3 Ways Gen-Z Can Help Universities with Content Marketing


Social Media Week

How can universities be more inclusive of Generation Z voices in their marketing and communications efforts? Here are three simple ways to start.

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Increasing data and anecdotes show that Generation Z is not only the most technologically savvy, but most brand-aware generation in history. The New York Times referred to Gen Z as “aware of their personal brand.” AdWeek noted their “strong sense of personal brand.” The Chicago Tribune pointed out that not only are they personal brand-conscious, they’re innovative and engaged with social issues — “their outlook towards making a difference in the world is outstandingly positive.”

Higher education marketing and communications professionals have a built-in advantage over peers in other industries: an ever-changing supply of students who are always willing and able to give a comprehensive pulse check on how well messaging, outreach and social media strategies deployed by universities actually resonates.

But what if, instead of simply trying to measure or gauge their responses to messaging, these Generation Z students actually played a greater role in the creation and deployment of marketing and social media content?

As university recruitment efforts increasingly focus on Gen Z’ers, why not examine how their combination of entrepreneurial spirit, desire to help and digital comfort can enhance institutions’ ability to create honest, inclusive and compelling marketing, communication and social media content that truly influences this key population of current and future students? Here are three ways to get started:

1. Loosen the reigns on your social media accounts

I know, it seems scary. After spending years finally convincing university administration of the need for comprehensive social media policies and devoted staff members to manage, implement and police those best practices, am I advocating opening that back up to the Wild West of everyone doing whatever they want on social?

Not exactly. But there are two good reasons to consider a less stringent approach:

Bandwidth: Many university staffs, particularly at smaller universities, simply don’t have the bandwidth and flexibility to change and adapt to different social platforms as rapidly as the landscape changes. Who has time for SnapChat, right? Well… unfortunately, you probably should’ve found time in 2014 or so.

Knowledge: Simply put, younger generations understand emerging technology faster and better than anyone. Including student voices in social media content and strategy development allows universities to be more representative of the dynamic and diverse voices that make up their student body while sharing a wider range of anecdotes and individual experiences with future students.

At a conference in Boston in April of 2016, Catherine Cioffi, Marketing & Public Relations Director at Mercy College, discussed allowing students to do “Instagram takeovers” of the university’s official Instagram account.

For Mercy, a university that prides itself on the large number of first generation college graduates it produces, the ability to share individual student experiences is invaluable. A recent student takeover allowed followers to go behind-the-scenes with the university’s Spirit Squad, promote the student government association of which she was a member and even sharing information about traveling to campus with fellow and prospective students.

The benefits of allowing students the ability to not only have input into content strategy, but control elements of it, are numerous. It adds authenticity and nuance to a university’s voice that a public relations or marketing team couldn’t possibly create on its own.

2. Use your resources in support of students

My university — Kettering University in Flint, Michigan, is a nationally ranked STEM and business university that requires all students to alternate terms between traditional classroom/lab education and professional work terms in which they work in paid co-op positions with a wide range of industry partners. Consequently, since working in professional science and engineering jobs is required starting as freshmen, the university attracts students who are career-focused and driven.

On our campus, yearly job fairs where students interview and find co-op jobs are extremely important. Students prepare by learning interview skills, preparing professional resumes, finding references and dressing their best to meet potential employers.

In 2016, our marketing and communications department added an additional service to this event — professional photography. With students already dressed their best, with many already updating LinkedIn profiles prior to the job fair, it was the perfect environment to offer a professional photographer to take free headshots for them to use on their social media profiles.

We also make our graphic designers available to student organizations to help make their marketing materials look their best and devote staff time to covering community service projects and “side hustles” of our students.

All of those efforts are aimed at accentuating the unique qualities of Gen Z while simultaneously offering a value-add — content that they can deploy individually that helps promote their individual brand.

3. Just let them write already!

As a higher education communications professional, I often find myself envious of colleagues in other departments across my university who get to play a more pivotal role in working with and educating students. But there’s an easy way PR and marketing departments can take a more proactive role: by letting students create their own content for the university while playing an advisory role in helping them cultivate their own unique voices.

The University of Buffalo features a wide range of student bloggers who share their thoughts on everything from getting accepted to college to adding a fitness regimen into a busy academic schedule to gaining leadership skills. Depauw University in Indiana features students writing about everything from weekly recaps of campus news from their perspective to study abroad experiences all over the world.

The point of all of it is simple: student experiences are what matter the most when future students consider what college is the right fit for them.

So if student experience is the point, that should lead to a very simple question in higher education content development: would one of our current students share this? If the story is about them or involved them in the creative process, the answer is invariable and resoundingly ‘yes!’

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Patrick Hayes

Director of Communications, Kettering University

patrick_hayes

Patrick Hayes is the Director of University Communications at Kettering University in Flint, Michigan. He's a former journalist with MLive.com in Michigan and has contributed to ESPN.com, the Detroit Free Press, SB Nation, Huffington Post, The Classical, SLAM Magazine, Diversity Journal and Belt Magazine.



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