Higher Education

The Do’s & Don’ts of Social Media in Higher Education

P54 Team
Published on Nov 15, 2022

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 institutions – 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 college 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 TikTok (67%), Instagram (62%), and Snapchat (59%) 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.

Social media in higher education

(Source: PEW Research)

Another 2022 study by Campus Sonar found that social media use for College search by teens is way up across multiple social media platforms. Almost 70% of teens are viewing college profiles on Instagram to aid in their decision making. With another 30% of potential students going to TikTok and Youtube accounts in their college search.

social media for universities

(Source: Campus Sonar)

For example, The New School 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.

The New School Social media

Aside from Instagram, there are many other social media channels to consider. 2020 saw the rise of Tik Tok’s popularity, and is now the preferred social media platform of young people. Tik Tok is home to specific type of social media content, as it is the premier destination for short-form videos on the internet. It is so popular, that it has since affected Instagram’s algorithm, forcing them to prioritize short-form videos or “Reels”.  A reported 7-out-of-10 teens in the USA are using Tik Tok according to Statista.

tik tok for universities

(Source: Statista)

One example of a higher education institution gaining a lot of traction on Tik Tok is Auburn University. They get very specific with their dedicated social media accounts, most notably, they found success highlighting their sports program. The Auburn Tigers Tik Tok page has over 98K followers and gets consistently high engagement rates on their posts.

Auburn University Tik Tok

This is a great example of not only using Tik Tok to promote your university but finding a niche for yourself online and building upon it. This shows that creating social media profiles for each aspect of a university can be a great way to build an audience that’s more likely to be engaged.

Even though Facebook usage has declined for Gen Z compared to other generations, this could be a great channel for educational institutions to reach 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.

chinese social media in higher education

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 Class of 2023.

Facebook For universities

Don’t post passively — create a dialogue.

At the end of the day, social media in higher education is a way to communicate with current and potential 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. Having a dedicated social media manager or social media team 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.

Another option is using platforms like Sprout Social, this allows you to manage all your social media accounts from a single platform. It also allows for collaboration between departments to come up with pre-determined, pre-approved automatic responses that can be used to reply to comments in real time. Sprout gives you the ability to track important metrics for both paid and organic social media, helping with your decision-making process in coming up with a social media strategy.

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 November 2022, the hashtag has generated almost 62,000 posts.

Penn State Instagram


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 increases the chance of a prospective student connecting with a peer.

Remember, whenever you hand over your social media efforts to students, make sure they have clear guidelines and expectations to follow, such as those 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 social media sites to consider (depending on your target audience) are promoted Instagram Stories, LinkedIn InMails, and Facebook Ads.

Facebook Ads are a particularly effective tool to reach potential students as they also target Instagram. Pacific54 suggests you set up a leads campaign and fine-tune your target demographics by choosing

  • Interests: related to education
  • Education level: Master’s degree, In high school, College grad or High school grad
  • Field of study: depending on the university

Miami University heavily promotes their online school to potential students using Facebook and Instagram ads. As of November 2022, they have nearly 81,000 Instagram followers and close to 108,000 Facebook followers.

Social media higher education Miami University

Do Craft A Social Media Strategy Based Around Student Engagement

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating your social media strategy is that you want it to be fun and informative while catering to potential and current students. You’re going to want high social engagement from your students and alumni alike.

Make sure you keep your students engaged with things they care about, news from the school, and information on your various programs. As previously mentioned, create dialogues with students. Don’t talk at them but rather make them feel included and proud to attend your university.

Highlighting student life is a great way to go about this, Harvard University focuses heavily on Student Life with its social efforts and as of November 2022, has a massive following of over 2 Million!

Harvard Instagram

Don’t Blindly Jump On Every Trend That Arises in Social Media

While it’s important to stay current, you have to realize that as a school your social media efforts are going to be different than an individual, brand, or business. Not every trend is going to be for you.

Famously, in 2016 The University of Washington tried to hop on an infographic trend at the time, to widespread backlash. They opted to create an infographic showing  “the anatomy of a cheerleader” and came off as both tone-deaf and racially insensitive.

While certain trends such as Tik Tok dances, and Hashtag challenges are generally safe to participate in, it’s best to pick your spots when joining the latest craze, especially when your goal is to make your followers feel included.

Pacific54 Knows The Value of Social Media In Higher Education

Ready to bring your campaigns to the next level? Contact Pacific54 today to learn more about our services for social media in higher education. We have a history of working with several universities and know how to manage the complex relationships between students and their schools. We don’t simply follow online trends, but rather, work to create them for you and your university.

8 Responses to “The Do’s & Don’ts of Social Media in Higher Education”

  • Kara T says:

    I feel that creating dialogue is the most important thing to do for higher education. The dialogue and community can really help you grow and expend your network. Social media presence plays a strong role in how we communicate nowadays and it should be done right.

  • LaurelAZ says:

    Excellent advice! I just took on the position of social media manager for a privately owned resort. They have excellent reviews across the board and many loyal customers but their social media presence was lacking.

    I was able to quickly identify that they were trying to juggle too many accounts and hadn’t properly chosen which platforms work best for their business. They are thriving now!

  • John says:

    I totally did not think about using social media platforms that are more popular with my audience. I have been using Facebook and I think that Instagram might actually work better for my target audience.

  • Preston says:

    It wasn’t until I started to utilize paid advertising that I started seeing an influx of views and clicks on my business webpage. They really do work if you do it right!

  • Mandy Robinson says:

    Everyone has to realize how important social media is to the world today. This is really great advice.

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