The new fiscal year is fast approaching for many colleges and universities across America, and plenty of schools are allocating their budgets for social media marketing campaigns.
In comparison to other sectors, education funnels a surprisingly high amount of revenue into marketing: 18.5% on average according to Gartner Research. This has lead to the critique that marketing is siphoning precious budget from other university departments.
However, many universities are simply choosing to invest in new tactics rather than flashy marketing campaigns. Their tactic of choice? Social media in higher education.
Widespread access to the internet and digital media has transformed the education sector completely. Facebook today has more than 2.3 billion monthly active users, while Instagram now has over 1 billion monthly active accounts. With social media platforms becoming more popular day by day, the way we consume information is also changing significantly.
This can turn out to be an advantageous situation for marketers in the education sector. When implemented correctly, higher education social media marketing can help create online communities, increase interactions, engage more students, and form a global reputation.
In this article, we present you with 10 inventive social media marketing strategies used by colleges and universities around the world to increase reach and engagement with their social channels while fostering a sense of school pride and togetherness.
Also see: 3 Surprising Ways Colleges Can Use Social Media for More Than Recruiting, plus how Columbia University Unified a Fragmented Social Marketing Setup and How Universities Can Fundraise Using Social Media.
A social media campaign is a marketing effort that aims to increase interactions with a target audience and engage more users.
Campaigning on social media is a little different from everyday content posting. It has a more strategic approach and focuses on a single goal across all social media channels.
For example, Vancouver Island University (VIU) started a recent social media campaign on Instagram with an aim to create a follower base that loves the outdoors and an eclectic lifestyle.
To give direction to their follower base, VIU started a hashtag called #ilearnhere. By sticking to a theme and creating a hashtag, VIU’s Instagram account was able to attract many like-minded individuals quickly (with around 400 contributions per month).
2. The user generated content advantage
A useful method to increase interactions and reach on social media for higher ed is to allow existing students or even alumni to get involved with your social media accounts.
Students nowadays are already very active on social media platforms, so why not take advantage of this for your social media marketing strategy?
Allegheny College’s #acgatorgram is a great example of creating a hashtag to get students and organizations at your school involved. Source: Instagram
For example, you can create a hashtag for your institution or for all the major events that are happening there such as graduation day, orientation, and class reunions.
Encourage students to promote these hashtags and watch your school community build itself. You can also give them a chance to be featured on the institution’s official page.
3. Create social media groups
Social media groups can help you connect with the right audience.
For example, you can have separate Facebook groups that cater to smaller audiences within your university community such as alumni groups, club groups, sports groups, groups for parents of students, and so on.
Groups can be a good place to hold discussions, share announcements and interact with community members.
4. Be platform-specific
Every social media platform has its unique advantages for higher ed. For example, you can connect with students and alumni while building relationship networks on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Instagram and Snapchat can be used for posting photos and videos while discussions can be carried out on platforms like Quora.
University of Pennsylvania’s Career Services office does an excellent job promoting its services to students and alums through Pinterest.
Pinterest and Flipboard can be used for increasing brand awareness. Meanwhile, Medium and WordPress can be used for publishing blog content for your network.
You may not be present on all the social media platforms out there, but you can take advantage of the unique features of whichever channels you are using.
5. Post audience-specific content
The main goal of your social media strategy should be to deliver content that is relevant to your audience. Hence, university social media managers should think about getting separate accounts for different aspects of university life.
For example, a college can have news to share from different academic departments, sports teams, and alumni networks.
Somebody who wants to see more university sports news might not be interested in what is happening in the chemistry department.
WHAT. A. GAME.
⚡️ “Alabama Football Wins 2018 National Championship in Overtime Thriller”https://t.co/bdVKJMfdSO
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) January 10, 2018
With over 800,000 followers, the University of Alabama football team’s Twitter account is a huge success (and so is their team).
So, if you create separate accounts for each network or department within the university, your content will be better tailored to the specific audience that follows each feed.
6. Go live!
Real-time sharing and interactions over social media platforms are on the rise—so going live and engaging with your followers can be a great way to get on this trend.
Live streaming is a good way to build a consistent social media presence. It also allows your audience to gain some valuable insights about your academic institution.
You can share what is happening on the campus, from large events to smaller workshops. You can even hold live Q&A sessions for prospective students.
Also see: 5 Brands Successfully Using Live Video.
7. Share via Stories
Creating and sharing social media stories that combine videos, photos, captions, and filters is now easier than ever. This feature is available on most major social media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook.
You can use geotagging, filters, and visual media to show the location of the university, its main attractions, faculty information, labs, or events that are happening in and around campus.
The University of Westminster highlights its prime location with its Instagram Stories. Source: Instagram via Higher Education Marketing
Many university social media managers are already using stories to great effect.
For example, Colorado State University runs a series of Snapchat stories every Tuesday where a student at the university does a sneak peek into the college campus life and answers questions from prospective students.
8. Appoint students as ‘online tour guides’
Current university students are one of the most relatable, trustworthy, and authentic sources of information for prospective students.
Hence, if you can ask them to give a glimpse of how everyday student life on campus looks, just like a campus tour guide, you can create highly engaging content for your audience.
Asking students to help out as virtual tour guides also adds a reality angle to your promotions.
For example, the students of Colorado State University help out with a social media “street team” to showcase events and other interesting happenings on campus:
9. Automate repetitive tasks
In order to maintain a consistent presence on social media, it is important that you post content frequently and regularly.
Scheduling your posts with a content calendar is an effective way to keep up your publishing frequency.
A content calendar gives you control over your publishing strategy, as it allows you to focus on the big picture rather than just day-to-day posting.
Also, it could potentially free up loads of your time because maintaining multiple different social media accounts manually can be a hectic job. So make sure to consider social media management tools such as Falcon.
10. Use social media analytics
After you’ve implemented best practices for promoting your content, it’s time to analyze and see what is working for you and what is not.
For example, you can analyze your followers and their characteristics. You can also gain insights on your posts and content such as what kind of posts are shared the most, what kind of posts get the least likes or which platform works the best for you.
By choosing the right analytics tools for your social media strategy, you can optimize your performance across social channels much more easily.
Social media is a competitive environment. Hence, it is important for university social media managers to experiment, track and analyze which content strategy is the most effective for them.
Your digital marketing strategy plays an important role in maintaining and growing the reputation of your institution.
These were just a handful of strategies for promoting your college or university and magnifying student interactions on social media. To find which tactics work best for your school, you simply need to try them out and see what works.
Author Bio: Aditya Singhal is the co-founder of Transtutors, a leading online education platform for college students. Having graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Delhi, Aditya has a personal interest in helping students.