How to use social media to engage Gen Z in class and beyond

From assignments to student engagement, there's a right and a wrong way to use social media

Colleges need to have a savvy social-media presence to attract and hold Generation Z’s attention as well as to address their academic, personal, and career needs. To reach students, colleges must develop effective digital tactics both inside and outside the classroom.

And to reach Gen Z where they live, you need to use their favorite platforms—Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, says Nicole Kraft, who teaches journalism at Ohio State University, which ranks sixth in’s Stars of Social Media Colleges 2018.

Using social media in class
According to Kraft, professors need to teach students how to use platforms properly before giving assignments. “Just because students have been using social media for much of their lives doesn’t mean they know the right way to use it,” she says.

She recommends using Slack, a cloud-based collaboration hub that has similar features to other social-media platforms. With Slack, students can learn appropriate use of social media without their content being visible to the public and possibly damaging a future career. Kraft suggests walking them through the entire process, including setting up accounts and profiles. “Take the time to build into the course structure how they will use these tools,” she says.

Kraft’s journalism students use social media to gather story ideas, communicate with sources, disseminate their writing, and promote their articles. She uses Twitter to take attendance, asking students to post an image or story and tweet a comment about it. She also asks students to reflect on topics by replying with a class hashtag, which is useful for discussion and student engagement.

Using social media outside the classroom
Colleges can also turn to social media to help Gen Z get the most out of their college experience. “By providing students with a direct path to ask questions and voice concerns, colleges can see an increase in engagement rates through all digital platforms, especially social media,” says Doug Ridley, a digital marketing strategist at Vital, a digital agency.

According to Ridley, live chat is a great way to get information to students. Whether you use Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Instagram direct messaging, text messaging, or even website live chat, you’re providing a service. Students can connect on demand, in private, with someone who can answer a question or resolve an issue.

In fact, live chat can be used for all college services, from health and counseling to financial aid and the registrar’s office. However, Ridley says that Gen Z is less apt to initiate conversation, so colleges need to start the discussion. “Posting generically on the university social channel pages and waiting for the comments and interactions to roll in is just not realistic; it’s not how Gen Z interacts,” he says. “Speaking their language can go a long way.”

To do this, Ridley recommends colleges use emojis that grab Gen Z’s attention and enlist peer influencers (such as class and club presidents and athletes) to post on behalf of the school. Messages should be sent on student social media platforms of choice and be communicated quickly, because this is Gen Z’s preferred way of receiving information.

Most important, Ridley says, content should be as targeted and personalized as possible.
Correct implementation of social media helps Gen Z be successful on campus, connecting them with opportunities and experiences they would otherwise miss. Proper social media implementation can help your campus effectively reach Gen Z and increase students’ knowledge of its proper use for their college careers and beyond.

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