Higher ed professionals: LinkedIn’s changing. Does it deserve more of your attention?

I wrote this for Higher Education Marketing Report. How is your college or university using LinkedIn, and what limitations are you experiencing?

Higher Ed Marketing Report - Juliano

LinkedIn’s changing. Does it deserve more of your attention?

In August, LinkedIn introduced University Pages, a feature designed to give colleges a better opportunity to tell their stories. One byproduct of this launch is that LinkedIn’s doors are now open to a much younger audience. Instead of waiting until they turn 18, young adults can now start using LinkedIn at age 14 in the U.S. and as young 13 in other countries.

As a result of these changes, many colleges are giving LinkedIn a closer look to consider whether it will help them attract attention from prospects and, therefore, whether it should be a more prominent part of their social media strategy. While it’s certain that some institutions will find tremendous potential in LinkedIn, it’s likely that most colleges will find only serious limitations. Understanding where the opportunities lie is simply a matter of understanding who is most active on LinkedIn and who tends to spend their time elsewhere—despite LinkedIn’s efforts to court them.

To understand this dynamic, it’s important to first consider LinkedIn’s motivation for adding University Pages and welcoming younger users. There are several factors at play:

  • One primary consideration is LinkedIn’s historical irrelevance among teenagers compared to other social media sites. By shutting out everyone under the age of 18, LinkedIn made this a fait accompli and had no momentum to build off as these younger audiences matured. LinkedIn’s recent shift towards youth, then, is an attempt to steal back some of this market share.
  • Another factor is the large population of education professionals on LinkedIn. Higher education is the third largest industry sector in terms of LinkedIn members, behind only information technology and services and financial services. That makes for a potentially high return on investments made in better serving higher ed—especially when you consider…
  • The platform’s limited impact on colleges to date from a student recruitment and retention standpoint. Whereas other businesses have always been able to use one-to-one connections and Company Pages as marketing tools, reaching out directly to their audiences (especially in the B2B sector), LinkedIn’s miniscule teen user audience gives colleges little opportunity to market to one their most important constituencies.
  • Ultimately, of course, it all comes down to money. More users equal more eyeballs to sell to advertisers and more prospective users of LinkedIn’s services and premium memberships.

While these factors help explain why LinkedIn launched University Pages and lowered its age limit, an important question remains: Do the young people LinkedIn is courting really care? And, consequently, is it a good place for higher ed marketing professionals to spend their time? The answer is somewhat mixed, but it comes down to one simple truth: despite LinkedIn’s changes, it’s not yet certain to be a good student recruitment platform. Higher ed marketing professionals, therefore, would be wise to take a wait-and-see approach before investing too many resources into LinkedIn.

Does that mean that LinkedIn should be avoided altogether? No. The platform is a clear winner for higher ed marketing professionals involved in external relations—areas like advocacy and fundraising. After all, no social media platform provides a higher concentration of high wage earners, and its focus on users’ professional lives gives the college’s content a better chance to reach these audience members when they are in the appropriate mindset. In addition, LinkedIn may be an excellent platform for reaching adult learners interested in completing a postsecondary credential, whethera certification or associate degree from a community college or a graduate degree from a university. Being more established in their career path, there’s a good chance they use LinkedIn and they’re likely to recognize the value of a college education in improving their employability and earnings potential.

For many higher ed marketers, however, this represents a small component of their work. If your true imperative is reaching younger prospects, it’s important to remember that many of them—especially those still in high school—simply don’t have LinkedIn on their radar, regardless of the platform’s attempts to woo them. LinkedIn, it seems, doesn’t become relevant to the majority of us until our career goals are clearly in focus. This means LinkedIn’s longstanding age restriction, it seems, was less an impediment to growing a younger audience and more an acceptance of the inevitable.

There absolutely are exceptions to this. You won’t have to look to hard to find the occasional ambitious 15 year old, for example, who’s already using LinkedIn to make connections and chart a career path. However, one of the most critical aspects of using social media well is the discipline to know that potential is the enemy of likely—while everything has potential to work, that is, what matters most is what’s most likely to work. For higher ed marketing professionals, then, the potential in the new LinkedIn should remain just that—potential—until it proves its worth with the specific audiences they serve.

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