User-generated content (UGC) is receiving lots of love these days. It’s finding its way into blog posts, reviews, status updates, videos, tweets and more. The content is favored by consumers because of its ability to be transparent. Brands sometimes feel uneasy with UGC because they lack control, but when managed appropriately, it’s a great tool to promote your college or university. If your higher institution hasn’t taken advantage of UGC yet, now is the time to work it into your content marketing strategy.

What is User-Generated Content?

User-generated content is text published by unpaid contributors. In other words, it’s word-of-mouth referrals – digital style. Sometimes, UGC happens automatically, such as when one of your students shares a post about your school on their Instagram page. Other times, UGC is prompted by the brand. This happens when you ask students to share one of your posts or retweet a message.

User-generated content isn’t anything new. What is new is that brands are recognizing the importance of this type of content. Millennials have grown up in an environment where they are constantly being advertised to, and they’ve learned to shut out much of this noise. Many have also learned not to trust marketers. UGC is transparent, honest and authentic. People like this, especially when it comes to products, services and experiences that are life changing. We can all agree that is college is exactly that.

How to Start the Conversation

Not having control over what is said about your higher institution can be unsettling. You work hard to protect and preserve your image. Is it possible that a few bad remarks from students could break this image?

Rather than taking a defensive approach, consider how to be part of the conversation – good or bad. People are going to talk. Consumers go into great lengths describing products like toasters and vacuums. They are going to talk even more about a college education that is going to cost them tens of thousands of dollars.

To be a part of the conversation, you must do two things. First is social listening or social monitoring. This means that you are listening to what’s being said about your higher institution on social media, forums, the comments section of your blog posts, etc.

The second is through facilitating the dialogue. When you post an image on Instagram, include a question where people can respond. If you’re not getting much engagement, keep your questions simple. Post two pictures of unique dorm rooms and ask if students would rather live in Dorm A or Dorm B.

Always acknowledge when someone interacts with you. A response, a “like” to their comment or an emoji are fast, effective ways to show that you are listening.

Separating Your University With User-Generated Content

For your brand to achieve full success, you must embrace user-generated content. College students have more choices for a higher education than ever before, and the cost of a four-year university is substantial. Not to mention, many higher institutions have similar images, making it more confusing for young people to select a program. To stand out and communicate effectively with your audience, UGC is vital.

Let’s discuss some of the ways that user-generated content can be used to help your univerity flourish.

Build Trust

Deciding where to attend college is a big deal. It’s a big deal for the student and the family. Before inviting a prospect to fill out an application, you must build trust. Because UGC comes from real people who are experiencing your college, it holds more weight than content that is paid for. When prospective students see their peers enjoying your campus, expanding their opportunities and engaging in their classes, it instills trust.

Create an Experience

The purpose of attending college is to further an education. What distinguishes higher institutions are the experiences they provide. Experiences are invaluable, and they help shape students for the real world in ways that sitting in class cannot. Through user-generated videos and images, prospects can envision themselves sitting on the grass with their study group or graduating with their peers. This raw, genuine footage is what separates your school from the rest.

Attract Interest

Content keeps your school front and center. This is important in your industry because it takes a long time for students to convert. A prospect may be introduced to your college when they are a high school junior, and they won’t convert until two years later. During this time, many schools will be considered. UGC helps your school stay fresh in the minds of prospective students. By showing all sides to your school – academics, campus life, sports, community involvement, clubs and committees – an ongoing image is created.

Implementing a UGC Program

UGC is the backbone to your content marketing strategy. If you don’t have students rooting for your school, it can fall behind your competitors. To build a successful UGC program, here are a few tips.

Collect Content

There is nothing wrong with starting a conversation. Display signs around campus with the specific hashtags you want students to use in the dorms, dining halls, campus store, events and more. Send email newsletters or text messages that explain how students, staff and alumni can share their school pride using the hashtags. Also ask students to submit posts for the campus blog.

Build a Content Calendar

Appropriate planning helps your school keep on target with important events. Create a calendar for each month and highlight events and themes such as homecoming, studying for finals, parent weekends, sporting events and more. Use these occasions to drive engagement and content on your blog and social media pages. This will keep your content marketing strategy alive and well.

Give Incentives

People love getting free products. College students especially love it, because let’s face it, they don’t have much money. A t-shirt, discount at the bookstore or free tickets to a local event are all a big deal for young people. Give students a reason to contribute and they will be glad to do so.


User-generated content is nothing to be intimidated by. It’s already happening, and it will continue to happen. By monitoring the chatter online, taking part in the conversation and opening up more opportunity for engagement, you can manage successful UGC campaigns. As more and more millennials rely on their peers’ opinions on which schools to choose, UGC will only become more vital to your overall marketing strategy.