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How Colleges & Universities Can Be More Authentic in Communicating with Generation Z


Generation Z is as skeptical as they are practical. 

They enthusiastically embrace the conveniences of interacting digitally with brands and businesses. Nearly half of Gen-Z-ers say they cannot go without the internet for four hours before they start to feel uncomfortable, and 51% say they expect the internet to drive daily interactions.

Yet, skepticism abounds.  A whopping 50% of Gen Z-ers say they don’t trust companies to tell the truth. That’s more than any other generation.

Make no mistake: authenticity is a huge deal to Gen Z. A recent survey found that 23% of Gen Z ranks authenticity as important, more than nearly any other company attribute, such as design or social impact. 

If authenticity matters to a consumer who is considering buying a $15 T-shirt or a $43 blender, then surely it also matters when they’ll invest thousands of dollars—and several years of learning—into higher education. In other words, in order to attract prospective learners, colleges and universities must be authentic.  

Key to authenticity is personalization. More than four out of five Gen-Z-ers say they want ads to be personalized, and 76% of all consumers get frustrated when content isn’t relevant to their needs or interests. Gen-Z understands that they might have to sacrifice a bit of their online privacy to make that happen but they’re okay with that trade

So, how can institutions of higher education skirt that line? How can they convey authenticity in personalized messaging while driving home targeted messages that lead to increased enrollment, better co-curricular engagement and more invested alumni?

3 Keys to Authenticity in Higher Ed Communication

Here are three key insights gleaned from the hundreds of colleges and universities that have leveraged Modern Campus Signal Vine to deliver hyper-personalized text messages, Modern Campus Omni CMS to personalize their websites and Modern Campus Presence to engage students in relevant co-curricular opportunities.

1. Capitalize on Gen Z’s mobile-first mindset.

Smartphones are obligatory for Gen Z, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, geography and even socioeconomic status. As previously noted in our blog post about using text messages to boost student GPA, the average Gen-Z student actively engages with their phone for four hours and fifteen minutes every day.

Colleges and universities can use this to their advantage—a way to reach students 24/7. 

Actually, let’s amend that last sentence. Colleges and universities already have used texting to their advantage. The CollegeBound Foundation found that 90% of students responded to staff’s texts within 24 hours, and only 1% opted out.  What’s more, institutions have used texting to increase students’ engagement with academic advising, re-enroll students who stopped out and boost persistence among part-time students


Thnx for Texting

The Power of SMS Text Messaging in Higher Education, by the Numbers

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70.1% of Gen Z and Millennials say they sleep with their phone within reach. 65.5% even bring their phone into the bathroom with them.

2. Align outreach to Gen Z’s consumer behaviors.

Digital natives’ decision-making habits and preferences are shaped by their internet and mobile experiences with products and services. So, institutions can only benefit by learning from these behaviors and trends:

Gen Z-ers tend to be highly informed consumers. They will often research and weigh their options before making a buying decision. 

What that means for colleges & universities: Prospective students will compare their higher ed options by visiting many university and college websites. Current learners will want to research their options for co-curricular programming and course scheduling before commiting.

Gen Z-ers place high importance on brand ethics and corporate responsibility, even more so than Millennials. 

Why that matters to higher ed: Students will pay close attention to your mission statement, DEI initiatives and accessibility options. 

Gen-Z is highly influenced by social media, more so than any other generation. 

Lesson learned: Prospective students will seek opinions from influential students and alumni. Current students will check your social media accounts for news and information that may influence how they engage with opportunities inside the classroom and out. 

3. Nudge, don’t nag. 

As explained in Nudging by Text Best Practices, nudging is broadly defined as “coaxing or gently encouraging someone to do something.” In the context of education, nudging is specific communication that helps move a student through their educational journey.

Nudging students can start with genuine curiosity, with staff seeking to better understand a student’s challenges, interests and goals—all of which can help staff better customize their next message. 

infographic showing that ineffective nagging, in which staff send the same message to "register" 5 times results in a student reading a text but never responding. Effective nudging, however, involves staff sending different messages that students respond to each time.

 As Richard H. Thaler and Cass Sunstein wrote in their 2008 book, aptly titled Nudge, nudging should be guided by three basic principles:

  1. All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.
  2. It should be as easy as possible to opt out of the nudge, preferably in as little as one click.
  3. There should be good reason to believe that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.

By aligning communication with Gen Z with their preferences and habits, colleges and universities can attract more prospects, convert them toward enrollment, better engage their current students in co-curricular and academic life, and maintain stronger relationships with alumni. 


How to Engage Gen Z Students with a Personalized Approach

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Last updated: July 22, 2022


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