Convincing members of your target audience of Generation Z that higher education is important for a positive future career path shouldn't be an uphill battle—in fact, 80 percent of them believe it's important, while another 66 percent believe the benefits outweigh the costs, we learned at a recent trip to the the American Marketing Association Symposium for the Marketing of Higher Education.

So how should college and university marketers best engage and provide valuable content to this discerning key audience?

Introducing User-Generated Content

This is where user-generated content (UGC) can play a big role. It's any type of content that has been created and distributed by unpaid contributors—and it can be an effective means of gaining genuine trust of a specific audience. This form of "social-proof marketing" has become more effective, as people rely on star ratings and customer reviews on large e-commerce sites. These types of UGC can include images, videos, testimonials, tweets, blog posts and everything in between—anything that involves users promoting a brand, rather than the brand doing the heavy promotional lifting.

Why UGC Works

We're talking about a generation of young adults who value authenticity and genuine connections in their content consumption. They crave interaction with other human beings. In fact, according to ReadyPulse, 92 percent are more likely to trust a recommendation from a peer than from a brand or company. They want to see real-life scenarios in their branded content—not an idealized version of the truth. As such, incorporating UGC is a great way for brands to build trust with Gen-Z audiences.

What UGC Does 

So what is it about UGC that seems to be so effective in engaging with the youngest generation of potential student recruits? First things first—it strengthens your college or university's brand by building real connections amongst peers. Communities and audiences are given the opportunity to connect one-to-one, versus through the lens of a "corporate" brand. According to data presented by Michigan State University's Todd Carter and Rob Zaebst, 97 percent of shoppers surveyed would purchase based on UGC. Furthermore, Facebook ads with UGC in the form of video have three to four times as many click-throughs as brand-built content.

How to Implement UGC

Now here's the kicker—UGC without structure is a recipe for disaster. Implementing such an endeavor requires the skills of a marketing team or agency to set your college or university up for success. While 88 percent of businesses have implemented UGC into their marketing, a mere 27 percent actually have strategy built behind said content.

Guidelines are critical—keep the following in mind:

  • Give contributors adequate timelines for creation
  • Provide simple and easy-to-use submission channels
  • Ensure channel selection matches your key Gen-Z audience
  • Build governance through your staff and your agency for oversight
  • Communicate policy and schedules to your campus
  • Engage the follow-up—use your social media coordinators to manage responses
  • Implement legal requirements—i.e., disclaimers and licensing agreements

Higher Education Freshman Insights Infographic Download