Social media has completely transformed the way we interact with one another, learn about the world, and share. For young people, this couldn't be more true. In fact, research shows that the younger generations such as Generation Z view social media communications as more credible compared with traditional media and information supplied by companies. Not only that, but social media also has a greater influence on consumer decision making than traditional mediums of communication.
Gone are the days when prospective students would only consult university prospectuses, rely on rankings, and attend open days to select their university. Research shows that 83% of today’s students are scouring social media to inform their decision making. With this being the case, universities simply cannot afford to miss out on having a rock-solid social media strategy to reach new students and engage current students. Let’s explore 7 ways universities can harness social media for success.
1. Research, research, research!
The first step to having a great social media strategy that engages students is to create compelling content that students will actually be interested in. How do you know if the content you’re creating is going to engage your students? The golden answer - research. While some trial and error is always necessary, you can’t afford to waste opportunities when it comes to your social media strategy. So before you get started, it’s important to do your research.
What research methods should you use?
● Social media
● Annual student questionnaires
● National surveys
● Ranking publications
● Competitive analysis
● Informal student/young alumni groups
● Your own social media habits
Dive into research that you have already gathered, and pinpoint areas of student interest. For example, you might send out a survey to new students asking them why they chose your university above other universities, what they are struggling with, and what would create a better learning experience for them. The answers to these simple questions should inform the content you create for your students
2. Promote the experience, not just the education itself
The most successful universities don’t sell education, they focus on the experience or potential dreams of the student.The challenge for universities today is to flip marketing from being purely informative to being aspirational and informative. Of course, you need to communicate important information like deadlines, but that’s not what is going to get prospective students through the door. New students are looking for a university that will enable them to get their dream job, and an on-campus experience that adds to their lifestyle. A university is no longer solely an education institution - it’s a one-way ticket to job opportunities, career progression, higher earnings, and a great lifestyle.
Share aspirational content like:
● Graduate success stories
● Student internship stories
● Campus tours
● Social club activities
● New research advancements
● Study abroad experiences
● Sporting team stories
● Field trips/conferences/speeches/workshops
3. Show, don’t tell - video is key!
This is the golden rule that you need to stick to when it comes to producing content. Where, traditionally, universities would tell prospective students about their rankings, today they should be showing them the success of their graduates. Where universities would have traditionally listed their social clubs, today they should be showing videos and images of students engaging in these activities, along with quotes from students about how the social club has helped them make friends and have a better university experience. This little tweak to your content strategy will appeal to prospective students’ desire for a great lifestyle.
4. Engage students with user-generated content
Allow existing students, or even graduates, to get involved with your social media. You could designate one day a week where a student ‘takes over’ the university Instagram account with Instagram Stories of a day in their life at university. The student could show everything from their morning commute, to grabbing their coffee at the local university cafe, inside their lecture halls, studying at the library with their friends, and so on.
Engage the wider student body by creating a hashtag for your institution or for major events such as graduation day, orientation, and class reunions. Encourage students to use these hashtags on their social media posts, and watch your school community build itself. You can create an incentive to share by giving students the chance to be featured on the institution’s official page, or giving out a weekly prize to a student who shared the most creative post. Allegheny College’s #acgatorgram is a great example of using a hashtag to get students sharing about your institution.
5. Use an efficient content strategy
As a university social media marketer, you’re going to have your hands pretty full. That’s why you need a strategy that works smart, not hard. The key to this is using the content pyramid method. This model is structured as a reverse pyramid. At the top is one piece of ‘pillar’ content - this could be a long-form video, a Q&A or an interview - which is then repurposed into multiple micro pieces of content that are designed especially for each social media platform.
Micro content can include:
● Short videos
6. Create native content
A common mistake people make when it comes to social media is that they post the same type of content on every single platform. This is the quickest way to disengage your audience. Storytelling works differently on Facebook than it does on Instagram, and it works differently on Instagram than it does on Snapchat, Pinterest, and so on. When you create content that is native, the platform will reward you, and your content will be seen by more people.
7. Listen and reevaluate
Don’t post and ghost! Once your content is published across your social media platforms, it’s important to pay attention to what your students are interested in by reading through the comments and checking your analytics. Use this information to inform your future content creation.
While the big, wide world of social media can seem intimidating, it’s a central part of marketing that you simply cannot afford to dismiss. Remember, you’re not starting from scratch! Use existing research to inform your content creation. When it comes to creating that content, work smart and not hard, so that you can reach more students with engaging content across as many social media platforms as possible.