According to Google, today’s college students got their first smartphones in middle school. They’re not just digital natives, they’re mobile natives, spending 4+ hours a day using smartphones. [i] They don’t remember a time without the Internet and access to whatever it is they want to do or know.
Anyone who wants to connect with them should forget email. That’s for their parents. Gen Z uses apps, and so should you.
To understand what works for them, check out WhatsApp, among Gen Z’s favorites. It’s a free messaging app, dodging SMS fees that come with traditional texting and accommodating chat groups up to 256 users. Also, look at Snapchat, the fastest growing social network in history. Young people use Snapchat 11 times a day. [ii]Content comes and goes, always fresh, for consumption in snack-size bites of attention. The app is built entirely for users, not marketers. Is a theme emerging here? You bet. Build it around the students and you can win them over.
Gen Z wants to connect with faculty, peers, events, important deadlines, and class suggestions based on their academic goals, performance, and personal interests. They expect you to use their personal information to customize experiences and recommendations the same way Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter do. Do this and they’ll feel emotionally connected to the institution — which is their goal.
Another weighty goal: to be more engaged in how to pay for college. Gen Z wants to take on more responsibility, and they appear to be more financially careful than Gen Xers and Millennials. They grew up in the shadow of 9/11, and the 2008 Wall Street crash, recession, and persistently high unemployment. They’ve marinated in all the headlines about student loan debt and what it means for the future.
According to Ellucian research, colleges lag in using mobile apps to connect with and empower students.[iii] User experiences are clumsy. Data is trapped in silos. Almost half of students say they need to log in to three or four separate platforms (even though the app is “centralized”), and almost a quarter of them log in to five.
As you design for this mobile-first, screen-staring generation, remember this: it may be that all those screens and chats have led them to value old fashioned, face-to-face interaction. A real conversation matters to them too.
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