Social Media and Student Trends – Where are they headed?

Did you know you have thousands of secret admirers? They are your prospective students and they are stalking you and anyone who goes to your college to see whether or not it is a good fit.

While the digital college search is “old news” for some, many admissions and marketing offices are still trying to find the sweet spot with the right mix of new and old recruitment tactics.

After analyzing the responses from a 12,000 high school student sample size, we can safely come to the conclusion that these “newer channels” are no longer an experiment. They are now a fundamental part of the college research and decision making process.

Introducing the 2013 Social Admissions Report

In 2012, we received responses from 7,000 college-bound high school students on how they use social media in their daily lives and college search process. According to these students, Facebook was both the #1 social network they used everyday (by far) and also the #1 social network they used to research colleges and universities.

Since so many of you asked us to continue the survey, we’ve now updated the report with a sample of 4,000 students, who were surveyed in February of 2013. Be sure to sign up for the webinar on Wednesday, April 24th and share your input on my 3 key takeaways for admissions and marketing leaders today.

1. Social Media is not a trivial part of your marketing efforts

According to our students, 75% of the class of 2013 is using social media to make their enrollment decision. This is up a whopping 36% from the class of 2012, and while this may not be a 100% representative sample of the entire student population, this response was the biggest shift found in the survey, which was up 36% from last year.

It was interesting to see that while 75% of students said they used social media as a resource, only 50%  reported liking or following a college on social media, which brings me to the next key takeaway.

2. “Social Media” isn’t necessarily about your University Page or Profile

While students from our survey did find news and updates from their prospective college on social media helpful, they were also interested in connecting with current students, admissions counselors, and their fellow admitted students.

For example, only 4% of students said a college’s Twitter account was extremely influential. 32% said conversations they had with current students that attended the school were extremely influential.

While this may be a tough pill to swallow for traditional higher ed marketers, it is the reality of the world we live in. At the Ed Social Media summit in Boston this month, I gave these tips for educators looking to maximize their effectiveness with social media.

3. Facebook is still king, but other networks are growing

The last, and perhaps most important trend we found in the survey, is that students are expanding their network usage beyond Facebook and into other visually dominated mediums, such as Instagram and Pinterest.

Now, it’s important to note that our survey respondents were a majority female, but none-the-less, this breakdown of social network usage comparing 2012 and 2013 respondents shows a growing popularity of different social networks.

How should colleges and universities respond?

This is the key question that must be answered in the coming years. Is it sustainable for colleges to create a presence across every social network a student might be on?

The strategy of “going where the students are” has been touted by practitioners and consultants alike, however I’ve always been skeptical that this is the right approach. For one, this way of thinking leads you off focusing on various social networks instead of focusing on your student audience and what needs they have. And if you aren’t meeting a definable, measurable student need, then I’m not sure what you are doing in X network in the first place.

Sure, there is a place for experimentation, but when a new app such as ‘Snapchat’ goes viral amongst students, does your university follow suit and communicate with them there?

While there is no easy answers to these tough questions, these are the ones we must be asking.

Be sure to join us next week for our webinar releasing the full student responses and follow along with the hashtag on Twitter: #SocAdm13.


  • Joseph Dalfonso

    Great stuff, as usual.