This fall, Interact Communications surveyed nearly 15,000  students from 29 community and technical colleges across 16 states. These students told us a lot about their media preferences, offering valuable insight into where and how you should reach them. Here are some top takeaways to help guide your decision making in 2020!

Social media

1. They’re hanging out on YouTube. 

YouTube is still king! No matter the age, students are spending more time on YouTube than any other social media platform. More than 70 percent of students indicate they’re on YouTube “frequently” or “always.” And Instagram has surpassed all apps in terms of their “favorite” social networking site—beating out Facebook for the first time. So, if you haven’t yet upped your video storytelling game on these three platforms, now’s the time. 


2. They’ve cut the cord on cable. 

The cord has been cut! Streaming now dominates television viewing habits, with more than 50 percent of the surveyed students preferring to stream their content. Where are they binging their favorite shows? Netflix still commands an oh-so-solid lead, with Hulu and Amazon Prime bringing on the chase. So, if you’re investing in television, consider OTT, or “over-the-top” advertising, to better target the younger video consumers you just won’t reach anymore with traditional TV. After the 50-plus crowd? They’re still holding on to cable. At least for now. 

Listening preferences

3. They’re down with downloads.

This is especially true for the younger students, age 16 to 25. In fact, nearly half of them say they download music more than they stream it. But streaming is still popular, with Spotify trending with the younger crowd and Pandora attracting the 41-plus crowd. Apple Music and YouTube Music are also gaining listeners. And local radio, which took its biggest dip yet this fall, can thank Gen X and Boomers for keeping it alive, albeit barely. So, if local radio is in your ad mix, you should be negotiating better buys to avoid overpaying. And if you’re after adult learners who are likely commuting and carpooling, go for deals on those morning drive time spots.


4. They don’t read the news. 

Let it go! Let it go! Can you hear Idina Menzel’s Elsa belting out the lyrics from the movie Frozen? You should. If you’ve been holding onto newspaper advertising, it’s time to “let it go.” This is not new or trendy, but it’s certainly worth repeating. The vast majority admit they never read a newspaper, with 10 percent barely reading “sometimes.” So, if your board, president, or faculty pressure you to spend already limited resources on newspaper ads, don’t do it. Play them the Frozen tune. And if you’re lucky enough to still have a local education reporter and score solid coverage, employ a social media strategy and build an online news center to share your stories where people will see them.  

College communication and delivery

5. They hang on to your email. 

Hang on. What did you say? Yep. You heard me right. Students not only read emails from your college, especially when they come to their personal email, but nearly 70 percent admit they even save them. Looks like email is how they prefer you send them information about college events and activities, academic programs, course scheduling, and financial aid. So now that you know that email matters, what should you do? Take advantage of this readily available communication channel to engage with and be helpful to your students. Be friendly. And entertaining. At the very least, stop barking procedures and deadlines at them. Offer useful tips and relevant stuff. Maybe even throw in a discount, a ticket, or a “freebie.” Chances are, this might be just the nudge they need to stay the course—and stick with you.

Communication access

6. They’re on multiple devices simultaneously.

Shocking, right?  This just makes it harder to get anyone’s attention. Forget multi-tasking. We’re talking multi-everything. Most students have at least two to three devices they’re viewing content on at the same time. Being creative and building a strong brand is key to cut through the clutter and gain not only their attention, but also their loyalty. Don’t be afraid to use humor. And implement A/B testing with your campaigns. It will help you find out what’s working and what might be falling flat. Our audiences now have the attention span of a goldfish, compounded by the fact that they’re splitting that coveted 7 seconds among multiple devices. Being clear, clever, and consistent has never been more important!

Image and recruitment

7. They notice what you promote on campus. 

When asked where they’ve recently seen or heard an ad for your college, more than 80 percent of students say “on campus.” It’s where they have the greatest recall of your messaging. Give yourself a round of applause. You’re doing a good job of taking advantage of your own campus real estate to promote your college, programs, events, and activities. Give your campus collaterals more credit. Don’t give up on posters, displays, campus TV screens, vehicle wraps, elevator wraps, and lamppost banners. Look for the spaces, big and small, inside and outside, where you can get your brand, enrollment, and hospitality messaging in front of your students and visitors. 

Image and recruitment

8. They think you should recruit them at school and at work. 

So, get out there! Students ages 16 to 20 advise that having college reps in the high schools is the best way to recruit them. Likewise, adults 26 and older recommend worksite recruitment. Such face-to-face recruitment also ranked high among 21- to 25-year-olds, only outranked by social media in effectiveness. Nonetheless, this is a reminder of the value direct recruitment has and to enhance your visibility and build positive relationships with local high schools and employers. Make sure your marketing and recruitment teams are collaborating to coordinate your efforts with a robust, integrated outreach strategy. 

Customer service

9. They expect to hear back from you today. 

This applies to inquiries coming in from all media. The days of collecting and batching inquiries to handle at the end of the work week are a thing of the past. Students expect you to respond immediately, or close to it. Most expect an answer within the same day or by the next day when emailing, making a website inquiry, or leaving a voice message. And when they reach out on social media? They expect an even more timely response, even “within an hour.” This puts more pressure on colleges to rethink how you’re managing customer service across departments, eliminating silos and dedicating appropriate staffing to social media.


10. They need to feel more love, especially if they’re part-timers. 

The good news is that nearly 80 percent of students say their college encourages them to stay enrolled until they graduate. However, the amount of encouragement they feel correlates with age. Younger students feel more encouraged than older ones. This is not surprising when you consider most adult learners are part-time and likely on campus in the evening when the majority of staff have gone home. Since more of our students are part-time, this certainly indicates we should be exploring how to better engage and motivate them. Consider conducting focus groups among your adult, part-time students to find out what kind of support and encouragement they need, as well as when and how they would most appreciate it. And be ready to make some adjustments based on what you discover.

But wait, there’s more!

We hope this gives you some good food for thought as you plan your marketing communication strategy for the upcoming fiscal and academic year. Reaching your students isn’t difficult when you know exactly where they are. But remember, these are high-level insights from aggregated data among participating colleges. There are geographical differences, environmental factors, and local nuances that can impact the results for your college. The best way to get the full benefit of both national and college-level data is to subscribe to Media Prefs. When you do, you can drill down deeper to gain not only quantitative but also qualitative insights into your students’ and prospective students’ behavior.   

Would you like a demo or free trial? Are you ready to join the 20+ schools already committed to the fall 2020 Media Prefs survey? Get in touch with Jamie Wagner, Interact’s executive director of Media Prefs. Jamie can answer your questions and help you take advantage of this research on your campus! 

Need help building an online news center, conducting student focus groups, or busting those internal silos that are tripping up customer service? Contact us at We can help!

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By Published On: March 2, 2020Last Updated: April 4, 2022Categories: Blog ArticlesTags: , ,