When students interact with your school on social media, they expect a different experience than what they can get on your website. If they want to know your deadline dates or the average SAT scores of your incoming freshmen, they'll probably go to your school's website. On Facebook and Twitter, they want conversation, they want a two-way dialogue, they want authenticity. Remember these are social networks. Social interactions are between people, they're fluid, and they're usually not scripted. One more thing... they're not perfect.
It seems to be a running joke that every college's brochure has a picture of a diverse group of students hanging out on the College Green on a beautiful, sunny day. The picture seemingly must include an African-American student, an Asian-American student, a Hispanic student, and a white student (with two of the four being women)... a not so subtle "We welcome students of all types here." All are smiling and looking right at the camera... "Isn't college life pure bliss?"
Look, all admission counselors obviously want to present their school in a positive light (if not, you may want to consider a different profession). But nobody's being fooled. Everyone who sees these pictures knows they're getting the edited version of your school, the sanitized version, so to speak. High school students are smart enough to know these pictures are pure marketing material. Not only that, since every school has these same pictures, you're likely blending into the crowd, stripping your school of its uniqueness.
A little shake in the video, some students caught with an awkward expression in a photo... these are cues to your audience that they're getting the unfiltered version of your school, the gritty, authentic window into what life is "really like" on campus. I'm not saying purposely shake your camera when filming or tell students to contort their face while taking a picture. These will probably come naturally when taking candid photos at an event or filming quick, unstaged interviews with students around campus. I'm encouraging you to capture real student experiences as they unfold through the eyes of your actual students.
Think about how we pick restaurants to eat at, places to visit on trips, even vendors to work with. Sure, we get the official spiel – check out the restaurant's menu, visit a resort's website, or set up a phone call with a salesman from the vendor. We let the seller tell us what they're selling. Then, what do many of us do? We go to Yelp to read what other diners have said, we check out TripAdvisor for reviews, or we call up a customer reference to hear their experiences with the product.
Have you read reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor? They're not well-written prose. We want raw. We want unfiltered. We want real.
Your future students want the same "Insider's Perspective" and social media can be a great outlet for this type of content.
We wanted to share a few ideas of the types of raw, unfiltered content that could help provide some authenticity.
Student housing is one of the most-discussed issues we see in our Facebook Communities and on Class of 20XX Groups. And deciding which hall / dorm / building to pick is a hot topic of debate. Help them make this decision. Let 5-10 students record 2-minute videos of their dorm rooms. Have them describe what it's like to live in your residence halls, how they've decorated their room, and what they like most about their particular residence hall.
Try to capture a trademark campus experience through the eyes of your students. Are you a big sports school? Have a few freshmen take flipcams to their first football game. Encourage them to take video of tailgaiting, of the kick-off, of the crowd after a touchdown... anything that captures the feel of being at the event as a student. Then, ask them to share a quick a 30-second recap of what it was like.
Share reviews for your campus clubs, written by actual students in those clubs. What is it really like to be part of the school newspaper staff? How often does the dance club practice and where do they perform? These will help demonstrate the vibrancy of your campus and enable prospects and admits to picture themselves as part of these clubs. This could be ideal to do in a blog format.
These are just a few ideas, but they hopefully help you generate more that work for your particular school. Again, we're not talking about highly edited videos, staged photo shoots, or perfect, edited prose. Capture real students, sharing real opinions, at real places on campus or at real events, in a relatively unfiltered format.