The Do’s & Don’ts of Social Media in Higher Education
Social media is one of the key components of a marketing plan for colleges and universities. The 2017 Social Admissions Report released by TargetX found that 63 percent of students use social media during the college search process, and 60 percent have followed or liked a college they are interested in attending.
At Pacific54, we have worked closely with higher education institutions running paid social media campaigns, ensuring profiles are optimized, and supporting with organic social media and community management. Through this experience, we’ve learned that having a robust social media presence that resonates with prospective students can be a major factor in whether or not they decide to apply.
Social media is helpful for keeping students abreast of application deadlines, but it is also an ideal way to showcase the campus, student life, and stellar academic and extracurricular opportunities.
As with all digital marketing channels, there are some strategies you can deploy in order to maximize your impact. Here are some of the best ways to use social media in higher education–and a few pitfalls you should avoid.
Do choose the right social media platforms for your audience
The first step in crafting a social media strategy for your college or university is to determine your audience. Key audiences include prospective undergraduates (usually high school students, currently in Gen Z), parents, teachers, guidance counselors, graduate students (usually Gen Z or millennials), or continuing education students (who can be any age). These demographics play a major role in which social media channels your university should focus on.
A recent study conducted by Pew Research Center has found that Snapchat and Instagram are the most prominent channels for young adults, which would include high school students considering college. Instagram, in particular, is an excellent way to display vivid images and videos of the campus, students, and the neighborhood.
For example, in New York City has an Instagram account with Story Highlights focused on different topics related to what students will want to see, such as features from admitted students day, behind the scenes of one of the courses, and the campus itself. The main feed also shares events, student profiles, and examples of how the university is woven into the fabric of New York City.
Aside from Instagram, there are many other social media channels to consider. Even though Facebook usage has declined for Gen Z compared to other generations, this could be a great channel for reaching parents and older students.
For professional audiences, such as prospective MBA students, LinkedIn would likely be a better option since the main motivation is usually career development. Once you’ve chosen which platforms to use, maintain active profiles and publish consistent, relevant content.
Don’t forget about channels that are popular outside of the U.S.
If your university has a large presence of international students, incorporate other social media that these students are more likely to use. For example, in China, the microblogging site Weibo and the messaging app WeChat are ubiquitous because access to social media platforms like Facebook is limited. Similarly, South Koreans are more likely to use the messaging app KakaoTalk and the search engine/microblogging site Naver due to the Korean language-friendly interfaces.
Some colleges have integrated international channels into their main marketing strategy. For instance, Boston University extensively uses Weibo and WeChat for recruiting Chinese students. On Weibo, the university has more than 12,000 followers and posts content in students’ native language, promoting a greater sense of outreach and inclusivity.
Since many U.S. universities will likely not have a presence on these international platforms, your university will stand out even more. Remember that when you post content for international students, be mindful of time zones so that you can optimize when students come across your channel.
Do use social media to build community.
Community-building social media is especially important after students have been accepted and are deciding whether or not to enroll. Facebook groups provide an easy way for accepted students to “meet” each other before orientation (or before submitting their deposit).
This may help students find potential roommates, get more excited about attending, and feel more connected to the school before setting foot on campus.
As an example, the image below is from the University of Florida Facebook group for the incoming Class of 2023.
Don’t post passively -- create a dialogue.
At the end of the day, social media in higher education is a way to communicate with potential and current students. Rather than focus solely on self-promotional material, create a dialogue with prospective students through polls and invitations to comment.
This is where community engagement comes in. Actively monitoring and listening to what people are saying on your social accounts is a great way to create a dialogue and engage with students. Liking and responding to comments as often as possible is a great way to build a sense of authenticity and community with followers.
If this seems overwhelming, you can enlist the support of a marketing agency. At Pacific54 we offer community monitoring and engagement services to help clients leverage the power of building connections via social media.
You might also consider having campus representatives available to talk through messaging apps like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, and KakaoTalk. You can also broadcast an Instagram Live with a Q&A with students or admission officers, especially when trying to reach young adults.
On a broader scale, you can get prospective students, current students, and alumni more involved by using hashtags and inviting followers to tag the university in their own social media posts. For example, Penn State encourages students to post about their Penn State experiences on Instagram using the hashtag #WeArePennState. As of June 2019, the hashtag has generated almost 40,000 posts.
Do support social media “takeovers” from students.
While most university marketing materials are very carefully curated and branded to showcase a specific message, prospective students will also gain a lot from hearing from current students themselves. Using social media takeovers from students allows for a wide variety of voices to share their individual stories from the university and increase the chance of a prospective student connecting with a peer.
Remember, whenever you hand over some social media control to students, make sure they have clear guidelines and expectations to follow, such as these outlined by Brandeis University.
Don’t just rely on organic content. Paid advertising should also be part of your strategy.
You might be posting excellent content, but that won’t matter if you aren’t reaching new audiences and generating greater brand awareness. Social media in higher education should strike a balance between organic content and paid advertising.
While organic content is ideal for communicating with existing followers and announcing news and deadlines, you can further expand your reach through social media ads, which can be targeted by location, age, interests, and more. A few ideas to consider (depending on your target audience) are promoted Instagram Stories, LinkedIn InMails, and Facebook Ads.
Ready to bring your campaigns to the next level? Contact Pacific54 today to learn more about our services for social media in higher education.