The Power of Social Proof: How to Leverage It for Student Recruitment

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How do you pick a restaurant in a city you’ve never been to before? You either ask your friends or look for reviews. How do you pick which book to read if your to-read list is getting unwieldy? Look at what your friends are reading at Goodreads. How do you pick a gym if you want to get into shape? You guessed it! Ask your fitness-freak friends about it.

The same applies to pretty much any decision we have to make. Humans are social animals, and we tend to trust the opinion of our peers. At the very least, we’ll take it into account when making an important decision. Applying for a university or a job is no different. Sure, we all have our preferences and interests, but we’ll at least research the workplace or an educational institution we’re interested in.

These are all examples of social proof. While the tendency to “follow the crowd” was always there, it has exploded in the digital age, especially with the advent of social media. The “crowds” are bigger than ever, and it’s become increasingly important to incorporate social proof into marketing and recruitment efforts.

Here’s how to get the most of it:

User reviews, student blogs, and success stories

This is probably the simplest step when it comes to recruitment. You’ll want to rely on student testimonials and cross-share them via all social media channels you manage. This should be the backbone of your social-proof based recruitment strategy as you can cite the number of reviews, link to specific student reviews, or testimonials from alumni who have expressed satisfaction with your school. 

Additionally, you can publish “success stories” from your graduates. Make sure to focus on specific goals that your prospective students want to accomplish, as that will present a much bigger draw. Of course, testimonials from students attending your school now can highlight the aspects of your current curriculum and present up-to-date information. The easiest way to do this to help students run their blogs on the university domain. Blogs are more open and personal than reviews or testimonials, which is a great draw for younger generations.


We mentioned cross-sharing in the previous paragraph, so let’s focus a bit more on it. It’s one of the basic tools in any social-proof marketing strategy. You want to share your message across as many channels as possible. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… whatever appeals to your target demographic, you want to be visible. Don’t focus just on testimonials, social media comments can also be good material. 

Of course, don’t clutter your timelines, be judicious about what you share and where. Expand the reach of the most engaging stories to the places they’ll be best received.

Website integration

In addition to cross-sharing user stories on social media platforms, it’s not a bad idea to integrate them into your website. You can make use of a customizable social proof tool to embed reviews, Tweets, Facebook posts, and any other form of engagement you deem useful.  

You can integrate metrics about previously mentioned student blogs into the university website, giving people just browsing an easy hook that might draw them in and let them know what to expect as a student. By basically outsourcing success stories, you create something you usually don’t get via traditional marketing channels and methods, genuine authenticity. This isn’t just you talking about how great you are, you’re directly inviting prospective students to trust their own peers. That’s why these kinds of stories have a much higher impact than any fluff piece. 

Famous alumni

There’s a reason celebrity endorsements count for a lot in the marketing world. We touched on using alumni success stories but focusing on particularly successful and/or famous graduates can be additionally beneficial. Check if any of them have attended your institution and achieved a degree of fame. If so, maybe they’d be willing to engage with prospective students by sharing their stories and elements of their education that were particularly useful for their careers.

Don’t limit yourself only to celebrities and “successful” people. You can also talk about people who contribute to their communities and are noted for their community engagement. Activists, influencers, scientists, and anyone with a positive message can be an ambassador of your school.

Highlight your credentials

Credentials are a form of expert/authority social proof that’s incredibly important in higher education. Being transparent about your accreditation will reassure your prospective students about your school’s bona fides. They need to know they’re applying to a reputable institution and that will provide them with useful knowledge and skills in addition to accredited degrees.

Any form of recognition your school has achieved for the quality of the curriculum for excellence of the students can increase your level of social proof. Make sure you don’t embellish anything and to keep all the information up to date. Outdated certificates or rankings can have the opposite effect and turn away prospective students because it seems like the school is misrepresenting itself. Being honest and transparent will pay much higher dividends than any alternative.

Wrapping up

Don’t ignore any tool in your toolbox. The social-proof-backed strategy has excellent potential to draw the right kinds of students and thus benefit both your institution and student body. By weaving in the story of your school and your students together, you’ll be able to present an accurate and positive image of your school that will help you recruit people who will continue to be its ambassadors long after they’ve graduated. 

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