With students applying to more colleges, increases in tuition discounting, and students seeking alternatives to a college education, most higher education institutions are finding it challenging to meet enrollment goals. 

Marketing and enrollment leaders feel a sense of risk in changing marketing strategies that previously worked well, as there is added pressure to exceed enrollment metrics from season to season. However, Generation Z has now started enrolling in college, it is important to consider their preferences when creating content and messaging them via any communication channel.

If you’re interested in taking a deep dive into how colleges can engage Gen Z, I recommend taking a look at Kirk Daulerio’s newly published book, “Engaging Gen Z : Supporting College Bound Students With Mobile Messaging.” Colleges are now tasked with connecting with the first generation of students that have grown up with the internet, and have seen traditional methods of email, phone calls, and mailers yielding lower results.

With so much information buzzing on their mobile devices at all times, Gen Z’ers are conditioned to put up their blinders to information that is not timely or relevant to them. Gen Z’ers are also not as likely to reply to emails or answer unknown phone calls because that’s simply not the way they communicate. As such, Gen Z is driving the larger trend around conversational communication.

With this megatrend in messaging and conversation, it’s no surprise to see such high engagement among messaging applications. As of 2015, the top four messaging apps had more downloads, greater usage, and longer retention rates than the top four social networks (Source – Business Insider). As of early 2016, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp exchanged a combined 60 billion messages per day far exceeding the 20 billion that occur on SMS text message (Source – TechCrunch).

Facebook Messenger Users

This trend is only growing, as the number of users on Facebook Messenger had doubled in the past two years, and has seven times the number of active users than Snapchat, which has slowed growth with about 180 million monthly users.

The combination of both Facebook and Messenger has a powerful synergy to increase awareness among prospective students, and to begin a conversation and connect with them. However, very few colleges are using FB Messenger in their recruitment strategy to start conversations and gain actionable data from interested students.

For admission and enrollment marketing teams focused on engaging prospective students, we recommend creating a Class of 2022 page and/or a University Admission/Orientation page. It’s best to load as much content as you can onto these pages so that when students come across them they can sign up for events, share posts with their friends, watch videos, or join groups. Facebook gives you the option of adding a call-to-action button directly under the cover photo, which is a great place to add a “Send us a Message” CTA so students know they can ask questions and get a response.

Ground Rules of FB Messenger for Colleges

In order to send a proactive message on FB Messenger, someone must first send your Page a message. This policy could change over time, so I recommend checking out Facebook Messenger’s rules to get the latest update.

Facebook has an Inbox where you can manage conversations if you don’t use a messaging platform like AdmitHub where you can send mass FB Messenger campaigns and messages.  Colleges will certainly get many inbound messages organically from people that like and visit your page, but to meet growing expectations that’s not always enough.

A Sample FB Messenger Campaign For a College Admission Team

As a Small Batch Hot Sauce owner and entrepreneur, and having worked as a Digital Marketing Specialist for HubSpot, I’ve learned to love and appreciate the power of an eye-catching Facebook advertising campaign. The opportunity for colleges is that while few institutions are currently using FB Messenger advertising campaigns, this type of outreach is perfectly aligned to share your story with prospective students.

I listen to the Capture Higher Ed podcast, and they recently interviewed Eric Maguire from Franklin & Marshall College. I was very impressed with his approach of using A/B tests in evaluating marketing and recruitment strategies. As a result, he’s saved a lot of money for F&M on efforts that haven’t yielded a significant return on investment, and with those savings he has the flexibility to try new initiatives.

Creating Custom Audience Messenger Campaigns

F&M, along with almost every other institution in the country, utilizes search services to find prospective students. Facebook allows you to upload a CSV file with emails and names, to target messages only to that specific segment. This allows colleges to be very targeted with their messaging and make sure they aren’t spending precious resources towards people that you aren’t trying to recruit for future classes.

We would suggest A/B testing and targeting a portion of your search list with FB Messenger ads to engage them instead of sending mailers or using other costly marketing efforts. Here’s a great guide to walk you through creating a custom audience: How do I create sponsored messages in Messenger? (Facebook)

New Sponsored Messages in Messenger

Facebook has taken notice of this trend in conversational communication, and as a result has been trying to make starting a conversation as easy as possible for Facebook Pages. It’s important to be creative and helpful in your messaging. As a best practice, when creating these prompts and advertising, ask yourself, “Would this be helpful or interesting if I were a college-bound student?” Below is an example of a Market using Facebook Messenger Ads. 

Facebook Sponsored Messages

 Facebook Messenger has also just rolled out the option for Sponsored messages. These messages live in the person’s Messenger platform, and you can craft a preview text and use personalization tokens like the prospective student’s first name. A great way to spark engagement is to ask a student for feedback instead of disseminating information as a first message: “Hi (First.Name). What are you looking to accomplish in college?” or “Hey (First.Name). What has you most excited about exploring college?”   

This is a great way to start a conversation and have the student’s perspective top of mind. Using a platform like AdmitHub, you can now follow up with students to send nudge messages, surveys, promotions and RSVPs for events, and also to forward messages on to other faculty or college staff.

There are new changes coming to the FB Messenger platform each month, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to engage with prospective students, but you must be adaptive and ready to support and guide students once they begin a conversation. If you’d like to discuss some options about bridging mobile messaging and using FB messenger and Pages, drop me a line!