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Recruiting Intelligence

Peer Check: How Edu Marketers Use Social to Engage



Don’t blame Gen Z, but their insatiable appetite for social media can create quite the content grind on the backend. We hear it from our clients. Why must engaging social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, which afford marketers all the playfulness and flexibility you could ever want, require so much time and attention? It’s the lament of the modern marketer. 

Content creation is not time intensive. You can use ChatGPT and crank out reams of it in minutes. (As if!) 

See last week's post for our perspective on the use of ChatGPT for enrollment marketing (or any marketing).

Engaging, authentic, effective content creation is highly time-intensive. 

Our advice: stay calm and scroll on. Sometimes, you just need a little inspiration from others who are playing in your same space.  

Opportunities to Meet In Person 

The Intead team is gearing up for some amazing presentations and we hope you can join us. 

  • 2024 AIEA Annual Conference in DC, Feb 18-21, 2024
  • ICEF North America in Niagara Falls, Canada, May 1-3, 2024
  • NAFSA 2024 Annual Conference and Expo in New Orleans, May 28-31, 2024

Let us know if you’ll come share a cup of coffee and a conversation about all things global and digital (info@intead.com) 

So today, we invite you to pause for a quick competitor looksee. We’re not talking about fast-moving trends – those fleeting fads are here one day and gone the next, literally. Remember Wednesday’s (Jenna Ortega’s) dance on TikTok? 22 billion views in 2023. Loved it, right? Not so much on anyone’s mind today, though. 

You can always check TikTok’s Trending Intelligence for the latest. Instead, let’s focus on more lasting ways to use social media in your digital marketing. And yes, we will be checking on what your peers are up to. 

So, read on to get an edge in your social media strategy and draw inspiration (or perhaps critique) from a few real-world applications.  

What Makes Gen Z Tick on Social? 

A recent eMarketer survey of US teens and adults aged 15 to 26 shows the favorite activities of Gen Z across all social media platforms to be: 

  • Watching videos (72.4%) 
  • Watching stories (56.7%) 
  • Liking/commenting on content (54.2%) 
  • Direct messaging (53.3%) 
  • Viewing creator/influencer content (48.6%) 

As for their favored platforms, YouTube wins with 92% of US users aged 16 to 25 actively engaged, followed by Instagram with 85%, TikTok with 78%, and Snapchat with 74% (source: Statista). 

What the Most Successful Edu’s Share on Social 

Zoom in closer to home and you’ll find that edu institutions show clear preferences in how to approach social media. As per a Rival IQ analytics report, the top 3 higher edu social media trends are:  

  • Campus content. It's not just about academics. (Was it ever?) Gorgeous campus landscapes and compelling shots of colleges nationwide are grabbing attention, especially on visual-heavy platforms like Instagram and TikTok. These posts strike a chord with both the campus community and those beyond. Certainly a great part of your content plan, but not enough on its own.  
  • Celebrating student achievements. Social media's essence is to share and celebrate, isn't it? (We’ll ignore the haters. Not worth the energy). Posts that spotlight student accomplishments are not only engaging but also serve as great testimonials for prospective students. These posts tend to get a lot of shares. Because we all want to share the love.
  • Unique TikTok strategies. TikTok’s trends change at the speed of Gen Z’s attention. Institutions keeping pace will eek the most out of this platform and be rewarded with authentic student connection, virtually and otherwise. Can you get your provost to do Wednesday’s dance? OK, maybe we need some other options. But that would be fun to watch, are we right?

Curious about the institutions leading the charge in these trends? Following are some standout higher education social media accounts that you might want to explore. This list is a result of a Rival IQ survey of all D1 institutions on social media between June 2022 and May 2023 on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter (now begrudgingly X). The engagement ranking assigned was based on data and a weighted formula. Top-ranking institutions demonstrated high engagement rates with average or better audience size and posting volumes.

Bet you'll be surprised at who made this list:

engagement ratesSource: Rival IQ

Here’s a useful task: in your downtime (ha!), check out what these universities are up to online to see what makes them trend-worthy. Or delegate that to someone on your team. Have them catalog the content themes/trends that appear and could potentially be relevant given your institution’s unique value propositions.

Inspired Social Media Among Higher Edu Institutions 

We promised to deliver IRL (ehem, in real life) campaigns to help spur ideas. Here are a few US university social media pushes we think will do just that. Some have amassed a lot of views, others less so. All worth a look.

Intead's awards for Creative Engagement go to:

Quick Connect to Career  

Columbia College Chicago’s Cinema and Television Arts Department was a recent top performing ad on TikTok for the higher ed niche. Why? Engaging, student-focused video (short like we discussed in this TikTok series - part 1 and part 2) got right to the point: get hands-on experience in year 1, build your network, graduate career-ready. Then they sent viewers to a landing page where they could learn more and engage.  

Get Hands-On Experience 

  • Followers – 24K 
  • Likes – 2.3K 
  • Comments - 7  
  • Video length – 0:12 

Inspire to Aim Higher 

Sometimes your social media strategy is not about the number of views, but about how convincing you are for the viewers you target. CIEE tapped into the power and drama of becoming the change you want to see with Aspire to Be a Frederick Douglass Global Fellow. An exceptional video that explores the impact effective leaders can have on social justice movements. We say that because it’s true, not just because the Intead team produced it. ;)  

  • Followers - 1.76K 
  • Likes - 36 
  • Comments - 1  
  • Video length - 5:45 

Feel All the Feels 

While many are still dabbling with TikTok, the University of South Carolina is all in. They aren’t afraid to share everything, from the dancing Cocky to the yawning Figaro cat. Apart from having fun, USC doesn’t forget about sweet and truly humanizing videos, like the one where six freshmen show their rooms and read parting words from their parents. Those posts are not about adding value as much as they are about creating an emotion. And this is exactly what potential students want to identify with and experience in their lives. 

Dear Gamecocks, Remember to take it all in, enjoy every moment and do... | Dorm Room | TikTok  

  • Followers - 43.3K 
  • Likes - 1.1K 
  • Comments - 12  
  • Video length - 1:29 

Remember Your Roots  

With the well-polished "The World Needs More Cowboys," the University of Wyoming drew upon its essence and heritage by reinterpreting the Cowboy spirit for today's students. By focusing on curiosity and adventure, they created a really relatable story.  

The World Needs More Cowboys   ||   University of Wyoming 

  • Followers - 3.87K 
  • Views - 1.2M 
  • Likes - 1.1K  
  • Video length - 1:24 

Go Omnichannel  

University of Rhode Island’s "Calling All Big Thinkers" spot is an omnichannel anchor. Central to their campaign was a series of student stories that allowed students to “see themselves here” and view the university as a strong path to career success. “Calling All Big Thinkers” was a throughline across TV, digital, billboard, and other tactics. Want more insight into why omnichannel matters? See this recent post. 

Calling All Big Thinkers (:30) 

  • Followers - 8.88k 
  • Views - 837K 
  • Likes - 1.1K 
  • Video length - 00:30

Echo Authenticity  

In an era where Gen Z yearns for authenticity, the Ohio State University hits the nail on the head. Their content champions the unfiltered, genuine, and real moments of campus life. Instead of leaning into high production, OSU goes for the magnetism of raw authenticity. Unscripted snapshots aren’t only easier to film, but quickly resonate with Gen Zers.  

The future is bright when you’re a #BuckeyeForLife, and Ohio State is 

  • Followers - 167.4K 
  • Likes - 612 
  • Comments - 7 
  • Video length - 00:10 (pro tip: remember the 9-15 second rule?) 

Tap Into Alum Stardom  

Every institution has its stories, its achievements, and its stars. The University of Houston made a series of videos showcasing the heights some of its alums reached. More than celebrity association, it's about embodying the university's values, ethos, and mission. Every institution has some remarkable alum stories to tell, so why not brag a little? Note: this is not the first time we’ve mentioned the value alumni can bring to recruitment. For more, check out this two-part series (find part 1 here, part 2 here). 

You Are the Pride: Danny Olivas  

  • Followers - 9.8K 
  • Views - 14.8K 
  • Likes - 62 
  • Video length - 03:20  

Step Into Virtual Tours   

You do have one, right? Boston College is a nice example of how institutions can invite prospective students to step onto their campus without having to leave their screens. It’s a great first step for prospects to get a sense of your campus and culture. This one is looong (15 min)! So viewers are going to make a commitment if they are going to see it through. Boston College may have enough clout to pull that off. Others may not. Just don’t forget the CTA. You don’t want them to leave your page without knowing how to connect with Admissions for more information. 

Boston College Campus Tour! 

  • Followers - 19.9K 
  • Views - 241K 
  • Likes - 3.4K 
  • Video length - 14:56

Fostering Community  

A sense of belonging is everything, and the University of Utah knows it. Here they showcase their culture of community, inviting viewers into a vibrant community eager to welcome new seekers and dreamers. 


  • Followers - 133K 
  • Likes - 341 
  • Video length - 00:15 

Have Some Fun 

Done well, humor and a little irony are great at humanizing institutions and making a campus feel more approachable. When we are in on the joke, we feel connected. Here the University of Iowa takes on a TikTok trend of email signatures that we think most viewers can so relate to. 

How Gen Z Interns sign their emails 

  • Followers - 55.3K 
  • Views - 34.8K 
  • Likes - 1.2K 
  • Video length - 00:13 

Are these the best ever, ever, ever? Maybe not.

The bigger point: social media is key to connecting with your prospects – GenZ or not. And seeing what others are doing is a great way to spur ideas and provide fodder for your next admissions ideation session. So, yes, share these with your team and get creative about how the ideas may or may not work for your institution. The discussion will absolutely produce some great creative approaches that you'll want to test.

And that's just it with social marketing like this: having the freedom and authority to test new ideas and see what gets traction for you. If you don't have that, your institution will be one of many in the sea of sameness (a future blog post we will be sharing in the weeks ahead).

Need a partner with edu social media experience and well-earned expert opinions? Be in touch. We’d love to join your next creative roundtable. 


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