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Jumping on Social Media Trends: What’s Pays off in Student Recruitment

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Thaís Roberto
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From viral videos on TikTok to the emergence of new platforms like BeReal, universities have a multitude of opportunities to connect with their audience. 

However, staying relevant and engaging with prospective students requires a keen understanding of social media trends, and deciding when to jump on these trends requires considering the potential benefits, risks, and strategic implications. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the dynamics of social media trends in higher education marketing and provide insights into how to decide which ones are right for your university.

Understanding the different types of social media trends

Before diving into the discussion, let’s clarify what we mean by social media trends. These can be broadly categorized into viral and market trends. 

Viral trends are captivating, fleeting, and often unpredictable. They capture the collective imagination for a brief moment before fading into obscurity. There is no shortage of examples, from the whimsical world of Barbie-fied pictures to the enigmatic allure of the Grimace Shake or sharing what is your personal Roman Empire – which, for Louisiana State University, is their mascot Mike, the tiger.

On the other hand, market trends represent bigger shifts in social media that demand sustained attention and adaptation. They often manifest as the emergence of new platforms – like BeReal or Threads – or the evolution of existing ones, typically requiring a new ongoing strategy and reallocation of funds.

 

Access data on social media preferences from our webinar and report on Social Media Practices for Higher Ed:

 

 

 

Benefits of jumping on social media trends

Successfully engaging with trends can offer universities increased visibility and engagement with current and prospective students. By participating in trends, you can join larger conversations and build cultural relevance while driving higher levels of interaction.

Additionally, jumping on new market tendencies presents an opportunity to connect with younger audiences. Newer platforms are typically more popular among Gen Z, and you can leverage these trends to establish a rapport with this crucial demographic segment.

Lastly, participating in trending conversations can lead to the creation of viral content, resulting in increased reach and awareness. A well-executed trend-based campaign has the potential to garner widespread attention and engagement, exposing your school to new audiences.

Potential risks of social media trends

While the benefits of engaging with social media trends are compelling, you must also be mindful of the associated risks. One of the primary risks is the potential for backlash or misinterpretation. Trending topics can be sensitive, and your social media managers must be cautious to avoid inadvertently offending or alienating their audience.

Additionally, most online trends have a short lifespan. In such cases, it’s essential to jump in while the audience still perceives the trend as relevant and fun. Some are easy to join in time and require minimal planning, like the University of Michigan’s campus-related Valentine’s Day cards – an example of timely content that is simple, fun, and relevant.

However, if your team can see that the trend is already dying out, it’s best not to join at all. Instead of connecting with the audience, poorly executed content can present your brand as out-of-touch with reality, ultimately damaging the university’s reputation.

Moreover, there’s the risk of allocating resources to short-lived trends with little long-term impact. Being one of the first universities to establish a presence on a new platform may seem tempting, but there will only be a return if your audience is already there. 

More often than not, sticking to the channels where you have an established audience is more beneficial than dedicating time to a platform your students aren’t using.

What to consider before joining a trend

Before jumping on a social media trend, assess how it aligns with your university’s values and brand identity. It’s essential to ensure that participating in a trend is consistent with your overarching mission and messaging. For example, trends based on negativity or self-deprecation may be entertaining for users but won’t benefit your brand’s image.

Then, evaluate the resources required for implementing the campaign, including time, budget, and staff. You must determine whether you have the necessary resources to execute the campaign effectively and extract value from it. If the investment seems bigger than the reward, it may be best to pass on the specific trend for the time being.

Lastly, conduct a comprehensive risk assessment and analyze the potential for backlash. As a rule, don’t risk your university’s reputation for creating engaging content, but be sure to develop mitigation strategies to address potential challenges or adverse outcomes – you can never truly know how your audience will react to the content.

When to jump in?

When is the right time for universities to jump on a social media trend? It ultimately comes down to strategic decision-making informed by clear guidelines. 

Conduct a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate the potential return on investment of participating in industry trends and monitor your competitors’ strategies for more valuable insights into emerging opportunities.

If, after considering the factors outlined here, you conclude that joining a trend will be beneficial to your overall strategy, make sure your content comes across as authentic – not opportunistic. And remember, not every trend will suit your brand.

Ultimately, your university will benefit more from doing a good job at the fundamentals than jumping on every online sensation. Once you have mastered the basics, trends can offer great opportunities for creativity and innovation. 

Remember: trends are the accessories of your social media strategy, not its foundation.

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