When LinkedIn was founded in 2003, it served as little more than a virtual Rolodex of sorts — a place to collect and categorize the contact information of your professional network. Useful in its own right, of course, but primarily for you as an individual. As the years have gone on and the platform’s functionality has increased, it’s gone from useful to indispensable.
Now LinkedIn is a place for recruiters to find employees if they’re looking to fill a position; for prospective employees to discover which local employers are hiring and for which positions; and for building a robust network of connections that can help you find a new job, solve a business problem or organize a committee. It’s a place to build your digital reputation as a professional, catalog your experience, showcase your references and position yourself as a thought leader.
For prospective students, it’s also an incredibly important tool when deciding where to attend college or university. So important, in fact, that LinkedIn has created a subset of its platform just for higher ed professionals.
A slide deck titled “Connecting with Today’s Prospective Students: How Marketers Can Best Influence the Student Decision Journey” references a recent LinkedIn survey that indicates “professionals on LinkedIn possess a unique economic and behavioral mindset that makes them great prospects for higher education marketers. It turns out that LinkedIn professionals have significantly higher ‘Grit Scores,’ or ability to pursue long-term goals with perseverance and passion, than the general population.” In other words, if someone is looking for a school on LinkedIn, they’re not only likely to enroll — they’re likely to graduate.
Getting a student to consider your school can also be bolstered by LinkedIn. The company cites 2013 research from Google that says “the rise of social and digital media means prospective students can tap into peer opinions and student reviews versus relying solely on traditional sources of school information, such as viewbooks and rankings. In fact, a recent study showed nine in 10 enrolled students have used the internet to research higher education institutions, and 10 percent of them use the internet exclusively.”
Your presence online matters, and LinkedIn is a fantastic place to build and expand that presence. You care about your students and prospects — here’s how to connect with them on LinkedIn.
Getting started: LinkedIn basics
In a presentation titled “Executive Playbook for University Leaders,” LinkedIn says, “Around the world and across industries, top executives and thought leaders who were once convinced that social media wasn’t worth their time, now consider their participation in these networks as essential to their role.” It’s true. LinkedIn differs from other top social networks because it’s purely for professional and professional-adjacent content and discussion. Of course there’s a place for your university on Facebook and Twitter, but there, you’re fighting politics, grandchildren and multilevel marketing for engagement.
On LinkedIn, users are focused on improving their careers, strengthening their networks and hearing what industry leaders have to say.
Your profile: “Having a complete profile is important to show you’re an active participant in the ecosystem,” LinkedIn says. The platform will prompt you to fill out your profile — include as much as possible, and put some thought into it! A high-resolution professional profile picture, years of relevant experience, a summary of your professional goals, thoughts and values, and links to your work are all beneficial.
Even though you’re looking to position yourself as an expert, don’t be afraid to sound like a real person. After all, prospective students can visit your school’s website to understand what the institution is all about. They visit your profile to learn what YOU are all about! If there are aspects of your career you want to keep quiet, you can — LinkedIn offers customizable privacy settings that let you determine who can see your updates and your activity.
Connections: Your connections are the people you know through professional or other networks, including colleagues, clients, employees, mentors, community connections and more. The network says that building your connections list allows you to:
If you want to show up more prominently in LinkedIn searches or news feeds, one of the easiest ways to make it happen is by connecting with more people — once you hit 500 connections, you’ll become easier to see.
Followers: Even if you don’t know someone personally, once you craft a LinkedIn presence that shows off your expertise and opinions, you can start attracting followers. As a figurehead for your university, you may receive more invitations to connect than you can handle. And once a profile reaches 30,000 connections, the platform won’t let you add more … but people can always follow you! While you might not reach more than 5 million followers like Richard Branson and Bill Gates have, you can reach many people this way.
Groups: Search LinkedIn for higher education-related groups with varying member numbers and start participating! Don’t be afraid to give your opinion in discussions on trends and regulations, provide your advice and expertise, be exposed to new ideas and opportunities, and ask questions. Groups are an excellent way to get feedback from peers around the world — how are other colleges and universities doing things, and how’s it working? You can find out on LinkedIn.
Mastering the platform: Making LinkedIn work for your college or university
The average short list consists of only three schools. Seventy-two percent of prospective students develop their short list before they reach out to a school representative. Ninety-three percent ended up enrolling in a school from their short list (from “Connecting with Today’s Prospective Students: How Marketers Can Best Influence the Student Decision Journey”).
Define your goals: Let’s say you’re looking to increase enrollment in your MBA program. You need to get more specific than that. By how much? On campus or online? How do you want to reach these prospective students? How much are you willing to pay in LinkedIn advertising?
Target audiences that matter: LinkedIn for higher education professionals is geared toward a few different groups, including prospective students, current students, graduating students and alumni. Take advantage of the resources they have available for you to learn how to get in front of and engage each of these student groups.
Engage them with content: LinkedIn is no longer just a place to store virtual business cards. One of the network’s greatest strengths is as a longform writing platform. Because people want to hear from you as an ambassador of your institution, not just from the institution as a faceless entity, it’s time to get your thoughts out there. Get tips and tricks for starting in the next section.
Measure and optimize: LinkedIn provides robust dashboards of engagements, follows, shares and clicks. Take advantage of what the data tells you, and use it going forward — test different kinds of content against each other to see what your audiences respond to.
Craft a LinkedIn presence worth following
Where better to get advice on publishing content on LinkedIn than from Daniel Roth, the company’s editorin- chief. In a post titled “Here's What I Tell People When They Ask How to Crush It as a LinkedIn Writer,” he offers the following seven pieces of advice for people getting started with personal writing online:
Beyond the basics
To understand what LinkedIn offers higher education professionals like you, start by visiting https://university.linkedin.com. From there, you’ll have access to articles, slide decks, videos, on-demand webinars and more that walk you through how to craft an amazing presence on LinkedIn. The resources available will help you to “support all you do, from preparing students for careers and engaging alumni to marketing and admissions outreach.”