5 ways to improve communication efforts with Gen Z in higher education

To gain Gen Z’s attention, trust and maximize communication effectiveness, communicators working in higher education should consider the following strategies.

Here's how to best communicate with Gen Z in higher education

Higher education institution (HEI) communicators generally have a standard set of strategies for sharing messages with students, faculty and staff. However, Gen Z has communicators reconsidering their tactics and platforms for this target audience.

According to “Instabrain: The New Rules for Marketing to Generation Z,” by Sarah Weise, “Gen Z has adapted to process information quicker than its predecessors, with the ability to filter and make decisions about content in eight seconds or less.”

To gain Gen Z’s attention, trust and maximize communication effectiveness, HEI communicators should consider the following strategies.

Be strategically strategic

According to Weise, Gen Z treat each social media platform differently. Instagram is a platform for inspiration and edited photos. Snapchat is a space to interact with friends and access unedited content. Twitter is for news and professional announcements, and YouTube and TikTok are for learning new things.

As a result, simply posting one thing across all the institution’s social channels won’t cut it. Communicators should strategically consider what they post, when and where. They should think about how the message aligns with the platform’s purpose. Determine what’s the best way to relay the message. Is it best delivered as a graphic, video or text?

Furthermore, is the content screenshotable? Weise notes that Gen Z regularly screenshots content and saves it for future reference and HEI communicators should take advantage of this behavior. Make it easy for students to screenshot and reference content later by creating easy-to-understand branded graphics that outline important deadlines, instructions, announcements or policy changes.

Ask your leaders to personalize their messages

With only a few seconds to capture their attention, communicators need to personalize their messaging. A recent Salesforce survey found that nearly half of the students surveyed said they would like to receive more personalized communications from their institutions.

One tangible way to do this is by asking advisors, faculty or campus leaders to send personalized messages instead of doing a mass email from a general inbox. It may take more time to execute but the payoff could be worth it.

Don’t be afraid to email them

This may come as a shock but email is not dead, and HEI communicators shouldn’t write off emails as an ineffective method. Instead, emails should be an integral part of an integrated communications plan.

“Instabrain” reports that 85% of Gen Z cite a preference for email as a communication channel, compared to 89 percent of millennials. Specifically related to HEI, students generally prefer to receive institutional communications via email more than texts, social or student-messaging systems.

Jess Peterson, marketing communications specialist in the division of student affairs at DePaul University, can attest to students’ openness to email communications. “Students generally understand they are expected to use email and use the same strategies as [DePaul staff and faculty] for organizing, responding to and referencing important emails.”

Tap into nano-influencers

Influencers are often associated with TikTok content creators or YouTubers with millions of subscribers. However, there is an untapped subset of influencers for HEI – nano-influencers. They are defined as people with less than 10,000 highly engaged social media followers within a niche community.

Institutional nano-influencers can include student organization leaders, athletes, student workers, academic advisors, administrators, coaches and resident assistants. They can help HEI communicators get their message directly to target audiences, because students are more likely to pay attention to them than a general institutional account. Make it easy for nano-influencers to quickly share the information by providing them with pre-drafted posts, images and links.

Studies show this tactic not only works, but positively impacts institutional awareness. According to one study, “a brand with visible online presence via both user-generated and firm-generated [social media channels] boosts peoples’ [e-word of mouth] activities that, in turn, engender increased brand awareness, love and attitude.

Finally above everything else, one thing remains the same for communicators – consistency. According to a Salesforce study, nearly six in 10 students say the gap between students and institution leaders is due to a lack of consistent communications.

So to build trust, strengthen institution loyalty and retain students, simply do what all communicators should be doing – keep them informed through consistent messages.

Michelle Patrick is the manager of strategic communication initiatives at DePaul University. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Public Relations and Political Science from Millikin University and a Master of Arts degree in Professional Communication from DePaul University. When she’s not working, you can find her reading, drinking coffee and planning her next travel adventure.  


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