6 Social Media Tips for Universities in 2019

Feb 01, 2019 Lisa van der Pool

Having a social media presence — for the vast majority of organizations in 2019 — is table stakes. For universities, which communicate on a daily basis with an array of important audiences, including students, faculty, parents and the press, it is crucial to have a polished and clear social media strategy in place. Social media, like all owned channels, allows you to control your message. It's an opportunity to show your organization's human side and directly engage with audiences that are important to the university’s core mission.

But crafting and implementing such a strategy can be complicated, especially since 2018 was a year of great social media change. Last year, we saw the rise of bots, the nanoinfluencer and a news cycle that seems to get more chaotic by the day. Here are six guidelines universities should be following in 2019.

#1: A formal social media policy is often forgotten, but it’s actually a must-have

Having a set of clear guidelines for how to approach social media and general best practices for your organization will ensure that all posts align with the school’s messaging and mission. This is especially true today as most universities use social media to meet a variety of goals, including paid social for recruiting, fundraising among alumni, deepening community ties and showcasing the strengths of various departments through faculty thought leadership. The benefit of having a social media policy in place might not seem obvious in day-to-day tweeting, but during a crisis or reputation issue when there’s potential for gray areas around what is appropriate to say on official university channels - that policy will be invaluable. And in our current politically charged culture, we’ve seen reputation issues come up more frequently than in years past.

#2: There will be a crisis. Now what?

This isn’t meant to be alarmist, but we do council clients to be ready for a crisis - even if it never comes. Having social media procedures and mechanisms in place to help manage, and hopefully deflect, the crisis is important. For example, in an emergency situation where the safety of the entire campus community is at risk, the student body and faculty will look to Twitter and Facebook for messages around whether to shelter in place. Alternatively, during a reputation crisis, personalized and pinned tweets from the president or other university spokespeople will help the university control their message and keep in communication with the campus.

#3: Followers: It’s about quality over quantity

We let our clients know that today, who is following you, is just as important as how many accounts are following you. Bots are increasingly present on Twitter and Facebook — and that’s not a good thing. A robust, influential social media account will have a higher proportion of real people, versus bots, following them. Keeping tabs on the quality of your followers is just a matter of tracking your followers regularly. Examining how your follower count is growing and why is also a great way to know what content or topic is resonating best with what audiences. You can understand how engaged followers are with your content and brand, and make adjustments to your strategy. One guideline universities should remember is that if they focus on connecting with followers and building a social, supportive community, they will be successful.

#4: It’s not all about you when it comes to engagement

Engagement has always been and continues to be the holy grail on social media. No one wants to feel as though they’re tweeting and no one is listening. But getting noticed among the noise is not easy. One basic but key way universities can increase engagement is to engage with your audience! It sounds obvious, but by retweeting content and news, replying to followers and following them back, you’ll build up more engagement and goodwill. Also, using highly visual content like videos and images will usually help dramatically increase engagement. Remember, social media isn't just about talking and getting your message out there — it's about listening. Social media is an excellent tool that can be used to gauge how students and the broader community feel. Social listening is also a great way to monitor a crisis as it unfolds.

#5: Strongly consider paid social campaigns

In the early days of social media, it was much easier to grow followers organically. But in 2019, it’s extremely difficult to move the needle if your university is simply relying on organic posts. Because they are highly targeted (by industry, location, age and interests), paid social campaigns can be great tools for recruitment, especially for those schools that have online certifications and courses they’re trying to sell. Paid social is also a great strategy to bolster positive press coverage as well as boost attendance for university events.

#6: Content is still king

With the fast and crazy news cycle, it’s increasingly hard to break through the clutter. But a unique, thoughtful and highly visual content plan will go a long way toward that mission. Universities must consider their goals and create a large pipeline of content that best highlights the expertise of each school and faculty member. Thought leadership is critical when trying to build a strong social media profile. The ability to keep up with the fast pace of creating unique content -- written and visual -- is not always easy but strong content will help. To make an impact today, stop relying on stock imagery and whenever possible create a personalized, beautiful experience using the university’s own photography and video resources. And schools can up the engagement even more by featuring current students in those photos and videos. When creating the content plan, universities should also remember to highlight campus culture — student posts can be great fodder for positive content that will draw in prospective students.

To learn more about InkHouse’s education practice, please email Lisa at lvanderpool@inkhouse.com.

Topics: Social Media, Higher Education, Education PR, Integrated Strategies, Communications
Lisa van der Pool

As a vice president at InkHouse, Lisa shapes the strategy across a variety of accounts, while running campaigns and media trainings, and creating content.

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