Colleges are big businesses.
Schools usually have huge marketing teams working full-time to build their brands. And they are constantly looking for new ways to increase admissions, build their many brands and make their campuses more “special”.
To do that, they’re naturally turning to social media marketing.
You go where your market is, of course, and college students are all over social media platforms.
That strategy is sound.
A strong social media strategy can help improve your reputation, bring a community together, direct traffic to your website, and even recruit more students.
FYI – all successful schools are active on social media. You need to do it too, and you need to do it well.
For that, you need a social media marketing strategy in place.
To help you picture what you could do to improve your current digital marketing strategy, we’ve rounded up some of the best schools on social media and tried to understand what makes them so good.
In this blog post, you’ll learn about:
- How to keep your audience focused.
- The social media goals to keep in mind.
- The types of content to share with your audience.
- How to find relevant content to share with your audience.
- How NOT to work in a silo with other departments.
1. Appeal to your college community
First of all, despite how badly you want to reach new students, you can’t forget about the community you already have – your current students. You want students to stay at your school, enjoy their time, and come back to visit after they’ve graduated.
The obvious ways to do this are concerts, social events, and sports games. But social media plays a role too. When students connect with each other and share content, “school spirit” can flourish.
How Baylor University does it
Despite not having a high following, Engagement Labs ranked Baylor University as the number #1 on Facebook among US colleges. Their account receives more likes and comments per 1,000 followers than any other school.
How does Baylor keeps such a small audience so engaged?
The page has a very targeted, local focus, talking about things their students are interested in.
And in Texas, that means college football:
Baylor also does a great job of engaging students in their daily life.
People go to Facebook to interact and share stories, and Baylor’s content strategy encourages them to do so.
Take this blog post about campus food:
The title makes readers feel a part of a special club: the Baylor Bears. And the description includes a call to action to “let us know,” inviting comments for more discussion.
Do it yourself
Post content that speaks to your community.
- Students’ stories about their favorite memories
- Behind-the-scenes looks at sports and cultural events
- Questions and polls that matter to your students
- Content about what campus life is like
We find that the best way to generate engagement around these topics is to ask questions. Relevant questions often lead to your community leaving relevant comments.
2. Find interesting local content
The sense of “community” we mentioned extends beyond the university.
This is particularly true in small college towns where the two go hand-in-hand.
This is why sharing inspiring news and pictures from the area can serve as a great recruiting tool.
Let’s see that in practice.
How the University of Chester does it
Based in a small town near Liverpool, the University of Chester isn’t as known as Oxford or Cambridge.
Yet, social media grader EduRank has named its social media presence the 10th best among British universities.
Chester places an emphasis on sharing content about small-town life in and around its campus. That includes DJs from Game of Thrones and ducks:
— Uni of Chester (@uochester) April 13, 2016
Do it yourself
- Use a listening tool, like Mention.
- Track keywords like your school’s name and the name of your town.
- Curate content
- Share whatever is relevant!
You don’t have to share everything at once! We recommend that you create a content calendar and space out your communications to keep your audience entertained.
Finding fresh content online will give you plenty of social media fodder.
And the more you share, the happier your followers will be.
3. Use inspiring visuals
You’ve probably noticed that social media is all about visuals now. That’s even more true for the college-aged: 55% of 18-29 year-olds use Instagram, and 60% of Snapchat’s 200 million users are under 25.
That makes Instagram “the digital version of a college brochure.” A good Instagram presence will make your school more appealing to new students, one of the key goals for colleges on social media.
So what does a good Instagram presence look like? Georgetown University is a great example.
How Georgetown University does it
Georgetown’s content is a nice balance of academics (debates and visiting lecturers), down-to-earth images (barbecues and social events), and shots of its beautiful campus (see above).
Followers get a full sense of what life as a student might be like.
The account also shares special moments that make Georgetown unique:
As a result, Georgetown has the highest rate of engagement per follower.
Its content receives the most likes, shares, and comments per 1,000 of any college in the US.
To do this yourself
Focus on the things that make your school special. These might include:
- Beautiful scenery and architecture
- Events like concerts, graduation, or fairs
- Special guests
- Unique characters around campus
Ask students to take photos of what the school means to them. Their favorite aspects of campus life may be very different from your own.
Or just go with Pokémon:
4. Collaborate between departments
One trap that schools fall into is keeping everything too separate.
While it’s great to have separate accounts for all entities and departments of your school, you need to communicate as one.
Clemson University is great at this.
How Clemson does it
Clemson has different accounts for all sorts of things (football, basketball, athletics, women’s athletics, the university, and more).
These accounts share stories and celebrate each other’s success.
Often, it’s as simple as a retweet:
By consistently sharing amongst themselves, they increase the reach of each story. That means more people see it, share it, and react. And that’s why schools are on social media in the first place.
This collaboration was the main reason they were ranked second in Up&Up’s list of NCAA Division 1 schools on social media.
Up&Up Director of Marketing Matt McFadden said:
“Clemson leveraged significant stories from individual entities – a wildly successful capital campaign, great student and alumni stories, athletics success, their first ‘Give Day’ – by consistently sharing these across each other’s social channels. This grew their audiences, reach and ultimately engagement.”
To do this yourself
There isn’t any great secret to collaborating well across campus, but these steps will help:
- Set expectations. Make sure everyone agrees that working together is a priority.
- Communicate openly. Keep all teams informed about the big events each week.
- Get to know each other. Think of social media as one big team. Schedule meet-and-greets to share ideas and strengthen ties.
As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.
5. Be a thought leader
To really make a splash on social, you can’t just stick to local stories. These are important, but you also need to think about the wider audience.
How MIT does it
MIT runs its Twitter feed like a news site. The school is famous worldwide for technology, computing, and statistics, so this is the news it shares.
Some of this is news about new developments at the school:
But just as often, the posts educate and spread knowledge:
This isn’t just a way to get more followers, it’s also great for student recruitment. Prospective students look to social media to help them choose a school, and you need to make yours look fun, interesting, and innovative. As a thought leader, MIT confirms the idea that it’s an elite institution.
Plus, your cup runneth over with experts! Whatever your school is good at, find ways to talk about those subjects.
To do this yourself
Find and share content that will appeal to people outside the campus. To do this, you should:
- Request news and breakthroughs from your faculties.
- Talk with communications and journalism students to share their work.
- Share stories from outside the school that will interest prospective students.
Universities are the birthplace of big ideas. Make your social media accounts reflect this, and you’ll appeal to bright people all over the world.
Now put it all together
We’ve seen five strategies schools use to excel on social media. All of them are great approaches that you can incorporate right away.
The tricky part is figuring out how much to do of each.
Create a content plan that includes:
- Specific goals for your social media marketing. These could be increased engagement, new followers, or more admissions.
- The kinds of content that’ll help you reach these goals (including our examples above).
- The buy-in you’ll need from other departments like sports teams, professors, and the school newspaper.
Once you have this plan in place, test it out! And don’t be afraid to tinker with the formula.
With a plan in place and some creative new content, you can’t lose!