Social Media and Higher Education – Tips for Success and Who’s Doing It Right

By April 10, 2013 No Comments

As I wrote in an earlier post about the importance of search marketing for online degree programs, Generation Z is going to soon dominate colleges and universities across the US.  They live and breath social media, and it’s a part of their everyday lives.  How are most  colleges and universities preparing for this influx, specifically the small to mid-sized institutions?
Well, to be frank, most aren’t doing much at all.   To be fair, most small to mid-sized universities are often at a disadvantage compared to the larger universities due to a lack of personnel and finances, so they don’t have the time or money to invest into testing or utilizing new forms of outreach.  With that said, they still need to make search marketing and social media a priority moving forward.
The fact is, it’s not going to get any easier for the smaller sized schools.  The incoming classes of students are the most technologically and socially savvy members our society has ever seen, and as you’ll see in the image below the older generations aren’t far behind.
Social media, whether you believe or not, is quickly becoming an effective branding and lead generation source in the higher education marketing mix.   If your college or university doesn’t have a social media marketing plan or strategy in place, listen up.  Here are a few tips for using social media in the higher education world, as well as a few examples of schools that are doing it right:
Your college or university isn’t currently leveraging social media.  How do you get started?
1) Check with compliance to determine limitations, if any.
Most universities have guidelines in place to protect the brand and conversation around the institution, so be sure you’re very clear on what you can / cannot do with regards to social media.
I would highly recommend developing and implementing a social media policy.  This will help ensure your team is on the same page and prevent any future mishaps.  For a handful of solid tips on how to create a successful social media policy, click here.

2) Create a social media strategy
A clear, well thought out social media strategy will ensure all necessary research and goals are clear for you and your team.  Creating a social media strategy often isn’t a quick process — I would recommend dividing up each of the sections below to your team members, and then collaborating as a group to finalize your strategy.  This will ensure everyone is involved and aware of the strategy, and also helps to bring different perspectives to the idea pool.
Basic outline of a social media strategy:

  • University
  • Target Market [define who your target audience is, and any segments of that audience]
  • Marketing Goals [increased program awareness?  lead flow?  website traffic?]
  • Current Use of Social Media


  • SWOT Analysis
  • Social Media Goals [think about your overall marketing goals when determining these]
  • Social Media Strategies [what is your overall strategy to accomplish your social media goals?]


  • Overview of Tactics [what are the exact steps you will take to accomplish each social media goal?]
  • Description of Tactics


  • Key Performance Indicators [what are the metrics that will define success or failure?]
  • Measurement Tools, Metrics
  • Analysis Approach
  • Communication Process [how often? who will results be communicated to?]


  • Resource requirements
  • Financial considerations
  • Timing considerations
  • Risks + mitigation


  • Summary
  • Next steps

As you can see, most of the components of a social media strategy aren’t rocket science, and there’s a good chance you’ve had to think about these things before.   That being the case, I’m not going to go through each section in detail but I did want to provide some insight and suggestions about KPIs that may help as you start crafting, implementing, and analyzing your own strategy.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) – KPIs are often hard to define in social media, leaving most asking “how do we know if it’s working?”.  The reason for this is because social media usually falls into the first phase of the higher ed sales funnel or the discovery phase.  It’s important to remember that social media is usually a marketing channel that creates POTENTIAL for future leads.  With that said, there are still a few important KPIs we can monitor to gage social media success:
Traffic data – How much referral traffic did your website/landing page generate from social media channels?
Fan/follower data – How active are your social platforms, and is your follower/fan count growing?
Social Engagement – Are your posts or Tweets being shared, +1’d, liked, and retweeted?
Social Content – How is the content produced through social networks performing? (how many links has it generated? how many times was it shared?)
Source: SEOMoz
Couple other ways to quantify social network success:

  • Compare value of media impressions – how much would it cost you to gain this same exposure through display advertising?  [compare monthly social media impression totals to display costs]
  • Leads generated through social media – generating leads through social media is often tough for universities, but when highly targeted promotions or creative social campaigns are launched, it’s definitely possible.
  • Compare fans/followers to a competitor – not the best metric, but if it’s a significant difference it could help you gain a competitive edge.

My Favorite Tools to Measure KPIs:
Google Analytics
Which Colleges/Universities Are Using Social Media Effectively?
Like they always say, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery”.  One of the best ways to learn social media is to examine those who are doing it well and pull some of their best practices to utilize yourself.  Check out the examples below, take some notes, and figure out how you can borrow a few ideas to put in place for your strategy:
Texas A&M – One of the best university Facebook pages in terms of engagement, topnotch use of photos, as well as effective use of video, user polls,
events, and news.  Texas A&M Facebook Page
University of Minnesota’s Carlson MBA (@CarlsonMBA) – They don’t have the most followers, but they’re known for pioneering the use of Twitter to connect directly with potential students.
Example Tweet:
Harvard University – Great use of #hashtags, and effectively publish content that is both relevant and interesting to their target audience.
Harvard University’s Google+ Page
photo (1)
Tufts University (@tuftsuniversity) – Tufts makes use of multiple Instagram accounts, promotes its own hashtag to highlight student, staff, and visitor experiences on campus, and holds Instagram photo contests.

 For more great ways universities are utilizing Instagram, click here.

Vanderbilt University – Vanderbilt features a weekly campus newscast, admissions videos, and featured lectures on it’s YouTube page to make it one of the most engaging university YouTube pages out there.  It’s not only a great resource for current students and alumni, but also perspective students looking to learn more about the institution.
Vanderbilt University YouTube page
How does your university currently use social media?  Please share below!
Connect with Clayton: @cdeanseo

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