The Shift to 1:1 and Group Conversations on Social Media During Social Distancing

Carnegie Higher Ed Apr 07, 2020 Carnegie Higher Ed Persona The Visionary Frontrunner

There is no doubt the higher education industry is just one of many being greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Colleges and universities all over the world are facing struggles and uncertainty as it becomes a necessity to offer online and virtual options for students. Now more than ever before, we are learning the importance of staying digitally connected with both current and prospective students since in-person interactions are not an option.

Reach students where they are, digitally

Just when we thought the world was already spending too much time on social media, shelter-in-place orders were announced all across the country. 

With people being encouraged to stay home, many students are craving socialization and are actively seeking ways to stay connected and up to date with their peers without putting their lives on hold. Messaging across platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, as well as viewings on streaming services, are seeing an extreme spike in usage around the globe due to the ongoing pandemic.

Since March 23, Facebook reported that they have seen a 70% increase week over week in Messenger group video calls following the outbreak. Your institution can capitalize on the increase in usage on the Messenger app by creating ads that appear there. For example, in-person campus tours aren’t an option right now; instead, you could create a video story ad that is placed in Messenger, which provides prospective students a virtual sneak peek of what life on your campus is like from the perspective of a current student. Through the ad’s call to action, you can encourage prospects to learn more by going to your school’s website.

Along with social media platforms, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube TV have also seen an uptick in usage around 60% and have created viewing parties in order to keep their subscribers connected with their friends and family. With the ability to watch shows and movies together digitally, multiple people can now chat via text and video and even show their reactions with emojis. 

Platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime may not offer ad options, but Hulu and YouTube TV do. In fact, Hulu has an 87% audience overlap with Netflix and a 57% audience overlap with Amazon Prime. While students are binge-watching their favorite shows on Hulu or YouTube TV, you have the perfect opportunity to get in front of them. On Hulu specifically, ads are unskippable, providing you with a branding opportunity and a captive audience that has no choice but to watch your full video ad.

Although most open houses, campus tours, and even some courses are being put on hold or postponed in the higher education world, your students still want to hear from you no matter where they are. Showing adaptation and compassion in a time of crisis is a great way to connect and ensure that your students’ educational goals are just as important as they were prior to COVID-19.

Leverage messaging tactics through paid social media

At this time of uncertainty, students want reassurance and aid. We aren’t sure when this virus will start to dissipate, so it’s important to keep your institution top of mind since prospects will still need to make their enrollment decision in the coming weeks or months. Your first instinct may be to stop running ads on social media during a time like this, but it’s essential to remain present because this pandemic will end, but a student’s education journey will not. 

Start a conversation with graduate students

Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn make communicating with prospective students easy. Students are home, scrolling through their feeds over and over again and seeking a human connection. Fortunately, social platforms make it possible to easily start a conversation with prospective and current students as well as alumni.

LinkedIn, for example, offers an ad format that builds on its current Message Ads (formerly Sponsored InMail), which features a full-funnel strategy with options for multiple customized calls to action such as program offerings, webinar/virtual sign-ups for campus tours or coursework, and even PDF downloads. Here, you can provide any and all information to your prospective graduate student audience about your offerings during the pandemic while giving them the option of how they want to engage with you through this interactive format.

In addition to LinkedIn, another way to utilize your paid social efforts during this time is on Facebook and Instagram. Your current and prospective students are there, as well as parents. It’s the perfect time to be present when there’s less competition because many other industries are scaling back on advertising efforts. 

Facebook’s click-to-Messenger ad option is an effective way to communicate with your prospective transfer, adult, and graduate student audience. This advertising format is different from the traditional feed ad, driving the user to a private message instead of your website and giving you the opportunity to engage with your students one-on-one. Note: this format is only available to target users who are 18 years or older, so this isn’t an option to reach current high school students. Some students may not be ready to request information or sign up for a virtual event, but they may be interested in hearing from your admission team about what their options will be in the fall if COVID-19 is still impacting our ability to return to regular activities.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is another messaging option where you can reach out to prospective international graduate students. Rather than directing the user to Facebook Messenger, you can add a call-to-action button that will open in WhatsApp instead. International students may be feeling even more disconnected and unsure about how their education will be impacted moving forward, so keeping them reassured is important.

Click-to-Messenger ads will give you the chance to create a tailored experience for your prospective student audience that’s personalized to your students in a time when they’re seeking personal connections more than ever before.

Tailor your message to resonate with the current state of the world

Lastly, an easy fix for any ads you’re currently running is to ensure that the creative is tailored to the message you’re trying to send during this time. This will not only reassure prospects but also make your institution come to mind as the next group of students prepare to make their application and enrollment decisions. 

Have you changed your open house ad copy to talk about what digital options exist for students instead? Are your ad images still showing groups of students having fun on campus? You may want to rethink your strategy for the time being to show that learning at home is possible and virtual learning offered through your institution means students won’t have to put their education on hold until this outbreak ends.

Engage organically through social messaging

If your organic social game wasn’t up to par before COVID-19, now is the time to start. Yes, paid social is important, but at a time like this, organic is just as important, if not more. Students want to hear from you, a person who can understand what they’re going through—not just from a paid ad and definitely not from a chat bot. Staying connected through social media during a time when students are feeling extremely disconnected is one of the best ways to normalize things as much as possible.

For many students, this is their senior year of high school or college—a time that should be exciting and a time to celebrate all they’ve accomplished over the last three and a half years. Being proactive and thinking about how you can sympathize with them by reaching out and checking in is the best way to support them throughout this time.

One thing your institution can do organically is create or restore a Facebook group to connect with your students and answer any questions they may have. Both your current students and incoming first-year class can benefit from a Facebook group to have their questions or concerns addressed. Whether your students are wondering what will happen for commencement, the events leading up to it, or the plan for their future at your college or university, a Facebook group is where you can address these questions all in one place.

Also, as college seniors are preparing for graduation, they’re also preparing to start their careers. Making connections that normally would’ve been made in person needs to be done virtually now—but how? As an institution, you should encourage your college seniors to join their alumni LinkedIn group to foster virtual networking since on-campus events have been canceled. This way they can continue to learn about job markets or companies they may be interested in and schedule interviews post-graduation.

Outside the popular social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin, you should also think about lesser-known platforms like Reddit and Quora. These social platforms are discussion-based networks where you can reach prospective students by joining in on conversations in different communities. Your students may be conversing on these platforms in order to feel connected with their peers who are going through the same uncertainty.

Stay connected and top of mind

The higher education industry is being put to the test as we navigate the limitations resulting from COVID-19, but the worst thing you can do is go dark. Stay present, stay sympathetic, and, most importantly, reach out to your current students and stay in front of future ones through your social channels.

Check out our other resources on how to keep your community engaged and informed during COVID-19. You can also follow us on Twitter as we continue to post updates there as well. Questions or concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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