced by their peers and other consumers, because they see this content as more authentic and less focused on profit. User-generated content is a low-lift option for centering the consumer's voice and can be a valuable addition to your marketing strategy.
Consider these four opportunities to utilize user-generated content in your organic social strategy:
- Posts soliciting user-generated content: Innovative institutions make posts on Instagram or Facebook that request students respond to a prompt and tag the main account. The main account then reposts the content, allowing prospects to hear from current students. See an example from Western Governors University.
- Student testimonial posts: These posts give students the time and space to share their stories and the institution's impact on their life and career. Testimonial posts are also a type of qualitative outcomes marketing, which is effective at convincing skeptical prospects of a program’s value. See an example from Oregon State Ecampus.
- “Day-in-the-life”: These posts allow students to “take over” your account for the day and share their experiences. Many Gen Z prospects note that they turn to Instagram and TikTok for the particular purpose of viewing these posts—they see them as a way to get a sense of the real student experience. See an example from an undergraduate at Toronto Metropolitan University.
- Hiring student workers for social media: Many institutions allow student workers to be the “face” of their social media accounts. This practice is a higher-lift form of user-generated content, but it can build trust with prospects when they see a familiar face share their experiences. See an example from the University of Guelph.
Tip #2: Use humor and video content to grab prospects’ attention
The consumer attention span today is only eight seconds. And consumers forget most of the content they read in text form, especially when reading online. To grab your prospective students’ attention, marketing research has shown that two types of content work best:
- Humor: Humor stimulates the release of neurotransmitters in the brain that term memory. Humor can also help consumers feel a sense of community, which is particularly important for Gen Z. Many institutions are afraid to use humor for fear of seeming unprofessional, but 72% of consumers indicate a preference for purchasing from brands that use humor in their marketing.
- Though just one of many language-learning apps, Duolingo uses humor to grab viewers’ attention, which has propelled them to become the top education app on the Apple app store. One of their employees dresses up as the “Duolingo Owl” and makes TikTok videos that are full of humorous, self-deprecating content. As of April 2023, Duolingo had amassed 6.4 million followers on TikTok.
- Video: Social media is evolving to include more video content to engage audiences. Consumers are 3x more likely to remember information from a video. The University of Florida does a particularly good job of using video on its organic social accounts by profiling interesting research and amplifying the voice of students.
Featuring user-generated content, video, and humor in your social media are key ways to get prospective students’ attention and interest as they scroll past more traditional ads. Need more tips and guidance on social media strategy, content, and ROI? Explore our new social media toolkit.
Develop a social media presence to attract today's adult learners
Explore our toolkit for 12 tools for developing formal social media strategy, creating content, and gauging ROI.