For many of us, we just got through matching speeds with the digitized, web-native Generation Y. We reach out and connect with our students on Facebook. We tweet them and read their tweets. And we feel like we finally got a handle on things… when in rolls the next disruptively technological generation.
Generation Z, characterized as those born after 1995, have different characteristics and requirements than Generation Y (aged 20-37). Where Generation Y are digital natives, Generation Z are mobile, social, graphical digital natives. Their expectations and requirements are as different from the millennial generation’s as a 30-year-old’s from a 50-year-old’s.
And we’re in a unique position. Generation Z will approach commercial institutions, from banks to bars, over a period of several years as they move through life, reaching financial and other milestones at different rates. Businesses have a period of several years to acclimatize themselves. We don’t. For us, Generation Z arrives, en masse, with the graduation class of 2015.
How ready are we?
What do you know about Generation Z? We know that they have grown up with social media, and that their new ways of socialising have impacted how they learn. Generation Z are self-educators – for them, there’s always been Google, YouTube, Wikipedia.
They’re also entrepreneurial. Generation Y saw how digital technology made self-employment a reality for many, and how online businesses could get off the ground unencumbered by anything but a URL and a good idea, then build themselves into colossuses midflight. For Gen Z, that’s just normal. They expect to work with, not work for – and that’s going to color their relationships with academic staff. These kids aren’t resentful slackers or dazed and confused. They don’t come to college to be passively stuffed with knowledge, either.
How does Generation Z self-educate?
– Watch lessons online
– Use YouTube for research projects
– Collaborate with classmates through social technology
Generation Z often prefer visuals over text. They’ve always lived with emoticons, autocorrect and easily-available images; we can think of them as the ‘infographic generation’ (or, perhaps less kindly, as the ‘TL;DR’ (Too Long; Didn’t Read’) generation). But, perhaps surprisingly for the kids who grew up on Facebook and Twitter, they also value privacy. In fact, that’s one reason why they’re increasingly abandoning Facebook for a new world of social media apps that allow more targeted, private online socialisation, like SnapChat – which their elders are once again flummoxed by.
That means that colleges who think they’ve finally got social media nailed might need to go back and rethink their strategies. After all, if the stats are to be believed, Generation Z won’t be on Facebook that much. To mistake it for their natural environment is an error that could cost college admission boards dearly.
The next generation of students is on the doorstep of college and universities and they bring with them expectations shaped by the personalized, intuitive and open online world. They expect the same from colleges. The key to reaching out and connecting with Generation Z is a personalized social media experience. Generation Z is channel-agnostic: when they read (on news collation sites) that Google has a real-life store now, they’re not surprised because they don’t see a clear divide between online and offline.
To engage with these prospective students, colleges and universities will be challenged to manage the social apps required to engage and connect with Generation Z. Today, the number of apps recruiters can use to find their prospective students continues to grow, with new ones popping up every day – from Instant Messaging (IM) channels, Facebook, and Twitter to YouTube, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest and more. Higher ed needs to learn from the recent drop in FaceBook that there is no one app where we will find our next generation of students. An answer to this challenge is with Saas (software as a service) social business and engagement solutions that can quickly help higher education transform their recruiting, admissions and learning strategies with the familiarity of most popular social media. Higher ed cannot afford to be socially and technologically a generation behind.
Contributor: Lauren Hart Piper is VP of Product Management and Marketing