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As post-secondary students become increasingly concerned about their future career prospects when choosing a college or university, many are taking to social media to compare educational offerings. Over the past year, professional social network LinkedIn has made prominent strides towards providing data-driven college evaluation, with the aim of transforming the college-selection process in the same way it has changed job recruitment behaviour. Last summer, it launched dedicated University Pages while lowering its age limit to 14 to connect prospective students with the school that fits them best. While it eliminated its Products and Services tab from Company Pages earlier this month, the new Showcase Pages feature should more than make up for it.

Why LinkedIn is Valuable for Schools

Although at first glance it may seem counterintuitive for colleges to recruit teenagers on LinkedIn, which has an average user age of 44.2 according to a 2012 report, the site has been steadily growing in student popularity. Students may spend more time on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, but ambitious teens are already using social media to develop their personal brand. Many carefully craft their online profiles, conscious that employers and college admissions teams use social media to screen prospective candidates, and have adopted a wider variety of platforms to serve specific functions. LinkedIn says college students and recent grads are its fastest-growing demographic, at over 30 million of its 300 million members, and believes that the competitive college admissions process will motivate younger users to build their own online resumes.

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LinkedIn’s University Pages enable prospective students to research and compare the merits of various institutions on a social media platform they are already familiar with, learning the latest news and activities, asking questions about programs, and viewing profiles of notable graduates (through embedded links). Unlike Company Pages, there is greater potential for personalization and including more relevant information and images for the university’s target audiences. The appealing look and design of the new pages even rivals some schools’ primary websites!

Career colleges will be most interested in the prominent focus on professional post-graduate achievements, including the opportunity to immediately network with alumni. Prospective students can easily observe where alumni live, work and what kind of work they do in the “Explore Careers” section to see for themselves what they might expect after graduation and even network with “notable alumni” to try to get an entry level position. Colleges may receive messages from interested applicants or send targeted messages to their followers based on location, industry or major. “In its logical conclusion, colleges can move away from sending glossy brochures and really focus on students that are the best fit for the programs that they have to offer,” says Deep Nishar, LinkedIn’s senior vice president for products and user engagement.

Example: The University of British Columbia (UBC) has made its LinkedIn university page a core component of its overall marketing and communications activities, according to a recent article in University Affairs. It mixes posts about university news, research breakthroughs, fundraising successes and campus events, including targeted updates such as a Shanghai alumni event only visible to its 1,500 graduates in the Asia-Pacific region.

“For us, it’s a fundamental piece of our social media strategy, because people expect brands to be on LinkedIn,” explains Juliana Fridman, director of interactive marketing in the department of development and alumni engagement at UBC. “People attend universities to better themselves, and LinkedIn has a close relationship to your professional life, so it’s important for us to do a good job on this page.”

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Introducing Showcase Pages

Although Showcase Pages were first announced back in November, LinkedIn has recently made them available to everyone with Company Pages. The feature allows colleges and universities to create pages targeted to separate audiences, such as various campuses, programs, alumni groups or particular campaigns. You can currently create up to ten free Showcase Pages to branch off your main Company Page (with only three immediately visible). Once someone has liked your Company Page, they can choose to follow specific Showcase Pages for only the most relevant updates without following the Company Page.

The most apparent feature of Showcase Pages is the visual focus, similar to Facebook pages. The large “hero image” of the banner is 974px by 330px, including the integrated logo and number of followers in the bottom third of the image. Content is clearly displayed in two columns with easier audience interaction, again similar to Facebook or Google+. To make a Showcase Page simply click on the drop-down menu to the right of the “Edit” button and click on “Create a Showcase Page.” Choose the administrator and page name, which will determine the unique URL. Add links, industry, a 200-word page description and images as desired, then click “Publish.”

showcase pages

One criticism of University Pages was the impossibility of identifying segmented followers, but Showcase Pages comes with a built-in analytics program for tracking engagement, trends and audience demographics of each page. Unfortunately University Pages do not yet have independent Showcase Pages so schools will need to maintain their Company Page to take advantage of the new feature. It remains to be seen whether Showcase Pages will catch on with higher education institutions, considering many have already made the switch to University Pages, but their unique search and analytics capabilities might make it worth having both.

Other LinkedIn Considerations

Segmenting the right message to the right audience is the most obvious benefit of the new LinkedIn changes, a philosophy which should extend to your overall social media strategy. As each social network has its own purpose and best practices, determine how your LinkedIn content will differ between pages and how it will be differentiated from profiles on Facebook, Twitter and other social media marketing networks. For example, Syracuse University’s LinkedIn pages are managed by its Alumni or Career Services departments. They try to tie updates to meaningful career moments in the lives of their alumni, but relevant industry news, links to your websites’ blogs, and upcoming career fairs are all good examples of LinkedIn posts.

Targeted status updates are available on University Pages, allowing you to choose to share content based on several factors. “Depending on what part of the country, or what industry you’re in, or what company you work for, or how high up you are in your career, that’ll dictate what status update you see,” says Kim Brown, Syracuse’s Assistant Director of Alumni Programs.

Universities such as UBC have developed formal protocols to guide the nature of content, editorial tone, frequency of posts and interaction with followers. Integrating relevant keywords in your headline, summary, and more will elevate your SEO and connecting your optimizing your institution’s website with Google Analytics will help demonstrate the effectiveness of this social media channel in your overall marketing strategy. Take full advantage of the platform by joining groups and interacting with your community with valuable posts and comments.

How has your college maximized its reach on LinkedIn?