Amid the many myths about Gen Z, one of these is that they don’t read. But if you’ve ever scrolled through Tiktok and stumbled upon #BookTok, you’ll see that Gen Z is certainly reading. They’re getting lost in long, wandering novels like A Little Life and The Ninth House. They’re edifying themselves with self-help books like Atomic Habits and The Body Keeps the Score. They’re exploring riveting fantastical worlds with Fourth Wing and Throne of Glass.
They’re subscribing to newsletters from their friends and favorite creators on platforms like Medium and Substack. They’re listening to audiobooks. They’re tuning into podcasts. They’re taking better advantage of their local libraries than generations before through apps like Libby and Kanopy.
If there’s information out there to consume, Gen Z is doing it. So why all the misconceptions?
You might be thinking “…but students today have short attention spans!” And yes, this is absolutely true. But that doesn’t mean younger generations don’t read. They just don’t read what doesn’t interest them.
It’s entirely possible to reach Gen Z through words. So we’ve put together some tips on how to engage younger readers across platforms.
1. Be genuine (don’t pander)
You might see brands like Taco Bell or Duolingo posting unhinged, almost nonsensical social media content, and think you need to turn all your communication into high school group chat material. But keep in mind that you’re a college, not a fast food chain. Your connection to students is predicated on the fact that they’re looking to you for guidance on their higher ed decisions, and ultimately their futures—not a 2 a.m. Crunchwrap Supreme.
Naturally, your tone of voice will differ. So there’s no need to hop on X and tweet Our Bachelor of Science in Engineering slays. You will get made fun of, so please refrain.
Instead, stick to the facts, be conversational, and be the source of truth students are looking for. Use emojis (tastefully) to break up longer sentences or bulleted lists. Keep things short and sweet. This might take some practice. The simplest words are often the hardest ones to write.
2. Be interesting
Easier said than done, right? But believe me when I tell you, students aren’t going to read a 600-word paragraph block in an email about financial aid.
Of course, students care about financial aid more than most other things when considering a college. But you can write about it in a way that’ll interest them, or you can write about it in a way that’ll make them swipe out. (Choose the first option.)
There’s no need for your emails to look formal. Break up your content into sections with engaging headlines, images, and gifs. Consider using fun formatting like swipe cards, bulleted lists, and emojis. And rather than writing out every single detail, use hyperlinks—don’t be afraid to use plenty—to share the specs when it comes to key information about your school.
Subscribe to a few popular email newsletters to explore new formatting options and copy tones. And make sure you’re actually opening those marketing emails you’re receiving, too—you can pull a lot of good inspiration from seeing what other brands are doing.
3. Buzzwords are a buzzkill
Your school fosters close-knit relationships? And offers engaging, hands-on learning opportunities?
Sure. So does every other school. They’re all talking about it, too.
Some of these words are impossible to avoid, and chances are, you’ll have to use them throughout your marketing materials at some point. But our advice? Start with the specifics before the buzzwords.
How can you communicate about your students’ close-knit relationships in a way that will resonate better? Tell stories. Listen to your students. Where are they hanging out? Are they taking trips together? How are they congregating? What do they like to do around town?
Write about that first. Get specific.
So instead of this:
Our students develop close-knit relationships on campus at the Student Center.
The Student Center is one of our students’ favorite spots on campus. Whether they’re grabbing late night snacks, studying, or playing cards, they have plenty of room to camp out at a cozy booth and hang out together.
See the difference? It’s all about getting specific. Paint a picture; don’t expect the student to do all the heavy lifting of imagining themselves at your school. Tell them what it’s like.
There’s no time like the present
You don’t need to wait on a new brand rollout to start updating your school’s voice. Chunk it out—start with your email marketing. Prospective students will read a quarter of the anthology you’re currently sending them… or they’ll read 100% of a much shorter, more interesting version.
Writing can be scary. Leaving your comfort zone while writing is even scarier. Start by asking a few students to lay eyes on a couple email drafts—and getting their advice (I know, that’s scary too.) But it’ll be worth it when your open rate climbs.
Like everything worth doing, writing takes practice. It gets a lot less intimidating when you just write to students how you’d talk to them. Keep it conversational, take an interest in them, and lean into the relationship you’re building with them rather than the experience you’re selling. Gen Z is just like every other generation: they value authenticity and connection over fancy words and big promises.
If you put out content, they’ll consume it—and when they’re compelled by it, they’ll take action. Stop the scroll by writing words that resonate.