By Trevor Waddington, Principal, Truth Tree
In my last year as an admission director, a parent told me their soon-to-enroll kindergartener’s input was a major reason they chose my school. The child’s main reason: Our playground was the best.
This isn’t an uncommon occurrence.
More and more, students are “driving the bus” and have influence on which schools to apply to and which ones they want to attend.
According to the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, parents are increasingly deferring to their children’s preferences, including areas that have a long-term impact on their lives.
And with an abundance of information online, learning about your school is as easy as type (or talk), scroll, click.
So, how can your school get on the radar of students searching, and how can you get them excited about your program?
How Teens, Tweens, and Younger Search Online
While students may not shop for schools in the same intentional way parents do, they do absorb content and are always aware of opportunities for a “greener pasture”. If your school creates quality content on popular channels, you’ll be top of mind when students are shopping with intent.
When it comes to research, teenagers, tweens, and younger children tend to:
- Rely more heavily on social media as a starting place than adults.
- Use their phones almost exclusively (make sure your website is mobile-friendly!).
- Are drawn to visual content.
- Use informal language and abbreviations, JSYK.
How to Get Noticed by Prospective Students
To enroll best-fit students, you need to adopt a student-specific recruitment strategy. And yes, I’m talking to you as well, elementary school admarcommer.
Where to begin?
How about with these five steps?
- Determine where your students spend time online.
- Decide if those platforms are accessible to schools and if they are mission-aligned (or at least mission-adjacent).
- Brainstorm the kind of content that your target students might consume.
- Determine if the content ideas mesh with your school’s mission and ethos.*
- Create engaging, mission-appropriate, scroll-stopping content.
Step five might seem like a big hurdle, but it’s worth it. Compelling content that viewers can relate to will have an impact on your enrollment goals, both by attracting new prospects and keeping current students engaged.
The key here is to create memorable content that stands out.
The average teen spends 4.8 hours on social media per day and can consume over 1,000 pieces of content during that time. That’s a lot of content to compete against. So next time you’re recording a video or writing a social media post, ask yourself: “Is this piece of content one in one thousand?” Will users stop and look?
To make sure it is, look to your source: your current students.
Your happiest students attend your school for many reasons. It’s up to you to learn what puts a skip in their step and showcase for prospective students.
McCallie School, a boys’ day and boarding school in Chattanooga, TN knows what makes their students smile. They have several YouTube videos that highlight what’s going to excite future enrollees.
- Here’s a peer-to-peer video with reasons to love the school that might fly under the radar of the adults at your school – “Why I love McCallie”
- What student doesn’t want a cool teacher? But what makes a teacher a rockstar in the eyes of students must be authentically peer-driven.
Content that excites
My horse-obsessed 12 and 9-year-old daughters love the YouTube channel, Harlow and Family. This equestrian-themed channel frequently posts content on all things horses and boasts 487,000 subscribers. If you work at a school with an equestrian team and want more riders, content like this can be a powerful method for attracting new prospects.
Content that excites can also be a smart PPC tactic. Instead of starting a channel to rival Harlow and Family, consider targeting the channel and similar horseback riding ones.
Want more musicians? Target Marty Music’s Channel, which teaches guitar and has 4 million subscribers.
Want more middle school girls? There are more skincare channels aimed at middle school girls than you can shake a stick at on YT, TikTok, etc.
In addition to branded and user-generated content, some schools may benefit by having student or alumni influencers create content. Search for mission-aligned influencers who promote products and services, ideally (though not necessarily) related to your school’s various offerings and programs, or education broadly. Influencers can promote your school to their large network of followers, generating new leads for you without much effort on your part.
One of the most popular influencers impacting Louisiana State University’s admission numbers is Olivia “Livvy” Dunne. The gymnast-turned-model has over 4.6 million followers on Instagram and 7.8 million followers on TikTok. The result of her influencer marketing? A 59% increase in applications–the largest increase the school has seen in a decade.
Looking to recruit influencers to your school but need help figuring out where to start? Take a look at 18 Top Kid Influencers Making a Name for Themselves.
Where To Reach Your Target Student Audience
For two decades, schools have used Facebook as the primary social platform for organic and paid marketing, and for good reason: it’s where parents were then and still are now. But now that prospective students play a bigger part in the search and selection process, innovative schools are branching out to new platforms. While Facebook is still the main hub for prospective parents, students are more active on platforms like Instagram, X (formerly known as Twitter), YouTube, and TikTok.
According to Pew Research Center, the graphic below shows where teens are now and where they used to be.
It’s true that social media marketing is becoming more demanding with the rollout of new platforms, but your strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are a few resources to help:
- TikTok Advertising For School Marketing
- Should Schools Be Marketing on Reddit?
- TikTok Ads For School Marketing: Webinar
- Top Social Media Marketing Trends for Private Schools
- Facebook and Instagram Ads For School Marketing–Private School Ads
Let’s unpack the top four social media platforms you should consider when marketing to prospective students:
As presented earlier, young people search differently than adults. After discovering a school, they start contacting peers. The preferred way to do that isn’t texting; it’s Snapping. Therefore, having a presence on the platform is an important way to recruit students.
One way to leverage Snapchat is to leverage the geofilters and lenses students can use when visiting your campus or attending school-related events. You can also create a quiz that helps students discover their interests and potential career path. And if your school has offerings that can help students on that path, even better.
And, of course, you can use your top content for Snapchat ads via Snapchat for Business.
It might not be the first or second place a prospective student visits when researching schools, but it’s a given they’ll visit your channel at some point. When they do, you’ll want to have a robust collection of theme-based content for them to view. For your school marketing team, that means having a consistent posting schedule in place.
Aside from creating your own content, advertising is an important part of YouTube marketing. You’ll want to advertise on other channels that align with your content, and target users based on keywords and topics. For example, a school’s equestrian team would benefit from advertising on a channel like Harlow and Family, because the majority of its users are already qualified leads.
Short videos are highly effective at engaging new viewers, especially younger students with shorter attention spans. That’s why TikTok is one of the most popular apps among 10-29 year olds, and why schools should consider directing some of their student-centered marketing there. The beauty of TikTok, aside from targeting your ideal students, is that you can make one piece of content and repurpose it in YouTube shorts (the equivalent to a TikTok video) with little to no modifications needed.
A platform that may fly under your digital marketing radar is Twitch. Popularized as a live streaming platform for gamers, Twitch has branched out with its content offerings, including arts and crafts, music production, cooking, and more.
Your school can use Twitch to stream organic content, like a virtual open house or campus tour. You can also run ads in a similar fashion to YouTube, including demographic targeting and targeting specific channels or content.
Disclaimer: If you use Twitch for your school’s marketing, be vigilant! “There is a pretty well-grounded history of previously friendly channels having sudden controversies that could affect your school’s brand,” shares Lael Kittle, a gamer and Lead SEO Specialist at Truth Tree.
- Schedule ads at the right time: Students are in school during the day. While they surely sneak in some entertainment time on their phones, it’s unlikely they’re researching schools. Therefore, prioritize your ad spend for the hours between 4 PM – 1 AM (for boarding schools, adjust for time zones).
- Create navigation paths: When a prospective student visits your website or clicks through to your landing page, the experience needs to connect with them. However, most website content is directed at parents. #Hero-positioning. That’s why you need two websites in one. Upon entering your site, ask them: Are you a prospective student or parent? Their click will send them on a journey that speaks their language and provides information that’s meaningful to them.
Does developing a social media strategy overwhelm you and your team? We’ve worked with over 100 schools to amplify their digital footprint with many of those leaning on our expertise in social media marketing. While organic social media and paid social content go hand in hand, reach out if your school could benefit from having our team on deck.