Feb 14, 2018

Social Media & Student Recruitment: A Tactical Guide

by Digital Marketing Institute

According to Pew Research Centre, 7 in 10 people in the US use social media to connect, engage with content, share information and for entertainment purposes.

With such extensive usage, any educational institution that wants to tap into new markets and drive enrollments needs a presence online. While a website is one way to ensure a presence, one of the easiest and most effective ways to engage with and influence students is to be a present and active on social media platforms.

While posting to and advertising on social media may seem simple, there’s an art to using each platform to your advantage. In this article, we explore the top 4 social media networks and how educators can use them - organically and paid - to boost awareness and conversions.



With over 800 million monthly active accounts, Instagram has come a long way since its launch only 8 years ago. A photo-sharing network, Instagram continues to grow particularly amongst a younger age cohort due to its visual nature. So, how can educators use it to attract students?

Organic -

Create rich imagery - When posting to an Instagram account, what students want to see are what a life would be like. Showcase photographs of not only the institution itself and buildings but also the community of students that go there. Also focus on the surrounding areas and things that prospective students would be interested in such as nature parks, art galleries, a bustling restaurant and bar scene or buildings of local interest such as a theatre or cinema.

Contests - Contests are effective on Instagram. Create posts that encourage your followers - and by sharing - their followers to post content such as videos or images that are related to a specific theme or issue with the opportunity to win something. This extends your reach and increases brand awareness.

Hashtags - Instagram has an intuitive algorithm for searching hashtags, so create one that will stay in memory - something quirky or funny. Using a hashtag on posts (5 to 10 is a good benchmark) will help to cement it as something associated with your institution and build an active community around your posts as others start to use it. To track their use you can use the search tool on Instagram.

Showcase students - Don’t be afraid to follow and engage with your students on Instagram. Like their posts, comment when it’s appropriate and when something newsworthy (e.g. a new job or relocation) comes up share their news.

Take a leaf from Loughborough University's book by using engaging imagery to show off graduates.

Loughborough University Instagram


As a visual platform, the best way to advertise is through using images or video. With the age groups most active ranging from 18-49, the audience is perfect for an educator that offers undergraduate and continuous professional development programs.In fact, 60% of people say they discover new products on the platform while 75% take action after being inspired by a post.

The formats you can choose are:

Image Feed Ads - The standard ad format, these appear as single images in a feed. These type of ads don’t come across as ads making them much more clickable and enticing.

Image Story Ads - Similar to feed ads these are for advertising Instagram Stories.

Video Feed Ads/Video Story Ads - These adverts are videos in both feed and Stories form and should be used for any high-quality video assets you have developed.

Carousel Feed Ads - This format allows an advertiser to show a series of images (up to 10) that a user can scroll through and are great for showcasing high-quality visuals.

Canvas Story Ads - A new addition, these are immersive ads that enable users to get a VR experience. A great way to drive engagement, they do require an institution to invest in VR assets.

Like many platforms Instagram allows you to target specific genders, age group, interests, locations etc. This ensures that your ad targets exactly who you want it to. It also provides a custom or lookalike audience and uses Facebook’s demographic data in the ads. A major thing to consider in an ad campaign is to know your goal - something the platform will ask before you spend any money. Consider if it is for brand awareness, reach, conversions or traffic at the start and your ad has more chance of being successful.

Cost-wise, the ads are based on a number of factors that are not revealed to an advertiser but is based on a cost-per-click and cost-per-impressions model. The best way to monitor spending - particularly in the beginning when you are testing the platform - is to set an ad schedule, delivery method and set a bid amount that won’t push your budget over the edge.

Tip - Instagram offers a range of filters and editing tools that can make a photo stand out - even those that are poorly shot. You can even liven flat photos by adjusting perspective or changing warmth and saturation.



As the market leader, Facebook has 2.2 billion monthly active users. With such reach, it makes Facebook the ideal platform to showcase your brand and promote activities associated with your portfolio, events or alumni.

However, in recent years the platform has changed its model to reduce the number of posts shown by brands and instead prioritize posts created by people’s profiles and those that will generate discussion. This makes it trickier for organic branded content to get through meaning you need to be more careful about what is posted on the company page. So, how can you use it to connect with students?

Get creative - When posting on Facebook, think about your audience and what their needs are. Tap into the mindset of prospective students and consider what they may want to know. Then use creative headlines to promote developments or news in an interesting way.

Take Harvard University as an example, a post that showcased their research gained 1.6k likes along with one from Mark Zuckerberg by using clever copy to engage.

Harvard University Facebook post

Pose questions - When posting to your Facebook feed ask questions that your students may know the answer to or want to follow up on. Posting something as simple as ‘where’s your favourite place to study in the XX?’ will encourage people to share and boost the profile of your post.

‘See First’ feature - A feature added 2 years ago allows users to select the pages they want to see first on their newsfeed. Encouraging visitors to your Facebook page will help to improve organic reach.

Explore Facebook Live - With a commitment to video, Facebook has created a new stream that showcases live video. Educators can create live videos that showcase their students, faculty or schools through Q&A discussions to drive engagement.


With over 4 million advertisers to compete with, educators need to strategize to use it as an effective channel.

The main advantages of Facebook are its affordability, range of targeting options and effective analytics platform. The key to using it effectively is to plan each campaign to ensure your ads are optimized. You can do this by:

Defining audience - Armed with comprehensive personas you will know who are trying to target and segment them in order to target them with the most appropriate content. This will not only help click through but also help maintain a robust relevant score’ that will ensure it gets seen on Facebook.

Create eye-catching visuals - Images are key to engagement on Facebook. Get creative and try out different imagery from people to illustration to isometrics and see what performs best.

Use clear CTAs - People don’t have the time or patience to figure out adverts. Ensure all CTAs are clear and linked to value propositions that will add value to a persona’s life.

Look beyond clicks - Along with driving conversions, ads can also add value to your brand. Use them to drive awareness but also engage with your core audience. Likes, comments and shares may be vanity metrics but they can prove valuable in engagement.

Track & Measure - Ultimately your ads are only as valuable as the engagement they get be that conversions or views. Use A/B testing to measure the success of different ads and use ads reporting to see what’s working and create weekly reports that can track performance.

Tip - Ensure your institution is listed in the ‘School Communities’ section as it will make it easier for students to find your page and then join.



According to a study in the journal Innovative Higher Education, universities are failing to make the best use of Twitter and may promote ‘inaccurate’ depictions of themselves. Results indicate that while 79% of posts broadcast information, only 12% issued a call to respond (e.g. retweet) while only 10% directly engaged with another tweet or user.

Organically it can present opportunities to:

Assist with admissions - The beauty of Twitter is its real-time capacity. Just as leading brands use the platform for assisting customers with queries, it can also prove useful to students seeking help. Whether it’s about the admission process itself or a query about an application, Twitter can help connect an institution with a student.

Find a voice - Building an audience on Twitter can help universities or colleges respond to issues that affect the education sector and engage on issues of societal importance such as the #metoo campaign or political developments. In essence, it can give educators a voice.

Promote student life - Using short-form content and media-rich images can provide insight into what it’s like to be a student at your institution. Including students or alumni on a tweet using their handle can drive engagement and promote actions such as sharing to retweeting.

Use hashtags - Just like Instagram, this platform uses hashtags to great effect and with enough force behind a hashtag can ascend to the point of trending, the viral equivalent of a video getting a tweet seen by cohorts and eyes across the globe.


There are 3 types of advertising on Twitter:

Promote tweets - These are tweets with money put behind them to reach a wider audience. Just like regular tweets they can be liked, retweeted etc. and offer a chance to extend the reach of a tweet that has proven popular or driven engagement.

Promoted accounts - A targeted approach, this function allows you to get your account in front of a select audience. Displayed in potential followers timelines 85% of people believe this type of ad helped them discover new brands on Twitter.

Promoted trends - This function allows a brand to promote trends that are the most talked about issues on the network. This drives engagement by promoting the hashtag and prompting discussion as people start to use it.

Like other social networks setting up a campaign is straight-forward but needs to have targeted lists, a set budget, A/B testing and interesting creative with a clear value proposition and CTA.

Tip - Cards can be very successful on Twitter as they provide extra functionality such as website previews or app installs. In fact, Twitter data found that website cards had a 43% higher engagement rate than promoted tweets.


Pinterest logo

With 175 million active users Pinterest is one of the fastest growing social networks. A visual feast it allows educators to showcase their offerings and programs using great imagery. Its demographics are also very interesting with 42% of users being women and the age groups most active are from 18-64 in a high-income bracket with a college education (32%).

Lifetime content - Unlike most social networks the content can be re-shared multiple times as opposed to Facebook and Twitter where posts get lost under new content. Due to its bookmarking nature, content can be pinned and repinned months or even years after posting. What this means is that the content you share on Pinterest can be driving traffic to your site without reposting or refreshing.

Create targeted boards - The great thing about Pinterest is you can create multiple boards that deliver on specific pain points. For example ‘Our Alumni’ would feature alumni working in various fields or for various companies while ‘Campus Tour’ will show off what the campus is like and the amenities.

Pinnable images and descriptions - Posting out of focus or below par photos will get an educator nowhere on Pinterest. The key to its success is using pinnable images that are eye-catching, clever or funny. In addition, strong descriptions are required for SEO so make sure you identify relevant keywords and hashtags.

With 12 boards West Virginia University taps into the lifestyle of the area focusing on mountaineering and the surrounding wilderness along with old school images to showcase its institution. The key is to their success is humor and using eye-catching images that create a connection to the area.

West Virginia Pinterest boards


Like other social networks advertising on Pinterest is pretty simple. The key is to know your objective and audience. With a selection of 5 campaign types to choose from know from the start what you want to achieve from raising awareness to installing an app. Then simply set a budget either by day or by campaign, and set your bid before choosing the pin to promote and links. As with any campaign, monitor the results and be willing to experiment with the copy and imagery to see what works with your audience.

Promoted pins - Exactly the same as a posted pin, it’s one that you put a budget behind. Unlike other platforms, when someone shares a promoted pin on Pinterest it doesn’t show the ‘promoted’ label so shows as organic rather than an ad.

Promoted video pins - Similar to a promoted pin, this is simply a video that is promoted. They appear in search results, the news feed, and in the ‘more like this’ section’.

One-tap pins - Using one-tap pins, users who click are taken straight to the embedded URL such as your website. Bear in mind that each click eats into your budget so bear in mind that people may not expect to go to another page if looking to simply zoom in on the image.

Promoted app pins - These type of adverts include an app icon and install button to enable pinners to download an app without leaving the platform. This cuts out the extra step of having to go to an app store and makes it easier to learn more and purchase.

Cinematic pins - Similar to promoted video pins, these adverts use motion but only move when the user scrolls. If a pinner wants to view the entire video it can simply click.

Tip: If you want to find out what pinners are saving from your boards, cut and paste the URL into your browser: www.pinterest.com/source/www.[yourfavesite].com. This will help you find out what content and imagery people are engaging with.

Social media has huge potential when it comes to engaging with students - past and future. However not every platform may suit your needs or audience, so research is crucial to ensure time or money is not wasted on platforms that don't work. In addition, creating a following with active users on social networks takes time, dedication and experimentation.

Ensure a dedicated individual or team populate and monitor the platforms on a regular basis and trial different formats and messaging to see what resonates. Students want to know what an institution can offer them but also what they stand for. So let the personality of your brand stand out and build a community across social media that can help differentiate your institution from others on the market.

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