Is Gen Z still on Facebook? Social media tips for university recruiters

By Ashlee-Maree Courtney-Eman

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Born between the mid-90s and early 2000s, Generation Z (otherwise known as "Gen Z") is currently the world's largest generational group, representing approximately 32% of the world's population. Now maturing into adulthood, Gen Z is one of the most important demographics for university recruiters today.

Selecting the 'right' marketing platform can be integral to successfully reaching Gen Z, but determining which platform offers the best fit can be tricky in a sea of numerous applications and platforms.

As digital natives born into a world of technology, there is undoubtedly one answer when it comes to reaching Gen Z– social media. The average Gen Zer uses social media for almost three hours per day, with more than 50% connected to the internet for more than 10 hours per day. With such a large window of time available, there is great potential for marketers wanting to capture new students throughout the day, with numerous social media platforms and applications available for promotion. But with so many, how do you pick the right one?

1. Boost your social media activity. 

While Facebook is the world's most popular social media platform with 2.38 billion active monthly users, you are more likely to reach millennials (aged 25-34 years) than Gen Z. In fact, Gen Z is not only using Facebook less than other demographic groups, but current users are now showing signs of switching off completely. Recent polls have shown as much as 30% of Gen Z respondents have decided to stop using Facebook. Considered by some as "irrelevant to youth culture" and simply "not cool" to others, Facebook may not be the most effective platform for reaching Gen Z students today. More popular platforms such as YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram and the rapidly growing Tiktok could prove a better fit, especially as their user bases increase with more potential students.

TikTok is an excellent demonstration of the power of Gen Z, experiencing exponential growth over the past year and a user base comprising of 41% Gen Z. Boasting 500 million active monthly users, TikTok has now accomplished a feat that earlier took Instagram six years to reach. Focusing on sharing bite-sized interactive videos, TikTok is perfectly designed to match Gen Z's characteristically short attention spans. Early adopters such as the University of Florida are already using TikTok as part of their strategy to deliver campus news and generate buzz for upcoming events. Expect to start hearing more about TikTok within a higher education context as adoption by Gen Z grows. .

2. Be creative: share experiences not marketing messages.

Despite being ranked 6th globally behind Facebook, Instagram has become the natural home of Gen Z. With 64% of Gen Z using Instagram daily, Instagram offers enormous potential for brands wanting to interact directly with their audience. 45% report using it for brand discovery, making it an essential tool for enhancing brand awareness. Universities can benefit from using Instagram (and Snapchat too) to showcase their best visual assets to a large audience − campus and people! These platforms can be highly effective at sharing engaging and unique experiences with potential students, rather than transmitting institutional messages to a passive audience. 

Before going live, you must carefully consider your marketing strategy for Gen Z against more traditional strategies. Gen Z is a creative generation, considered more creative than generations before, weaving an arsenal of interactive, user-generated content applications into their everyday life. Appreciating unique content and storytelling far more than any traditional marketing methods, Gen Z requires a different approach than perhaps has been used before. Schools such as Vancouver Island University have taken the need for this in their stride through the incorporation of unique user-generated content into the core of their recruitment campaigns, boosting brand awareness and saving resources through viral power of social media.

3. Be authentic, not perfect.

While picture-perfect glossy branding and marketing has been the norm in the past, authenticity is highly valued by Gen Z. While millennials are known to post flattering selfies on their social media, Gen Z is more likely to opt for natural-looking content that appears untouched. This extends to their support of brands, where they also like to see "real-life experiences and better engagement from the brands they interact with online, rather than passive scrolling."

Universities should carefully plan their communications accordingly, focusing on messaging that is on-brand with your institution and does not come across as "selling it." Focus on sharing experiences, not messages and inspiring potential students about your institution. Gen Z prides themselves on realism and does not appreciate a hard pitch.

Focus on boosting authentic everyday voices if you plan to use Instagram as part of your strategy. If you use influencers, this is very important, with 63% of Gen Z preferring to hear endorsements from their "peers or everyday folks," not celebrities. The most important conclusion here to remember is to "keep it real" when marketing to Gen Z.

4. Share commitment to social causes.

Gen Z is highly committed to political and social causes, tending to be cynical towards corporation and big institutions. 94% believe in companies needing to work towards improving society and the environment, with 89% preferring to buy from companies that demonstrate active support towards a cause (Cone).

Many universities using their social media accounts can benefit from showing their support for the local community and social causes, especially when significant events occur. Displaying a social conscience as an institution and being proactive on social media can result in huge pay-offs with Gen Z.

5. Enhance the user experience.

As digital natives, Gen Zers are discerning users of media and have little time for outdated methods of communication and marketing. Schools with outdated websites and a lack of social media could be potentially missing out on students by merely not updating their online presence.

According to Forbes, more than 60% of Gen Z will not use websites or apps that are difficult to navigate or load, switching off quickly. If you haven't recently, or are in dire need of an update, considering refreshing essential graphics and messaging as part of your online strategy. If your university website is difficult to navigate, consider investing in changes to make it more user-friendly. Also, if you rely on your website as the primary contact point for students, consider extending your online presence further to other platforms. Remember that your audience will often look for multiple sources of information when researching their studies, so ensure you have different channels available for students to discover information about your university. By simply spreading your message out, you can significantly boost the authenticity of your institution to potential students.

6. Get ready, Gen Alpha is coming next.

With Gen Z now at university, it will not be long before Gen Alpha (born between 2011 and 2025) will start filling out applications. Already a megaforce, this generation is likely to expect even quicker responsiveness and multi-platform communication at a rate that we probably cannot even comprehend today. Thankfully, this challenge is still years away, but we certainly look forward to pondering the futuristic state of university student recruitment at that time. Until then, Gen Z presents a great opportunity for student recruiters to increase their outreach, making social media an important tool in ensuring the success for any school or university wishing to recruit students from this demographic. 

Topics: Social Media for Higher Education

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