Higher education institutions are in a unique position to meet current and prospective students where they spend most of their time: on social media. The changing digital landscape, mixed with demands to increase enrollment numbers at higher ed institutions, puts higher ed marketing professionals in a position of power. But, without an understanding of best practices, that power could have a negative impact on others’ perceptions of your school.
The good news? Higher ed institutions actually see a higher level of engagement across all social platforms when compared with other industries. According to the Rival IQ 2017 Social Media Benchmark Report, higher education institutions see a 3.5 percent average engagement rate on Instagram, compared to 1.66 percent across all industries. With 90 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds using social media regularly, your institution has the opportunity to tap into—and influence—one of the largest market segments available today.
Here are seven secrets to solving social media at your higher education institution:
1. Don't Join Every Network
One of the most important things to remember as you develop, execute, and maintain your social media strategy is that each platform serves a unique purpose. Some users prefer Facebook, while some prefer Twitter or Instagram. But there’s no need to have a presence on every platform. Conduct a bit of research to help you determine which platforms your target audience engages with most, and be sure to have an active presence on those.
You don’t need to be everywhere, you just need to be in the right places.
Additionally, remember that every platform is unique in its own right, and therefore, your content should be unique to each platform, too. For example, Instagram is dedicated solely to sharing photos, while Twitter allows you to share a wide range of opinions, as long as they don’t exceed 140 characters. These unique characteristics are what draw certain users to one platform, as opposed to another. Don’t share the same content across every channel; you’ll end up seeing less engagement from your followers—especially those who follow you on multiple channels. They’ll pick up on the lack of creativity in your posts.
2. Maintain Cohesion
Once you’ve determined the social platforms you want your institution to have an active presence on, make sure you’re sharing a cohesive message across each of them. This means establishing a style guide, setting goals, and determining best practices so that anyone who may be posting social content on behalf of your organization writes in the same voice and communicates the same message.
With social media in higher ed, you don’t need to be everywhere, you just need to be in the right places.
At colleges and universities, there are a number of separate departments, offices, and groups on campus who likely each have their own social presence. The challenge is reaching a consensus about how you present your organization online. Once your team is in agreement and you’ve outlined your goals as they pertain to social media efforts, you’ll need to create a social media policy to ensure all campus-wide social media efforts are in line with your school’s branding.
The easiest way to establish and maintain cohesion is to educate anyone touching social media on brand guidelines and best practices. Consider implementing quarterly meetings with any social media managers or department heads to ensure cohesion remains at the forefront of everyone’s social media strategy.
3. Use a Scheduling and Monitoring Tool
To truly use social media to your advantage, consider signing up for a scheduling and monitoring tool, such as Hootsuite or Buffer. Tools like these allow you to schedule your social content in advance, so you never miss a beat. More advanced scheduling software, like Hubspot, also provides analytics based on social performance and engagement, so you can begin to gain an understanding of the type of content your followers like best.
Scheduling social content is especially important when it comes to maintaining efficiency within your organization. Whether or not someone on your team is dedicated to social media, there will always be instances when they are unable to keep up with posting in real-time. By scheduling content in advance, you’ll never have to worry about someone logging time during weekends, holidays, or sick days—the work will already be taken care of for you.
4. Leverage Timely Content
One of the biggest benefits to scheduling social media content ahead of time is having the opportunity to leverage timely content. This means taking advantage of upcoming holidays, events, anniversaries, and more, which you’ve deemed relevant to your organization. There is often a hashtag associated with big events, and you will position yourself for greater engagement when you add those trending hashtags to your posts.
Although we recommend scheduling much of your social content in advance, it’s also worthwhile to post in real-time, too. Spur-of-the-moment events and conversations will always spring up, and it’s important to show your audience you have a pulse on current events.
Retweeting news recaps or engaging with thought leaders and influencers will likely translate to increased engagement on your accounts. It also shows your audience there is a human behind your social accounts; the more conversational you can be—and the more frequently you engage with other accounts—the more likely it is that your followers will flock to your account.
Our tip? Scroll through your social feeds for five to 10 minutes each day so you have an understanding of the types of conversations taking place among other higher ed institutions online—and then join in!
5. Promote Institutional Research
One of the advantages of working for a higher ed institution is that you’ll rarely run out of content to share on social media. No matter the time of year, higher ed organizations are crawling with students, events, and research opportunities—all of which can be used as fodder for your content calendar.
Many higher ed organizations now use social media to increase awareness about their research. This can be especially helpful for smaller schools, which may not have large athletics programs or student populations to boast about. Sharing research stories can help you attract more prospects to your organization because these posts introduce students to the wide range of subjects they can study at your institution.
6. Gather Data and Analyze Performance
Analyzing the performance of your social posts is paramount to successfully managing social media accounts. Without an understanding of what your audience likes, dislikes, engages with, and ignores, you won’t be able to satisfy their wants or needs.
It’s also helpful to analyze the data provided in reports like Sprout Social’s Social Media Analytics and Reporting Guide, or Hootsuite’s 2017 Social Media Guide for Marketers, so you and your team can stay abreast of the latest trends and best practices across all social platforms. These reports offer helpful insights that can help inform your social media strategy, and may also inspire you and your team to try something new across your channels.
7. Have a Clearly Defined Purpose
If you walk away with one social media “secret” after reading this post, we hope it’s this: Always tie your social media posts back to your strategy. Having an active presence on social media is important, but it means nothing if it doesn’t engage your audience and help move prospective students from the awareness and consideration stages to close and delight.
Every piece of content you post online should have a clearly defined purpose.
- Is it promoting campus culture?
- Is it encouraging students to attend your school?
- Is it showcasing your thought leadership?
Ask yourself these questions as you flesh out your social media content calendar, so you don’t lose sight of why you joined the social landscape in the first place.
Go Forth and Get Trending
Now that you have a better understanding of the secrets behind social media in higher ed, you’re ready to sit down with your team, determine your goals, create a strategy, and get posting. Take the time to determine which social platforms it makes sense for your institution to be on, establish a cohesive brand voice, and implement a scheduling tool. Then, engage with timely, relevant content, begin promoting your organization’s research, and analyze whatever data comes your way. With every post you share, keep your strategy and end goals in mind.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and tackle your social presence!