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Social Media: It’s Not Just for Kids

It is no secret that social media is becoming an increasingly important form of engagement in higher education. Various platforms are in wide use, and younger alumni often view it as their primary means of communication. However, older alumni are using social media platforms, too. And let’s not forget that today’s young alumni won’t be young forever.

GG+A’s Survey Lab surveyed 1,344 public university alumni about their social media habits. When asked which social media platforms they use at least once per week, most respondents indicated Facebook, with 69% saying they use it weekly. LinkedIn and Instagram followed, with 42% and 24% of respondents indicating a preference for these platforms, respectively. Only one in five alumni said that they rarely or never use social media.

Which of the following social media platforms do you use at least once per week, on average? (Select all that apply)

Facebook 69%
LinkedIn 42%
Instagram 24%
Twitter 21%
Snapchat 16%
Pinterest 14%
Rarely/never use 22%

 

When asked which platform they would most likely use to follow their alma mater, respondents still preferred Facebook and LinkedIn, demonstrating that colleges should invest most heavily in these platforms.

Where would you be most likely to follow the college or university that you attended? (Please select one or two)

Facebook 66%
LinkedIn 34%
Twitter 13%
Instagram 11%
Snapchat 2%
Pinterest 0.7%
Other 1.5%

 

Importantly, the survey captured respondents’ current preferences, but in the fast-moving world of social media, these preferences are likely to change. Moreover, respondents’ age significantly influences their preferences. A recent PiperJaffrey survey of US teens (average age of respondents is 16) show that 45% name Snapchat as their favorite social network, 26% prefer Instagram, 9% choose Twitter, and just 8% choose Facebook. GG+A’s alumni survey revealed that nearly 80% of respondents under the age of 45 use Facebook regularly, and over half of the respondents aged 55 and overuse this platform weekly. On the other hand, fewer than 10% of respondents aged 55 and overuse Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Conversely, 70% of alumni under age 25 use Snapchat regularly and, notably, use decreases as age of respondents increases: only 32% of alumni aged 25 to 34 use this platform regularly, and a mere 8% of respondents over age 35 use it. These findings are important for college communications directors, most of whom are over the age of 35: Listening to your alumni is important because what you do online isn’t what your youngest audience is doing.

Which of the following social media platforms do you use at least once per week, on average? (By age)

<25 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65-74 75+
Facebook 85% 81% 73% 66% 59% 50% 47%
LinkedIn 44% 39% 47% 56% 44% 19% 12%
Instagram 58% 42% 24% 19% 12% 4% 3%
Twitter 38% 23% 26% 27% 13% 8% 4%
Snapchat 70% 32% 7% 7% 4% 1% 3%
Pinterest 22% 20% 15% 15% 8% 7% 4%
Other 13% 8% 3% 7% 3% 3% 8%
Rarely/Never use 7% 11% 15% 17% 29% 44% 50%

 

The good news is that now you know which social media platforms your alumni are using and can adjust your messaging based on their age. The more difficult news is that colleges and universities can’t confine themselves to one or two online channels. Unlike print and even website communications, alumni congregate in different corners of the online universe. The data show that Facebook is a critical platform, but it also shows that several other platforms will become increasingly relevant as alumni age. Moreover, online tastes change. For example, several popular platforms have started to see a declining user base, while other services, notably Snapchat, have surged in popularity.

We know it is important for universities to maintain a strong social media presence. Earlier Survey Lab research shows that social media engagement leads to a stronger sense of connection between alumni and their alma maters. So, despite the challenge of tailoring not only messages but the social media platforms on which they are delivered to specific alumni age groups, it’s well worth the effort!

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About the author

Dan Lowman

Senior Vice President, Survey Lab

Dan Lowman is a Senior Vice President in our Analytics Department. His clients span the nonprofit sector and include hundreds of colleges, universities, hospitals, and social service, advocacy, and cultural organizations. His work with client organizations includes campaign planning, prospect identification and prospect management, analytics implementation, metrics, annual giving programs,…