Leveraging the Power of YouTube for Student Marketing Initiatives

Date posted: May 15, 2014

When it comes to marketing your higher education institution, there’s almost no popular social media outlet that’s overlooked as much as YouTube is. It’s a shame, because the social community on YouTube is one of the largest and most active there is – according to The Intelligence Group’s recent study, teenagers visit YouTube 14% more often than Facebook. Shortened attention spans increasingly demand quickly scannable content, and short video can satisfy this preference for immediacy better than any alternative. This means that if you aren’t featuring impactful and engaging videos prominently on your college or university’s website, you could be missing out.

From sharing videos of student council elections or recreational sports to keep current students talking, to sharing messages from your academic faculty or administration in order to promote your various programs and attract prospective students, YouTube is a powerful marketing tool that you should definitely be using to full advantage.

Carefully Structure Your YouTube Channels

The first and most important step in leveraging YouTube’s social media marketing potential is to create a YouTube channel for your institution where you’ll upload all of your videos. This will make it much easier for people to find the videos you’ll be posting, as they can easily subscribe to the channel and receive updates when you post new content. It’s also a great idea to create different channels or sub-sections of channels for different aspects of your school that you want to market, such as student life, academic programs, or study abroad opportunities, making it easier for people to find the content that’s most relevant to them.

Example: McGill University has several subsections on their university’s YouTube account for specific types of content.

student marketing youtube videos

Prospective students can see what life in residence is like by subscribing to their McGillRezLife account, figure out which program suits their needs by checking out their Programs at McGill sub-section and hearing current students and professors talk about what makes them unique, or see what they can expect from life on campus with the Campus Life sub-section.

For example, in this video, students are able to get a sense of what being a dentistry student will be like:

Dividing your content into unique categories on your channel, or using several different channels for your university’s many initiatives is a great way to ensure students can find what they’re looking for effortlessly, while at the same time giving each branch of the university you’re trying to market its own identity.

Encourage Student Participation

Utilizing the voices of your student body is an absolute essential when it comes to marketing your school with YouTube. Getting students to submit content and participate in your video campaigns is a great way to reach other students, as they tend to identify much better with people of their own age who are in similar situations. They feel less like they’re being advertised to, or being sold something. A prospective student is much more likely to trust and be engaged by a first year student than a faculty member, because they can relate to them on a personal level.

Example: Concordia University has a YouTube channel that accepts submissions from students studying abroad, sharing some of their amazing experiences and what they’ve learned through the process. Not only does it market study abroad opportunities for prospective students, but it gives students the chance to feel like they belong to a larger community, and that they have a voice within that community to share their story.

social media marketing youtube

Example: The University of Alberta has an ongoing series of YouTube videos in which they spotlight a particular international student who’s studying in Canada. It gives students a chance to talk about their experiences at the university and in Canada, serving as an effective tool to recruit new students, as well as making international students feel more at home while studying away from home.

Diversity in your Content is Extremely Important

While showcasing your school’s many exciting programs and beautiful campus is great, students are liable to get bored pretty quickly when they realize that your YouTube channel is only being used to talk up what makes your university so great. Curating smart, original and diverse content is absolutely necessary to build a natural and realistic engagement with your students. If you’re simply uploading video after video of professors explaining why the university is so great, students will eventually see it for what it is – thinly veiled advertising. By showcasing great original content, you’ll be able to attract a much larger following.

Example: Concordia University frequently uploads performances by their music and theatre students on the university’s YouTube channel. Videos like this performance by one of the university’s chamber music ensembles are unique and engaging pieces of content that will catch the eye of much different demographic than a video of the chair of the English department discussing the ins and outs of the programs.

Calls to Action

One of the biggest missed opportunities for higher education institutions is not providing links to landing pages or calls to action (CTAs) on their videos – either embedded in the video, or on the page that the video is on. You wouldn’t believe how many universities fail to include a link to a relevant page on their website. While videos have great potential for education lead generation, you’ll never convert any of those leads without a proper call to action.

Besides the traditional promotional activities, YouTube offers many options for advertising:

  • ads at the bottom of videos
  • in-stream video ads appearing before other videos
  • in-search ads for videos displayed in search results
  • in-display ads displayed in right-side search while other videos are already playing

If you have a “TrueView” PPC campaign running (in-stream videos as ads, only charged if the user watches over 30 seconds), CTA overlays, text ads showing in your videos, can show in all your channel’s videos for no additional charge. For example, if you have a great video demonstrating why your Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy program is so unique, why not include a link to where a prospective student can sign up for more information or contact the admissions office?

Example:  This video on Dalhousie University’s YouTube channel about the language programs they offer – part of an ongoing series produced by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences to promote their various programs – there is not only a link to the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences program page in the description of the video, but a link embedded in the video at the end for an article about how the Russian Studies department can open up a door to Theatre. These are targeted calls to action that make it easy for interested parties to take the next step.

social media marketing youtube recruitment


And Don’t Forget to BE ACTIVE!

There’s no point in having a social media account if you’re not active on it! This is especially true with YouTube, as a channel with a handful of videos that hasn’t been updated in over a year is not going to do you any good, in fact it may hurt your school’s reputation, as people will think that you’re not active on social media, and thus either behind the times or reluctant to make a foray into what is now an integral part of students’ lives. However, that’s not to say that you should be uploading content purely for content’s sake. Establish clear goals to ensure your communications align with larger student marketing strategic objectives.

When it all comes down to it, authenticity in your YouTube presence is one of the most important things to remember. Showcasing what makes your school unique and painting an honest and exciting picture of what you have to offer is the best way to establish a strong brand and engage prospects for student recruitment.

Have you made successful YouTube student marketing videos?