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.
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.
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.