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Top Insights on Social Media for Higher Ed from the 2019 Student E-Expectations Survey

Exclusive Preview of the 2019 Student E-Expectations Survey Part 4: Social Media

This is the 4th and last part of the 4-installment series on the 2019 RNL E-Expectations survey results. This survey focusing on the E-expectations of high school seniors, juniors and sophomores (n=900) will be officially released on July 24. If you read the first part, just skip to the next section without reading the short intro below.

As I explained in the first post of this series, Stephanie Geyer from RNL shared with me the complete survey data set she presented yesterday for the first time at the RNL NC Conference in Nashville, TN.

This annual survey launched in 2005 has become the gold standard of research on the digital expectations and habits of college-bound students.

Top 3 social media sites for students: Instagram, Snapchat & Youtube

You already know college-bound high school students use social media, but did you know Instagram and Snapchat (still!) are the most used social media sites by prospective students?

The younger they are, the more they use Instagram (74% seniors, 85% juniors, 77% sophomores) daily.

The story seems to be a bit different for Snapchat (75% seniors, 83% juniors and 66% sophomores) – which makes me wonder whether the relative deep in usage in the case of sophomores compared to juniors and seniors is a statistic outlier or an indicator that Snapchat isn’t engaging as many new young users as it did before.

Looking at juniors and sophomores, it’s clear that Instagram has become the social media hub for this video-loving generation.

YouTube is a daily stop for more than 69% of the surveyed prospective students no matter how old they are!

Social media platforms used daily by students - 2019 RNL E-Expectations

Tik Tok LogoThis year I’ve suggested to Stephanier Geyer to add, as new options for this question, Discord – a social hub for online gamers I was tipped about by my “in-house teenager” – and TikTok – the relatively new and creative musical short video platform.

While TikTok seems to the be THE hot platform many social media managers in higher education are talking about this summer, daily usage was still pretty low among prospective students, around 5%, at the time of the survey in March 2019.

Watching this new platform is smart, as is claiming your school’s TikTok account, but unless your campus data tells you otherwise (or you want to be there for strategic reasons – branding?), it’s not the time yet to invest a ton of time in TikTok.

Meanwhile, compared to last year’s results (below), Facebook daily usage has increased for this demographic. Last year’s counter-performance could have been an anomaly related to the Facebook crisis du jour at the time of the survey.

Social media platforms used daily by students - 2018 RNL E-Expectations

YouTube, Instagram & Facebook: the best social media platforms for college info

YouTube, Instagram and Facebook are still the best platforms to find information about colleges according to prospective students.

Best social media platforms to find college information for students - 2019 RNL E-Expectations

When compared to last year’s results, Facebook seems to have made a real comeback this year, while Instagram has further increased its attention share when it comes to college info on social media.

This confirms the need to fine tune your school’s game on Instagram if you want to reach prospective students, something I’ve kept repeating for the past 2 years to your colleagues who took the 8-week online course on Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed I teach :-).

Best social media platforms to find college information for students - 2018 RNL E-Expectations

Social media’s role in the college student’s journey

There has always been many debates in higher education about the usefulness of social media in the college search process.

Social media isn’t considered as influential as many other channels (websites, print, email, text, etc.) by prospective students, but its average “influence score” on the 1-to-5 scale of the survey has slighly increased over the past year from 2.87 in 2018 to 3.06 in 2019.

The following brand new — and super relevant — question has also been added this year to help us all understand the role of social media in the student’s journey: “when in your exploration of a college or university would their social media sites be helpful to you?”

When is social media helpful in the college search for prospective students? - 2019 RNL E-Expectations

While the majority of prospective students (58% seniors, 67% juniors and 63% sophomores) identifies social media clearly as a beginning-of-the-student’s-journey channel, three to four out of ten seniors still see it as useful in the other stages of their journey.

As I explained in my post focusing on SEO and digital ads, paid social can also play a key role for colleges as close to two thirds of prospective students have clicked on a college ad they’ve seen on social or on search engines.

Even though Facebook is still the biggest player for paid social, Instagram (another Facebook’s property) is the rising platform with 43% of juniors who have clicked an Instagram ad.

Types of ads students clicked on

Give them the social media content they want!

A picture is worth 1,000 words and this is the type of content the majority of prospective students (59% seniors, 76% juniors and 65% sophomores) want to see.

Video comes second, followed by event invitations for seniors (49%), but student takeovers for juniors (47%) and sophomores (44%).

I suggested the addition of Stories as an option to this question this year to verify a hunch. I’m glad I did as about a third of prospective students (29% seniors, 35% juniors ad 30% sophomores) found this relatively new highly engaging format interesting.

I’ve recently added a new assignment to my 8-week online course on Social Media Marketing for Higher Ed where I ask my students, your colleagues, to do a takeover of Higher Ed Experts’ Instragram account – using Stories.

The idea behind this assignment (check out the Story Highlight from the last course session!) is to get a first-hand experience on how to run Story Student Takeovers on Instagram to do it then with student ambassadors at your school, something definitely worth implementing according to this year’s survey data!

Top types of social media posts for students

What about topics?

If you post about the 10 following topics of interest, you will cover all the basis for a majority of prospective students. So, talk about living in dorms (residence halls), campus social life, attending classes, admissions requirements and paying for college — and you’ll get their attention.

Top topics of interest on social media for students

Want to get up to speed with social media marketing for higher ed?

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With your classmates’ (all working in higher ed) and my help, you will set up all the building blocks of a sound higher ed social media marketing strategy.

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Missed the previous parts about this research?

Check out all the post in this series with insights from the 2019 E-Expectations Survey

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