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Marketing to today's adult learner can be cheaper than you think with these 3 social media tactics

August 5, 2022, By Davis Cousar, Research Analyst

It’s no secret that the market for professional, continuing, and online education is in a state of flux. From COVID-19 to labor market challenges to changing ideas about online learning, high levels of uncertainty make it difficult for professional, continuing, and online (PCO) units to predict prospect behavior.

One impactful way for PCO units to address this uncertainty is to invest in their brand. Brand investments can frame your institution as a top destination for prospects who are “soft searching” for programs and waiting to enroll until the time is right for them.

Social media is one of the most important spaces where consumers expect to engage with brands, but it can be difficult to align content with current online trends. Social media users are increasingly distrustful of curated ads and prefer to find authentic, personalized, and educational information on their own. To increase your college’s brand awareness for today’s social media user while minimizing spend amidst limited marketing budgets, consider adopting these three tactics.

Gen Z's preferred search tool


of Gen-Z prefers searching on TikTok or Instagram to Google, according to Insider.

Tactic 1: Show students’ “day-in-the-life” videos

Post student takeover reels to foster connection with online-savvy prospects.

Millennials and Gen-Zers have a clear preference for authentic online content that doesn’t hide the less-than-glamorous aspects of life. By letting students “take over” your accounts to share their day-to-day experiences, you can provide low-cost content that resonates with younger generations.

Colorado State University routinely posts student takeovers on TikTok. Here, they show a student’s average weekday, where the student takes short videos of themselves in class and with friends. These videos provide context that helps prospective students imagine life as a Colorado State student.

There aren’t yet many institutions that share online or adult students’ “day-in-the-life,” but individual TikTok users often receive high engagement with these posts, indicating potential popularity with prospects. Here is an online student “day-in-the-life” video that a Loyola Chicago student posted on their own account. This particular post shows that online student life is engaging but not overwhelming, an appealing quality to Gen-Zers who are not enticed by “the grind.”

“Day-in-the-life” dos and don’ts


Promote takeovers by many different students so that prospects can see a range of experiences and perspectives about your programs.


Ask students to hide the difficult parts of their day. Gen-Z views slightly imperfect content as more reputable than professionally curated content.

Tactic 2: Share alumni success stories

Present the successes of students from a range of backgrounds to show prospects that your programs are a good fit for non-traditional students.

Personalized marketing is a best practice across industries, but for PCO units, it can feel like personalization done well demands cost-prohibitive software or technical staff.

However, a no-cost alternative to advanced personalization is to profile a range of student experiences across media platforms, and one way to do this is through sharing alumni success stories. By sharing these stories, you can show prospects that your institution facilitates success for “students like them.”

Southern New Hampshire University uses this technique to illustrate a non-traditional pathway, showcasing a student who went from Broadway to a Bachelor’s. University of Arizona Online profiles an adult student’s journey in this post and includes a link to a full profile in their bio. Both of these stories show prospects that their own non-traditional pathway could also lead to continuing their own educations.

Student success story dos and don’ts


Let your audience know that they can head to your website for more details about the profiled students and the programs they completed. This can drive web traffic from prospects.


Continually feature only students with a similar background. Share several different alumni success story posts to match the diversity of students represented in your programs.

Tactic 3: Share educational content online

Post engaging, educational content to provide value to prospects during the search process.

Each user on TikTok and Instagram has access to a personalized “for-you” page that shows content based on user interests. By collaborating with faculty to craft short, educational posts about their research, your content could land on the for-you pages of individuals who are interested in the fields where your programs excel. Use these posts to provide academic background to a current trend, share an interesting fact of the day, or profile the research a faculty member is conducting.

The future of online content


of online content will be in video format in 2022, according to Forbes.

The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health posts fun, educational content. Check out this informational post they made about the hot dog’s threat to public health. It does a great job of connecting a cultural phenomenon to the program’s academic expertise.

The Yale School of Public Health also shares helpful educational content. Here they share a post about heat-related illness. This post appeals to a broad audience because it includes a fun animal meme, shares informative content, and provides text in both Spanish and English.

Educational content dos and don’ts


Use hashtags to drive increased engagement from people who are already following certain content on social media platforms.


Worry about making your videos short. TikTok recently expanded maximum video length to 10 minutes, and longer videos (over 30 seconds) with helpful information are becoming more popular. This video explains the shift.

Davis Cousar headshot

Davis Cousar

Research Analyst

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