How to Create an Effective Social Media Strategy for Your Institution

Last updated on: October 10, 2023

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Social media provides higher education institutions with the opportunity to disseminate targeted information, gain referrals, and foster strong brand connections with current and prospective students. To illustrate the size of the opportunity, consider this: on Facebook alone, there are more than two billion active users (source: Facebook 11/01/17), with 74% of those users between the age of 18-45. In addition, those users are logging into their accounts multiple times a day. Now consider how many of your institution’s prospective, current, and alumni students frequently utilize social media. It’s a large number, right?

To effectively access this opportunity, a clear social media strategy is needed. This will help you determine how your institution will use social media to achieve its goals, as well as the supporting tools, platforms, and resources. This strategy defines what your marketing team wants to accomplish and how to achieve it.

Discerning a starting point for your strategy can be confusing given the vast landscape, but the best place to begin is with an assessment of your over-arching goals. Are you looking to establish a brand presence for engagement with your students and alumni? Is your institution seeking to grow enrollments? Are you in need of market insight and an understanding of your position among your competitors?

Answers to these questions, along with a thoughtful review of what your institution hopes to achieve with social media, are essential to building an effective strategy. To help you determine the day-to-day details and activities of your social media strategy, consider including these four objectives specific to higher education in your plan:

Brand Development

Social media provides a unique opportunity to present different angles of your brand and provide a glimpse into some of the more detailed elements of your campus, values, students, and faculty. It also allows for a more interactive experience that lends itself to connection with your current students and alumni, community, and prospective students.

User Engagement

While your website and other more traditional branded materials are a great way to establish the core of your institutional brand’s look and tenor, social media is an avenue that can humanize and bring it to life. Content is consumed in small, quick, and repetitive bites and your social media channels also provide a gauge for how content is perceived. The ability to “like,” comment, and share your content provides real-time feedback into what messages and topics are resonating, which then leads to user engagement.

Social Listening and Research

Connecting with current students, alumni, and prospective students is easier than ever with social media platforms. At the minimum, your followers are able to post reactions to your content, comment and start conversations, and even promote your content further by sharing it with their own social media community. Beyond these basic features inherent in every post, you can tap into polling features, pose questions for specific feedback, or invite your audience to participate in campaigns using hashtags, video themes, and more. One way to do this is by leveraging trends, current events, and themes that are already occurring. To uncover these ideas, you can utilize social media listening tactics (see below).

Prospecting and Inquiry Generation

Social media provides quick access to trending topics and conversations and can also help you get ahead of any concerning issues and feedback, giving you the opportunity to proactively respond and repair relationships. It’s important to listen to your followers and pay attention to comments on the content you share, as well as any private messages sent to your various profiles.

Beyond the conversations tied to the content you promote, you can take it a step further to explore trending topics on each platform or even utilize a social listening technology, such as Hootsuite, Salesforce Social Studio, Sprout, and others, that will help you track your brand, competitors, and anything else you are wanting to keep tabs on, such as industry events and topics.

Lastly, adding social media advertisements to your marketing plan allows you to get your brand in front of prospective students in a relatively cost effective manner. Social media was long touted as a “free” way to market your business. However, given the vast audience network and seemingly unlimited accessibility for businesses, some level of paid social media is likely required to meet your goals. This includes reaching those who follow or “like” your profiles.

If you can spend the time to provide a high level of engagement with your followers, you’re more likely to benefit from some free views of the content you post. There are many ways you can utilize a social media network’s paid options to expand your reach and the campaigns can feature very sophisticated targeting, like standard demographic and interest targeting, re-marketing, and lookalike campaigns based on your goals.

Getting started on a social media strategy can feel overwhelming given the wide array of platforms and tactics available. However, it has the potential to greatly benefit your institution’s marketing goals and objectives if done well. Regardless of your human resource capacity, there is likely a way to get involved and use the tools to your advantage.

For more ideas and guidance around other higher education marketing strategies, like content marketing, visit our Resources page.

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