Who better to connect with prospective college students than those who have recently walked in their shoes? According to Chegg.com and Uversity.com, conversations surrounding colleges and universities are taking place online more than ever before. If you want to reach prospective students during crucial decision-making opportunities, you need to be right there. Why not leverage the asset that you already have – your current students!

What is Student Advocacy?

“Student advocacy” is a term that describes students creating exposure for the school they attend using their own social networks. They may share a post of yours on their Facebook page or retweet information from your college on their Twitter profile. Student advocates are eager to share posts, contribute to discussions and participate in hashtag campaigns. While social media is the main way that students contribute, they can also get involved through online forums, chats, discussion boards, email and more.

Do Students Really Want to Participate?

While student advocacy sounds good in theory, the main question that colleges and universities have is whether their students really want to participate. Isn’t it asking a bit much from students? And what if students aren’t interested?

The same study from Chegg.com and Uversity.com found that 60 percent of the students surveyed were happy to join a social media initiative to spread the word about their school. What it comes down to is that when people are passionate about something, they don’t mind sharing their experiences. They feel compelled to promote the product or service they are enjoying and why it can make a difference for others.

The key is to reach out to students who are enthused with their experience and education. These might be students who attend a lot of extracurricular activities or support your school on social media. They could also be alumni who give donations or subscribe to your alumni magazine.

The bottom line is that students want to be a part of spreading the word. Social media is something they have grown up with, and they are comfortable using this channel to engage with friends, share information and join in conversations. Asking them to be a part of a social media initiative for your school is not any additional “work” on their part. It comes natural to them, and they will be happy to do it!

How Do I Get Started with a Student Advocacy Program?

Now that you know that a student advocacy program can generate buzz for your college or university, let’s talk about how to set up a strong student advocacy program. After all, you can’t just ask students to spread the word without giving them a mission to work toward.

Define Your Goals

The first step is to define your goals. It could be something as simple as increasing “likes” or boosting enrollment numbers, but you still need to determine what will suffice as an increase. For example, do you want to boost enrollment by 20 percent? Increase reach on social media by an additional 10,000? Be specific so that you have something to stay focused on.

Identify Your Best Students

One of the main reasons why student advocacy programs fail is because they don’t get the right people on board in the first place. To ensure the success of your program, work with your top 20 percent of advocates. You can always grow this number later on.

Look for students who regularly engage with your school on social media (sharing posts, retweeting hashtags, answering questions, posting in the comments and more). While this is the easiest way to identify your best students, anyone you feel is a good advocate for your school should be invited into your program.

Establish a Communication Platform

Once you have your objectives clearly defined and your student advocacy team built, it’s time to create a communication platform. In most cases, all this would entail is an email with a clear call to action. Invite students to be a Brand Ambassador, explain to them what it means for them and include a link where they can sign up. Be clear about what they are in control of posting.

Create Content

Now it’s time to figure out what you are going to say! Your content should be informative, engaging and helpful. It should speak to prospective students, which means you can’t always be pushing your school on them. You need to take a step back and better understand the enrollment journey and what types of content will be helpful to your readers. This way, when they see your content, prospects will be more receptive to reading it if they know it’s not just another sales pitch.

Content Distribution

Great content is only going to travel so far on its own. It also needs a great content distribution strategy. Ideally, you should have different content going to the different platforms: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

When deciding which content to share to which network, consider their advantages. Twitter does an exceptional job of creating a large, relevant audience, whereas Facebook does best creating conversation around a particular brand. LinkedIn helps professionals connect with others in their field.

Analytics and Data

You won’t know how successful your student advocacy program is doing unless you track and measure the results. This will be done in various ways, depending on what your objective was. If your goal was sales based, tracking through an affiliate link is probably the best way to review your ROI. If your goal was awareness based, an analytics program will tell you the information you need to know.

Final Thoughts

A strong student advocacy program is never done growing. You should be making adjustments based on the data and also inviting new students into your program. As your program grows, so will the conversation around your college or university. This is what will separate you from other higher institutions and get your school on the radar for prospects. So listen to your students! They have spoken, and they’re here to help support your goals!