The Importance of Visual Media in Higher Education Marketing

by Belfort Group | Higher Education , Thought Leadership
December 17, 2013

The good news for education marketers is that high school students are turning to their social networks for just about everything, including the college decision process. Teens have a stronger affinity for visual channels compared with those that are heavier on text, like Twitter. As one writer sums it up, “Teens love photos, but they hate text.”

According to a Chronicle of Higher Education article published in September, the share of prospective students who use social media to learn about colleges has more than doubled over the past four years, and there is no indication that this trend will reverse. So how can education marketers adapt to this change?

While producing quality content across a variety of channels (traditional and digital) is key, using photos and videos effectively on social media is a necessary step that can ultimately sway a student’s decision to apply. Another key finding from the Chronicle of Higher Education study is that students who used social media to learn about a school were more intent on getting a read on the social scene and student body, rather than gleaning information about academics or reputation.

This has important implications for marketers who churn out glossy viewbooks with beautiful photography and art direction. Sure, this is visual information, and a sunny day and the right shot can make a campus shine. But teens today are not focused on the countless brochures piling up in their mailboxes; they would rather peruse photos and videos online, and see what their peers share about a school. Potential students turn to social media for an inside look at the campus they are considering, and visual assets can provide this information in a way that appeals to them. These same assets can also populate content rich landing pages and microsites.

Instagram and Pinterest are great tools to curate the campus experience. When launching its Instagram account, the University of Florida asked students what kind of images they wanted to see. The overwhelming response called for behind-the-scenes shots, and this strategy fits perfectly with the goal of engaging prospective students. High school students are interested in getting a feel for life on campus, and that means going beyond the standard photo of the state-of-the-art facilities to a shot of students presenting in a classroom, or jumping up and down at a basketball game. Drake University takes a similar approach with Pinterest, emphasizing the student experience with boards dedicated to its mascot, study abroad destinations, the surrounding town, and a delicious-looking bake sale on campus.

Video is another highly effective tool that can be used on multiple platforms and offers the personal touch that print advertising lacks, serving as a trial run for students before they commit to visiting campus. While the college tour is often seen as essential (and with good reason, because students can gauge how they feel walking around campus and envision how they fit in), 23% of students don’t visit any schools at all, and 60% visit from one to four. The majority of prospective students don’t have time to visit all of the colleges they are interested in, and in-depth virtual tours and videos can engage prospective students without their families spending big on travel.

It’s a safe bet that the schools experiencing a boom in enrollment have a keen understanding of the college decision-making process and are keeping tabs on how students gather information. Schools can grab the attention of prospective students by creating compelling visual media with a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the campus experience, and drive engagement by sharing it across the social channels high school students—and their parents—spend so much time on.

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