Recently, Deep Varnish was invited to deliver two “Social Media in Higher Education Best Practices” sessions for staff at City University of New York as part of their annual All Staff Day retreat in Manhattan.

Together with their Director of Organizational Development, we developed and distributed a pre-workshop survey to assess the most pressing challenges around social media marketing in higher education—insights we used to help shape workshop content and delivery. In this post, we’ll share our key takeaways as well as social media best practices for colleges and universities.

Common Social Media Marketing Challenges in Higher Education

Reviewing the survey results, a few key themes immediately emerged. Staff wanted tips on getting the best results based on available (and often limited) resources, managing social media content creation, crafting an interesting and relevant story, and moving beyond “Likes” to generate more meaningful engagement from their social media marketing.

Time-Saving Social Media Marketing Strategies

Since many of those in attendance didn’t have a dedicated marketing staff, it was really important to focus on social media strategies that were going to help them save time right out of the gate. That starts with having a clear focus on what “success” looks like based on your overarching organizational goals and then aligning your social media efforts accordingly. Do you want to generate more:

  • Awareness around program offerings?

  • Event signups?

  • Traffic to your program website?

  • Engagement with current and prospective students?

  • Reach new audiences?

As we typically tell all of our clients--Facebook likes are great but they don’t mean anything if you’re not growing!

Look for opportunities to leverage internal resources. Students can be invaluable when it comes to generating content, getting up to speed on the latest social media platforms, and expanding internal bandwidth. Current students can also serve as ambassadors or points of contact for your program on social media. For example “Get a glimpse of XYZ student life at CUNY. Follow @CUNYStudent #CUNYPrep.”

It’s also crucially important to carve out time every week to manage and maintain your social media presence. That can definitely be a challenge for any organization, but especially when you’re asked to wear a lot of different hats. Whether it’s 15 minutes before you start or end your day or an hour in the afternoon, any time you’re able to dedicate can make a huge difference as you work to reach your target audience. The last thing you want is a Facebook page or Twitter profile that hasn’t been updated in a year and a half.

Finally, consider creating an internal social media group/email list comprised of Academic Affairs departments where you can share best practices, tips, and advice.

Generating and Repurposing Content

Getting people to engage on social media can be a huge challenge—especially when you’re trying to reach college students. You’re not only competing for their attention with classes and homework assignments, but also sporting events, friends, family, and social media posts of puppies and cheeseburgers. How do you get your content noticed?

Identify key themes/stories for the upcoming academic year—stories you believe will add value for your target audience. They can be informational, educational, and even humorous but above all they must be relevant.

Don’t underestimate the importance of visuals. During the session, we compared similar posts across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In every case those with images of real people doing real things outperformed stock photos, memes, and design-heavy graphics.

Where possible, look for opportunities to turn one piece of content into multiple updates:

  • Post a blog => share via social media => highlight in a newsletter

  • Create a video => post to website => transcribe content to create a blog post => share via social media

  • Look for opportunities to update posts / content that was previously published.

  • Remember: Most content can/should be shared via social media multiple times

Optimizing Your Website to Encourage Action

Ultimately, most social media engagement will lead back to your departmental website—especially if you’re trying to increase online applications, event attendance, etc. Make sure your message is consistent across both channels and that your website creates a seamless user experience for mobile and desktop visitors.

Look at your website from the eyes of a prospective or current student. What information would be most helpful? What do you want them to do when they visit your site? Is it easy for them to do it?

In most cases, you can experiment by making minor changes without much, if any, investment in website design. Ideas include incorporating relevant testimonials, targeted calls-to-action (ex. easy to find link to your online application), and imagery that helps to create an emotional/personal connection with your target audience.

Next Steps

Review social media marketing outcomes monthly/quarterly to identify what’s working and what isn’t (and why) and make changes accordingly.

Talk to your target audience. Learn more about what information they would find most helpful and which channels they are likely to use. Take advantage of the opportunity to create a meaningful dialogue/connection.

Create interesting, educational, and sharable content around your key messages (not just self promotion).

Looking for more social media in higher education best practices? Tweet us @DeepVarnish and we’ll email you our “Social Media Dos and Don’ts for Higher Education" quick reference guide.