What college students really think about social media

Understanding students’ attitudes to social media and marketing can empower brands to build a stronger relationship with this valuable demographic. Our Student Shopping Report reveals how often college students use social media, how they feel about social media, their favourite media platforms, and how they prefer to engage with brands online.

Social media and college students go hand in hand.

You may think social media and college students come hand in hand, and you wouldn’t be wrong. According to our student survey, the most effective form of digital advertising for students is social media ads, which have led 56% to make a purchase. The top advertising platform by far for this audience is Instagram, ahead of Facebook and Snapchat. Our focus group said they don’t mind retargeting as they prefer seeing more relevant ads. They also liked the subtlety of Instagram ads, which blend in with their feed and don’t distract from the user experience.

Our students said they use social media and messaging apps to source opinions on potential purchases, an example of “dark social” in action. They send dressing room photos to friends or share a link to get advice on an item. They source shopping inspiration from browsing blogs and editorial sites, but user reviews and the opinions of their peers have more direct impact on purchasing decisions.

Students preferences and views were mixed when it comes to celebrity and influencer endorsements. They feel more positively towards the brands their idols support, with one male student revealing: “I got into Adidas because of Kanye.” However, they find it off-putting when the stars they follow are constantly pushing brands: “I want to see their life, not what they’re trying to sell me.” Student influencers, who typically have 30-50k followers, are like celebrities on campus, described as “Instagram famous.” They are ideal partners for brands who want to reach this audience through viral marketing.

College students browsing social media in a coffee shop.

Despite their social media-obsessed reputation, most students prefer to stick to a small number of platforms rather than use them all. Instagram is where they prefer to follow brands, but they like seeing them interact with customers on Twitter. As one female student explained, “It shows they’re listening. They’re willing to respond to just a random person.” Twitter is also a source of humor, such as memes and viral tweets: “If I’m ever having a shit day I will check Twitter to see something funny.”

The students found Facebook useful for events and keeping in touch with family, but were more likely to interact with friends on Instagram and Snapchat. Despite a wider decline in usage, so far Snapchat remains popular among students for posting stories, and they love the map feature that shows what’s going on locally – ideal for college towns. Our survey revealed that they see Instagram as the coolest social app and Snapchat the most fun, while Facebook was voted the most informative… but also the most boring. Our focus group expressed concerns about the “ton of false information” on Facebook, following recent scandals.

Read more about college students’ views on social media, brands and much more in our US Student Shopping Report, available here. For insights into student shopping trends in the UK, access the UK edition of the report, here.