“The key to understanding how youth navigate social media is to step away from the headlines — both good and bad — and dive into the more nuanced realities of young people.”

I wish I’d written those words, which are from Danah Boyd. Her desire to understand the nuances of teen lives and behavior led her to conduct interviews and conversations with hundreds of teens that formed the basis of her book “It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.”

A similar desire motivated mStoner to conduct three years of “Mythbusting” studies with Chegg and NRCCUA.

Three Years of Mythbusting Research

mStoner wanted to learn how teens respond to the various communications and marketing tactics of college and university enrollment marketers. In this research series, we explored topics such as how and when teens were interested in receiving texts from colleges, how they wanted to interact on social media, what they liked (and didn’t like) about higher ed websites, and what channels were most effective for communicating with them.

Many other organizations conduct research into the best ways to reach and influence Generation Z collegegoers. What makes ours different? We asked college marketers, enrollment managers, web developers, and communications professionals the same questions we asked teens.

This allowed us to bust a series of myths about what teens like and don’t like about the way we market to them: We saw where campus professionals understood what teens wanted — and where gaps in understanding occurred.

Our three white papers — Mythbusting Admissions, Mythbusting Websites, and Mythbusting Enrollment Marketing — share our findings and observations about the three larger themes we explored in our research.

Key Findings

Some of what we learned confirms what other researchers have shared. For example, we confirmed how absolutely important academic program and academic department websites are as sources of information for prospective students. They are on every list of the most visited pages on any .edu site and one of the main reasons why we include a “program finder” on every site built by mStoner, such as this one for Mills College.

But some of our findings differ. Here are six of the most interesting findings from our research:

1. Texting

Teens are open to being texted by colleges: 56 percent said that receiving a text would positively impact their view of the college. Yet 82 percent have never received a text from a college. But if you are going to text teen prospects, be sure you have their permission and don’t spam them! They want useful information: reminders about application deadlines, upcoming events, financial aid deadlines, and other timely notifications. For more, see a post I wrote for Inside Higher Ed.

2. Social Media

We’ve all heard about how teens love social media and how it keeps them glued to their smartphone screens. They primarily use social media and smartphone apps to communicate with friends. But they also use official social media during their college exploration. Reminding them that your institution is active on social channels by pulling these feeds into your website is important (as Wheaton College does, for example). And while they’ll explore your social feeds, they aren’t likely to interact with you there.

3. Video

Teens are huge consumers of online videos in their personal lives. But they prefer text, articles, and photos on college websites. (In contrast, more than three-quarters of campus professionals think teens want video content on their sites.) We believe this means that, like adults, they want to scan a page first to see if the content answers their questions, which is easier to do with text. Then, if they’re interested, they’ll engage more deeply.

4. Mobile Apps

Teens don’t use smartphone apps from colleges: 72 percent told us that they did not download or use any college smartphone apps. But half of teens told us they would use an app that offered updates on admissions or other college info. Again, they want useful, practical information.

5. Virtual Tours/Campus Maps

Teens use virtual tours when exploring a college, but even more told us that they looked at a campus map. A quick glance at a map will tell them how close they are to the nearest Starbucks or help them find the relative distance from residence halls to classrooms. See an example from Texas Woman’s University.

6. Email

Teens rate contact by email more highly than any other channel, when they are both researching and deciding about colleges. And though teens reputedly use their phones for everything except phone calls, 50 percent said they’d welcome a phone call from a college while they were making a decision about which institution to attend.

Believe me, it’s difficult to isolate those points. There were many moments when I stared at the data and shook my head in surprise at what I was seeing. While teens are certainly digital-savvy and love their phones, they’re sometimes surprisingly traditional in their tastes.

Most importantly, I’d say, our overall findings confirm one of the conclusions from “Generation Z Goes to College” by Corey Seemiller and Meghan Grace. I underlined this one: “Although [Generation Z] can communicate through technology at any time, they still prefer face-to-face communications. They, like other generations before them, crave authentic connection with others …”

Get Instant Access to Mythbusting Research

Interested in diving deeper into these findings and others? We packaged all three Mythbusting reports and the live presentations of the research in one convenient location.

Research findings will help you improve your enrollment marketing programs and campaigns, to better target prospective students when and where they want to be reached. You’ll learn:

  • What teens consider to be the top sources of information about colleges
  • Teen’s frank opinions of tactics institutions use to reach and engage them
  • The best channels for boosting visibility among prospective teen students
  • Where to invest your time and energy for maximum ROI on your digital channels
  • What encourages teens to apply to your institution
  • What college, web, marketing, and admissions professionals don’t understand what teens do and find valuable on your website.

Download the three Mythbusting reports.

mStoner, Inc. is a digital-first agency committed to great work, beautiful design, and powerful storytelling. Ready to evolve your digital strategy and take visitor engagement to the next level? Here’s how to get started.

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