Why Student-Generated Social Content Matters

User-generated content title slide

Social media’s been around long enough that we all know a school needs to have social media accounts. In fact, a lot of great marketing discussions and lessons over the years have been about how to make sure YOUR house is in order and that you have all the right accounts on all the right platforms.

But, this isn’t about beauty school accounts, this is about beauty schools students’ social media accounts. You know they have them. You know they’re using them. But let’s just look at some stats to drive this home:

Social media usage statistics

Not to mention TikTok and all those other new ones we old folk don’t even know about.

The theme, the power of one, is very relevant to the shift we see in how this group in particular is being influenced by all the content that’s being posted on these platforms, not by brands or businesses, but by the people who are just like them and are the customers of these brands and businesses.

User-Generated Content and What It Is

The term used for this kind of content is called User Generated Content. Or UGC. In the case of schools, I’m going to call this Student Generated Content because students are your users.

Student-generated content is not paid for. Now, it can be created through incentive like a contest, which we’ll talk about later, but this is not a situation where you’ve exchanged money for favorable content to be created reflecting your school. That’s sponsored content and should be clearly labeled.

That’s an ad. And it usually involves an influencer.

What we’re talking about is organic and real. And it can be created by anyone.

What is the power of one social post? The power of one student using social media to talk about their life experiences. The power of one student who happens to be attending your school right now, or has attended your school, and it’s become part of the story and journey they’re sharing on social media.

UGC vs. Referrals

You all know the power of a referral. This is the goal: get referrals. What percentage of Millennials say a recommendation from a friend or family member is most likely to influence their purchasing decisions?

In a recent report, AdWeek found:

  • 85% of users say visual UGC is more influential in their decisions than brand-generated photos or videos.
  • 51% of millennials say that UGC from strangers is more likely to influence their purchase decisions than recommendations from colleagues, friends, and even family!
  • 76% of social media users say UGC feels more “honest” than brand images or content.
  • 74% of social media users have uploaded content using a branded hashtag

The power of user-generated content

And all of these stats make sense. UGC is the new Google Review! That is what the core of UGC is. It’s earned, it’s an endorsement, it means that your brand has created an experience worthy of talking about, good or bad, and you will reap the benefits accordingly.

And that plays into what a truly great social media strategy is about. Yes, you need to show up to play. Yes, you should have your highlight reel, just like the rest of us, posting our best selfies and coolest vacation pics. That’s a good social media strategy.

Bring Emotion Into Your Strategy

While we enjoy seeing those, the thing that evokes emotion, the thing that allows us to connect are the things that feel raw and real. And what’s even more powerful, is when it’s not coming from you. A great social media strategy is about other people using their platforms, their sacred space where they put things that represent them and that they’re proud of and when your school gets to be a part of that.

If you want to understand Gen Z, if you want to resonate with Gen Z, you have to get onboard with UGC. Authenticity, information, storytelling, these are classic trademarks of what this next group is using to select where they put their dollars.

Example of How UGC Works

Here’s what Student-Generated Content looks like in the wild in and in the direct context of a student choosing a school.

This is Samantha Vay.

She probably looks like many of your students. She did go to cosmetology school.
She also happens to be a YouTuber with 117 thousand subscribers to her channel.

And here’s what’s interesting and isn’t unique to just her. There are other people who went to school doing this. Because she is and has been actively documenting her journey in the beauty industry, she gets a lot of questions from her followers about what it’s “really” like. What it’s really like to make the decision to go to school, what’s it like to be in school, and what happened after school.

This is someone who has said, “I’m totally comfortable telling you what it was REALLY like for me. I’m going to be vulnerable. I’m going to be honest. And yeah, this is just MY experience, but there’s validity in it.”

And this is a VERY meta example.

Because what Sam is doing is User-Generated Content.

But a powerful part of her story is also the impact that UGC had on her decision about where she went to school.

Samantha is sharing her journey. She’s putting her story out there and saying “follow-me real-time as I decide how to go to school.” She didn’t want to drive. There was a school closer to her. It was looking at the social media of the students that was the deal-breaker!

Now, flash forward. Sam is out of school. And, her followers who are considering school are asking her things like “Sam, how did you pick a school?” So, she starts making additional content that recaps her previous journey.

Sam is done with school. She’s giving advice to other people. She’s made no less than seven additional videos where she recaps this story and combined, these videos have almost 80K views and counting!

And who are these 80k viewers? They’re people who are considering going to school. They are looking to Sam, and yes, in her videos she does name the schools she considered and which one she did pick and the one she didn’t.

It’s unknown if the school she did pick and the school she didn’t pick knows about this.

And again, they aren’t the ONLY schools this is happening to. Go to YouTube, type in things like “how to pick a beauty school” or just go look at all the people who are telling their stories about school on Instagram using the #beautyschool.

There is some amazing stuff out there that we don’t think schools are even realizing they’re benefitting from. And on the flip side, there’s some cringe-worthy stuff that has radio silence from a school and that bad narrative and experience is just getting perpetuated.

But what we really want to drive home here is that the people giving advice to other people about how to pick a school are ACTIVELY ENDORSING looking not at YOUR social media, but at the social media of your students.

How Do You Use UGC?

If you want to harness the power of Student Generated Content you need to do two things:

  1. You need more of it. It needs to become a part of your school culture. It needs to become a “thing” at your school.
  2. You need it to be of good quality.

Let’s start here:

The best defense is a good offense.

A lot of schools are afraid of the things their students are going to say. The last thing they want to do is encourage their students to post about bad days, bad teachers, drama, or another bad experience.

There are low-parts of school. If that’s real, people should talk about them because it’s not perfect. What they should also be talking about is how an awesome teacher saw they were having a bad day and lifted them up with a great pep talk. They should talk about how the culture of the school is that people build each other up and not tear each other down.

It’s the same way that when we’re looking at reviews, we kind of don’t trust if everything is perfect and five-stars. What stays with us more is when someone tells a story that’s like “Hey, this didn’t start out great, but it ended great.”

The thing you shouldn’t be scared of is that sometimes students are going to say school is hard. Because it is. And we all have bad days.

What you should be scared of, is if you don’t know that’s happening and you’re not addressing it and it’s leading to even more posts about how bad things are.

How To Get and Manage UGC

Here’s how we manage this:

  • Give them guidelines
  • Pay attention

You can give guidelines to students that say, “Here are the things you should post about.”

This also sets guidelines where you tell the student they are repping their school, and as the school, you tell the student you take it seriously, so they should too.

It also shows students that you are paying attention. If students tag you, show students that you are actively looking for and will feature them on your account.

Then, you really do have to pay attention. If potential students are looking at your hashtag and location tag, you need to be as well. See what they’re seeing. When they pull up a post, let them see that you commented encouraging words, praise, or, something that shows you were actively trying to address an issue or problem.

Monitor your social media accounts

Repost Student-Generated Content

Another way to generate more SGC is to make sure you’re reposting SGC to your social media profiles and tagging students. If that’s what validates and makes potential students excited and what they want to see anyway- give the people what they want!

By doing this, you also reinforce to your current students that you are supporting their social efforts, you see them, you are letting them say, “Hey! I just got featured!” That’s exciting!

Run Contests

We’ve worked with a handful of schools who ran Halloween contests. Their students are posting Halloween looks on social media and tagging the schools for a chance to win prizes.

Examples of contest entries

One of our favorite stories is about a school who ran a video time-lapse contest. We were a little skeptical of who might feel comfortable making a video. The student who won had been in school not that long and she was STOKED. They also came out with 14 killer videos to add to their YouTube channel. It also helped them build their social ads audience.

The school ran the winning video as an ad and used that to start serving everyone who watched more than 30 seconds of the video additional ads that talked about programs, start dates and touring the school.

Post High Quality Content

We really have to talk about quality because it matters. You heard it from Sam. And we live in a world that’s very discerning about social content standards.

We expect good sound quality. Good lighting. High-resolution. It’s the difference between looking like a professional and an amateur. And here’s how I believe you should do that:

Use the photography courses and Instagram courses from Beauty as a Business.

Give them lessons to make great and beautiful looking social content. When they’re practicing this at school, they’re also lifting your brand reach and creating this powerful and impactful content that others will see.

Let us jump to another video, something that they’re hearing from current professionals and past students:

“It is never too early to start building your brand. The reason I have as many clients as I do is because I just started Instagram when I was just starting in school.”

This reinforces the importance of social curriculum.

We KNOW social media is having a huge impact on how booked stylists are, how much money they’re making and if they’re STAYING in the industry.

But here’s the thing- teaching students how to make great social content ALSO BENEFITS YOUR SCHOOL.

Why Beauty as a Business?

In our curriculum they’re going to learn things like how to use local hashtags (surprise! This means that their content about your school is reaching a local, relevant audience.) They’re going to learn that they should take the time to craft beautiful stories, that they need to drive more traffic to the student salon area, that they need to work on telling people where they’re at and what they’re doing.

Then you have to use this in your marketing.

Around 56% of respondents overall say they are more likely to click on a user-generated image than a traditional ad using stock photography.

You have to talk about this when you’re giving tours. Take this content and reap the benefits of a GREAT social media strategy.

To us, SGC is the marketing content your teams and the agency you work with are going to be begging for. It’s also something students want to do and want to get better at.

Having a consistent curriculum that all students are getting is the best of both worlds here.