Building Social Content Strategy Around College-Bound Students’ Social Media Preferences

Academic majors drive online college searches and are critical to higher ed marketing strategy.

The CSU Social and Digital Media team keeps tabs on what is happening in the social and digital space. We’re keeping a close eye on content trends we’re seeing with Gen Z and where those intersect with social.

Key findings from EAB’s (aka formerly the Education Advisory Board) 2021 survey of student communication preferences based on EAB’s biannual survey of college-bound students indicate that 91% of students expected a social media presence for colleges, even though they may not interact with it. In fact, 37% of students “discovered” a school on social media.

Bar graph depicting Social Media that College-Bound Students Use

Understanding the trends is important because it tells us where to focus our energy from a social media perspective. Instagram, YouTube and TikTok are the top platforms which students responded as the ones they are most likely to use and interact with colleges.

Another key finding from the survey found that academic majors drive online college searches.

Bar graph depicting Types of Search Engine Queries College-Bound Students Use to Look for Info about Colleges and Universities

The 2021 survey found a significant majority of students search by major when looking for information about colleges or universities. That’s followed by searches by specific school name, search for the “Best” and geographic location. While this information may not necessarily be new for experienced higher ed marketers, it is valuable to have the data that affirms the prevalence of academic majors in search queries, and it informs possible adjustments to SEO and marketing tactics.

CSU’s YouTube Channel

We’re applying the EAB survey information to aid in organic content strategy at CSU, particularly for the university’s YouTube channel.

Why YouTube? YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine with over 3 billion searches in a month. It is Gen Z’s “TV” where they spend hours on YouTube learning new things, co-watching, sharing experiences and being entertained. At 82%, YouTube is the most-used platform in the EAB survey.

Our team is mapping out plans to create and optimize videos on CSU’s YouTube channel that cover some of the most popular searches from high school students which are for specific majors and programs. For example, this spring we produced a mini day-in-the-life video series where we followed students around for a day. Take a look at A Day in the Life of an Equine Science and Agricultural Education Student and A Day in the Life of an Engineering Student. We strategically chose a day-in-the-life approach to leverage peer-to-peer communication preferences as well as an influencer/co-creator video style that is common on YouTube.

Pleased to report that they are performing well-above average for our YouTube content, especially the engineering one. In looking at the performance analytics of the videos, one metric stands out: More than 60% of the views are coming from YouTube search for both videos, validating EAB’s findings of college-bound students searching by major.

We intend to build out the series exploring a variety of academic disciplines and student experiences to support the university’s strategic enrollment plans. What shifts are you making in your content strategy to reach college-bound students?