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How to Authentically Connect with Gen Z Students
Lanitta Collier

I’m a member of Gen Z. And, it’s frustrating to hear and see how Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, and Millennials perceive my generation. From being too sensitive, not being able to handle face-to-face interactions, and having unreasonably high expectations…we’re the current generation that everyone “loves” to critique. 

We’ve seen similar generational critiques from previous age groups. But, like it or not, Gen Z is becoming your school’s target audience, so it’s critical you start to engage and connect with this influential group of young adults and older children.

Inter-generational assumptions aside, we’re comprised of two of your school’s largest audiences: young alumni and current students. 65% of Gen Z’ers like to know the realities of the brands they’re connected to, and have control over their own content consumption. We’re motivated, socially engaged, and with $44 billion in spending power, Gen Z’ers are the new generation of consumers.

It’s essential for current and prospective students to see the life of your school or district in a positive light. In order to do that, you’ll need to meet your student population halfway.  

So, let’s put the stereotypes to rest and focus on what Gen Z values and motivates them to engage with your school’s content. 

Who is Gen Z, really?

For starters, Gen Z covers anyone born roughly between 1997 and 2012 (10-24 year-olds) which, makes us the first generation to be born in a digitally-integrated world (also commonly referred to as digital natives or “Zoomers.” And, contrary to public opinion, we’re pretty aware of the impact the internet and social media has had on our psyche.

Many of us understand that we have more access to information than any generation in the history of humanity. As a result, we naturally have a heightened awareness of ourselves and the world around us. (I mean, most of us were raised in an interconnected world, so what do you expect?) With the excess of knowledge, advertising, entertainment, and news that we’re bombarded with on a day-to-day basis, the last thing we want is our own schools to fill our timelines with inauthentic content as well.

So, love us or hate us, we’re a direct reflection of the modern society we were born into, and, if you want to effectively market your school to the new “It” generation, you’ll need to understand how we use and interact with your school on social media.

How can your school or district authentically connect with your Gen Z student body?

  1. Create Compelling Content
  2. Establish & Be True To Your School’s Brand
  3. Cultivate Your Community
  4. Be Accountable, Open, and Honest

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Create Compelling Content

If it isn’t obvious already, we have pretty short attention spans. Actually, Gen Z’ers have an attention span of eight seconds. The basis of your content needs to be what we would perceive as valuable. Gen Z-ers spend 8+ hours a day online, so when you factor in the seven to eight hours in school five days out of the week, it’s clear that time is your students’  most valuable asset. And, honestly, school is going to be the last thing on their minds in their downtime.

Your content needs to match their preferences, which are:

  • Brief
  • Seamless
  • Concise

For example, Eden Prairie’s Schools’ new website keeps content short and user-friendly for their Gen Z student body and prospective families. Traditionally on school websites, “Why ________ school” pages have been lengthy areas for piling content related to what makes your school or district stand out. Eden Prairie condenses the content in a way that makes it scannable and quick to digest.

mockup of Eden Prairie Schools website and mobile site

Another important factor is ensuring your website’s content translates seamlessly to mobile devices. It’s true: we prefer the convenience of our mobile devices provide over PCs and laptops. That means the user experience of your school or district mobile website needs to be on par with the brands they’re regularly interacting with.

62% of Gen Z-ers will not use an app or website that is too slow to load. Being digital natives, we’re used to living in a society where we can easily navigate between our own physical world and the online world. Take a look at Eden Prairie's mobile web design. Its content is easily accessible and transferable between its desktop and mobile design. And, it reinforces their overall user experience.

Establish & Be True To Your School’s Brand

73% of Gen Z follow one or more brands on social media. Chances are your student body has a more candid idea of your school or district’s aesthetic than their own teachers and staff. So, there’s no need to put up a polished front in every area of your brand. It’ll come off as disingenuous, out of touch, and just outright…cringy.

mockup of mcallie tiktok

Do you know how older adults tend to tell younger people to just “be themselves” as a default for interacting with the world around them? The same goes for your online persona when engaging with your audience. Will it feel totally out of place? Maybe. However, by remaining authentically consistent with your school’s marketing efforts, you’re going to reach and engage your student body. Have fun with your school’s persona! (Meme-ify, if you will.) Prospective and current students have an expectation for their schools and districts to be able to educate and relay information, but it doesn’t hurt to crack a joke every once in a while. Plus, it emphasizes the focus on your school in a light-hearted way.

Hebron Academy utilizes Reels on Instagram to expand its school’s brand while connecting with its Gen Z student population in a tangible way. 71% of Gen Z-ers watch more than three hours of online videos every day, so make use of video content in your social media strategy to retain and attract an engaged Gen Z audience.

In the same vein, you can utilize video content in your school or district’s social media strategy to highlight what makes it stand out from the rest. McCallie School showcases the life of their school in a way that’s entertaining, authentic, and gives prospective students a sneak peek into their school’s culture.

mccallie school tiktok mockup

Cultivate Your Community

Creating an engaging, safe, and supportive environment for students goes beyond face-to-face interactions. Gen Z’ers need to trust that their values and interests are going to be reflected in your school or district’s online presence, and who better to generate user-based content than your own students? Besides, 80% of Gen Zers aspire to work with cutting-edge technology. So, give them the opportunity to showcase your school’s online community from their point of view. 

Gen Z loves to share and be a part of content that validates their own experiences. For example, Felsted School utilized one of TikTok's leading trends following their “Day In The Life” of a Felsted student. This way, current students can participate in showcasing the life of their school from their perspective. And, it gives prospective students an authentic impression of the overall student experience at Felsted. 

More Reading: Should My School Use TikTok? 

Be Accountable, Open, and Honest

Ether Walker TikTok

Even though we were practically born yesterday, Gen Z’ers had (and, still have) endless amounts of information at our disposal to think about critically. And, because of that, we’re more pragmatic and analytical about our decisions than previous generations were. In other words, we’re not the generation you want to mess with. 

Cancel culture is real, and Gen Z’ers will definitely make it known when you miss the mark on your school or district’s marketing front. Want to avoid that? Accountability is key. 

We were raised and socialized during a time of societal and economic uncertainty, and COVID-19 was the cherry on top for many of us. It’s important for your students to see the same level of transparency that was showcased during the pandemic.


Key Takeaway

Gen Z makes up the majority of your school or district’s student population. It’s time to look at us as more than a bunch of phone-addicted kids, but instead as a generation of critical consumers. In order to retain and attract current and prospective students, it’s essential to create quick and easy-to-digest content that authentically informs, educates, and entertains. The results will serve your school for years to come!

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Lanitta Collier Headshot

In her position as Content Marketing Specialist, Lanitta assists with demand generation efforts across all social media channels, email, and website communications. With almost 5 years of experience in content creation, digital marketing, and social media management, Lanitta has worked with several of clients to create, produce, and strategize. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and SEMRush.

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