I recently wrote a blog post on three things for Careers Advisers to consider when using LinkedIn. In the post I summarised some great advice given by HE and Social Media Consultant Eric Stoller in his LinkedIn3D for HE conference keynote. In today’s post I’ll be returning to one of the conference’s themes: engaging with students on LinkedIn. I’ll first take a look at what the stats tell us about student engagement with LinkedIn, before then suggesting a few ways to help improve it.
What the stats suggest about engaging with students on LinkedIn
LinkedIn has more than 40 million registered students and recent college graduates, making them the fastest-growing demographic on the site. LinkedIn have been tapping into this market recently, and they even introduced a Student App earlier this year.
However, it would appear that students are far less active on LinkedIn than they are on other social networks. Recent research done at the University of Glasgow found that while two-thirds of 650 students surveyed had a LinkedIn profile, less than 50% of them had done anything more than fill in their basic details.
Although a large-scale survey to gather student opinion on LinkedIn has yet to take place, research in the UK and US would suggest that LinkedIn is a low priority for students during their job search, they perceive it to be for older people or graduates, and their lack of engagement has even been put down to LinkedIn not using hashtags!
It’s important to note here that a lack of engagement isn’t a demographic-specific issue for LinkedIn (only 25% of members are defined as active users), but I’m sure most of us would agree that more students could benefit from joining and using the site.
Encouraging students to engage with LinkedIn
Whether through a dedicated workshop or as part of broader sessions aimed at increasing students’ digital literacy, the majority of careers services cover LinkedIn in their provision. These workshops tend to attract students who want to enhance their online presence, but what about those who don’t attend these sessions or feel uneasy about creating an online profile? At the same time, although many careers services set up LinkedIn groups for their students and graduates, it can sometimes be a challenge to encourage students to actively use them. With this in mind, here are some ideas to encourage students to engage on LinkedIn:
1. Change students’ perceptions of what LinkedIn is
I’d like to think most of us realise how valuable LinkedIn is. It’s far more than a networking site with job vacancies – the site offers a way for students and graduates to explore their career options, something made even easier with the Alumni tool. When I show this to students they’re often really impressed and want to find out what alumni from their course or university did after graduation. This means that LinkedIn is a networking site, somewhere to find relevant jobs and an intelligence gathering tool for career development rolled into one.
2. Don’t pressurise students to have a perfect profile
If students feel their profile has to be perfect then it will probably get in the way of them actually using the site itself. I can’t remember how many times I’ve met a student who’s told me they have a LinkedIn account but haven’t logged into it in months or that their profile needs work. We need to think about how we’re ‘teaching’ LinkedIn as an online CV vs. a professional networking platform that can do all the useful things I’ve mentioned above. Of course there’s a need for us to give students advice on what to include in their profiles (and it’s their personal decision whether to use LinkedIn or not) but we should at least help students to see that it’s a lot more than just another version of their CV.
3. Don’t rely on students to engage
If we want to promote our services to students or recent graduates, we need to bear in mind that a ‘broadcast’ mentality won’t work. Advertising workshops is like advertising parties: desperately asking students ‘please come’ is unlikely to grab their attention. We need to avoid always pushing content out and focus instead on having conversations. Charles Hardy, Education Engagement Lead at LinkedIn said that “groups need watering”. So how do we water? Some suggestions included using FAQs to answer common queries or relating them to a particular topic such as further study or how to make the most of your summer. Pose questions and content that students will want to read and engage with – success stories from graduates, external articles and advice from professionals. You can also invite alumni and employers to contribute to mix things up.
4. Post individual, tailored content
It’s fair to say that many people have a fear of self-publishing on the internet and LinkedIn is no exception. As someone who has only just started blogging I’m only too aware of this! At LinkedIn3D we discussed the need to generate meaningful, engaging content. To do this it needs to be personal, and if possible linked to our own experiences (e.g. ‘10 things I learnt after graduating’). A recent post by a colleague of mine provides a great example of this, drawing parallels between her careers adviser day-job and her experience of weightlifting.
If we write content based on our own experience and expertise it not only enhances the brand of our careers service (which should hopefully improve student engagement) it’s also great for our own professional development. If your service wants to publish articles on LinkedIn then consider using a writing rota to ensure your accounts don’t get stale.
5. Connect with students
If we want to increase engagement with students, connecting with them seems like the logical to do. There’s something in it for us too – students soon become graduates who then become potential speakers for events, subjects for case studies or useful contacts for internships or placements. Thinking about these benefits I can see why so many of us connect with students; however, I think it’s important to remember that while we are there to help and guide students through LinkedIn (predominantly through being active in groups), we do so through our own personal rather than institutional accounts. We need to be conscious of this overlap between our vocational and professional personas, and ensure that when using LinkedIn we practice what we preach!
After the conference one of my colleagues questioned why we’re promoting LinkedIn to students – after all, careers advisers don’t have shares in LinkedIn! I think it’s really important for us to raise the profile of all professional networking sites, especially if they are more tailored to specific needs. For instance, Hiive is a specialist network for those in the creative industry, which means it’s perhaps more relevant for creative students.
As someone who works with students in arts and humanities, I also think LinkedIn naturally appeals more to students from certain disciplines (e.g. business), or those undertaking postgraduate study. It’s important to be aware of these differences, and the other options available, when trying to increase engagement. After all, although engaging with LinkedIn is likely to benefit the career progression of our students, it is just one tool among many that we can equip students with.
What are your thoughts on engaging with students on LinkedIn?