The power of social proof: why it matters in student recruitment

The power of social proof: why it matters in student recruitment

What do you do when you book a hotel? You check the hotel website, look at rates, amenities and maybe some pictures, and nowadays you will probably also go to a website like TripAdvisor, read through reviews and then make a decision. It wasn’t just Google, the ads or the fancy website – they might have drawn you in and informed you – it was also because you trusted the online, uncensored stories by regular people like you and me: social proof.


Guess what? Students are just like us. If done right, they will see your ads, find your website and learn what they need to know about degrees, tuition fees, admission, housing, and so on. They will however also want to know what their peers are saying about you. They are looking for proof that you really do live up to the expectations you’ve created on your website and other tools. Now here’s a recruitment opportunity: you could do nothing and stick with corporate testimonials or you could find these stories and lead your prospectives to them.

Online Ambassadors

The stories or social proof we want can be located, as the phrase itself already says, on social media: the usual suspects like Facebook, Twitter, and many more, but also blogs, forums and review websites like STEXX. Here our current students and our alumni – our online ambassadors – share their stories. According to a recent survey, performed by Zinch, nearly two-thirds of the respondents use social media to research colleges. Although this is a US survey and will differ per country, it does give us some useful insights. Facebook for example is not dead, it’s still very much alive and used by prospective students. They are however also increasingly using other networks like Twitter, Instagram or WhatsApp. So expand to other networks if you’re not already doing so.

Cross-sharing content

Although many of us sigh deeply by the thought of having to maintain more than one social network, it is in fact a good thing. It helps you to identify your online ambassadors, so you can engage with them and share their stories. It however also allows you to cross-share – use content from one network on another network, on your website or even on other print or online channels – and expand the reach of these stories.

Marketing messages

Having a Facebook Page is already a good start. Here you can (cross-)share content or students can recommend you in the recommendation box on the Page. You can also add apps like Instagram to these Pages and have a tab where students can share their pictures. It’s not just Facebook, there is so much more out there. I find Instagram to be a great way to connect with students and to find content. They are very likely to engage with you, even more so than on Facebook.

Just type in #youruniversity on Instagram or Twitter and you’ll be amazed to see what’s out there: great material for you to use as one of the strongest marketing messages available today. For a broad search, go to SocialMention, where you might find student blogs and much more. Follow your ambassadors, connect with them, like, retweet and share their content. Be polite and ask, they will be happy to share.

Website integration

Integrating ambassador stories into your website is another a good way to get the message out. You can use tactics like embedding recommendation Facebook boxes or you can even embed a single Facebook or Instagram posts (both allow you to retrieve the post embedding code). You can also take the next step and let your students create stories for you, like Monash University does. In 2013 Duke University very cleverly used several different social media channels to gather content from (prospective) students and showed the world what One Day at Duke was like. They even turned it into a TV spot afterwards.

Every tool and channel in your recruitment funnel or chain matters: from your corporate brochure to your website and your social media: if woven together correctly, they tell your story: who you are and what you are about. Social media however adds something to the mix. It allows your students and your alumni to tell their story: one the most powerful messages out there and the proof you need to turn prospective students into enrolled students.

By Jessica Winters

Jessica is coordinator Marketing & Social Media at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She was an early adopter of social media and the University of Groningen was one of the first higher institutions in the Netherlands to become active on social media.

Sign up for the upcoming EAIE Academy to learn more about the topic.