Although vaccine availability and public adaptation to the pandemic in the U.S. have created more opportunities for on-campus tours in the 2021–22 academic year, the hunger for digital content among prospective students has not diminished. At Scripps College, the open rate for admission emails has increased, on average, 15 percent from last year. And, as the popularity of social media platforms and features such as TikTok and Instagram Reels has shown, high school– and college-age users are increasingly watching and sharing videos as a preferred means of communication.
As the higher education landscape becomes more competitive, with a long-predicted decrease in the applicant pool looming, now is the time for colleges and universities to effectively reach prospective students by capitalizing on these trends and meeting students where they are on social media platforms, watching and engaging with video content that can take them beyond the traditional campus tour.
Using Data to Select Platforms
Student consumption of online content continues to increase. As of this year, YouTube had more than two billion users worldwide, while Instagram had more than one billion, placing both in the top five most popular social media platforms globally. Recent data from social media monitoring software companies shows that YouTube’s user base is 72 percent female, with its largest number of users aged between 15 and 25. Knowing these data points was a key catalyst to post Explore Scripps on these platforms, where we knew our video posts would be more likely to reach our prospective students.
Pinpointing the distinctive aspects of your campus culture, such as a signature resource program, a standout academic department, a popular extracurricular or a cherished tradition, can help determine what features you should highlight. Visually appealing and authentic experiences—study groups gathering outside on a nice day or scholar athletes practicing a sport, for example—also play well on video, as they show the reality of day-to-day student life. Posting to platforms that prioritize videos and visual aesthetics encourages viewing while also making it easier for admissions offices to share content on their own social media platforms and in their emails to prospective students.
Collecting Student Input
The input and insights of your student body are vital to the planning, execution and success of a video strategy. At Scripps, our interns don’t just appear in front of the camera—they attend our brainstorming meetings, help edit content and pitch concepts that highlight the unique aspects of the Scripps experience they wish they’d seen more of during their own college search.
When available, rely on data from a recent survey of students, alums and families to help build your content calendar. For example, survey data showed that students highly value Scripps’s place within the Claremont Colleges (5C) consortium and are passionate about diversity, but they want more information about the connection between a liberal arts education and career preparation. As a result, Explore Scripps videos have focused on residential life, community building and resources at Scripps and the 5Cs, including our Career Planning and Resources office and Scripps Communities of Resources and Empowerment, which works to build an inclusive community through social justice programming, as well as STEM research opportunities at our intercollegiate W. M. Keck Science Department.
Creating a Sustainable Schedule
As with all campus initiatives, if a project is not sustainable, no matter how successful it is, it won’t last. Creating a successful video—even a minute-long video on a small campus—requires time to plan, film and edit. Likewise, scheduling depends on the availability of faculty, students, staff and on-campus spaces. Build relationships with collaborators across campus, create a rubric for the length of time each project should take and set a realistic goal of posting one to two videos each month to maintain a reasonable workload for marketing and communications.
Thus far, on Instagram Reels, our Explore Scripps series has received an average of 900 percent more views than our previous Instagram videos, solely through organic reach. By using a data-informed approach that values student perspectives, we’ve created a series that highlights Scripps’s unique characteristics; foregrounds academic and extracurricular resources for prospective students with a variety of affinities, interests and experiences; and increases access to the college for those who may not have the resources for an on-campus visit.
An effective video communications strategy not only meets your audience where they are, it broadens your prospective applicant pool. To build a successful foundation, start with a sustainable schedule, let data and visual aesthetics inform your content strategy, and prioritize the unique stories that will highlight your institution to a new generation of prospective students.
For Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., Rachael Warecki is news and strategic communications specialist, and Jacqueline Legazcue is digital marketing specialist.