Tips for Social Media Marketers in Higher Education

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Colleges and universities have very unique business and communications challenges, and have to survive in a very competitive market. The increasingly fierce competition for student dollars means that you must have a plan and employ the most effective tools at your disposal.  Social media is the next battleground.

Higher Ed institutions have long realized the power and necessity of leveraging multiple marketing and communications channels, but, as technology makes connecting ever easier, more are investing in social media strategy, which provides further opportunities to generate engagement and build the organization’s brand.

Higher education institutions are using social media channels for lots of reasons, including:

  • Engaging with prospective students, current students and alumni.
  • Responding to student questions, comments, suggestions and concerns.
  • Improving recruitment rates.
  • Engaging with parents (who are pivotal in the recruitment process).
  • Complementing the teaching/learning process
  • Building and maintaining the college brand.

The challenge is discovering the channels that students, parents and other stakeholders are active in, speaking their language, creating content that is appropriate for the context, is relevant, valuable and, importantly, highly shareable.

So, the question becomes, how can you do it better?

Generally, the focus should always be on content that is relevant and timely for your target audience. Create content that adds value, and is good enough that they want to share it. This, of course, is simple in theory, but more difficult to execute. A clearly defined plan will go along way to achieving success.

Unite teams within your organization, so that communications can occur in a cohesive way. Higher education institutions are often siloed, making communications challenging. A central panel with some oversight might be the best way to avoid conflict and provide direction.

Spend time on your strategy, then employ the best tactics It is critical that you spend enough time crafting a solid strategy before choosing channels. By itemizing and defining the goals of your engagements you will be better positioned to create solid content and assess the results more accurately.

Engage “captive” audiences, such as current students and university alumni. These are the best constituents for disseminating your message, as they are already invested in your organization, and they are the most likely to share. Also, studies have determined that prospective students are more likely to be influenced by feeds from friends than info straight from the college, which they might see as self-serving. In some instances one-to-one communication with alumni, students and parents may be the most engaging.

Keep channels professional and transparent Social channels can lend themselves to interaction that is more personal than is necessary or desirable for the intended goals. Follow your organizations legal guidelines and respect confidentiality.

Simplify your channels as much as possible Try everything that you think might work, but then focus attention and resources on the top few that actually yield results. Social media requires very active management and higher education social media teams tend to be small and stretched for time and resources.

Seek natural interactions Look for interactions that are less contrived. Social media can be viewed as invasive, and the audience may not want to “connect” with you at all. However, it is possible that you can provide value in the form of information, entertainment or otherwise valuable information. There is ample opportunity for creative thinking here. Part of this will involve honing your social media listening skills to help you discover conversations and channels that you can be part of. Also, if you can predict the information and content that your audience is looking for, you can be ready to respond to student questions expeditiously and with the biggest impact.

Cultivate relationships with key influencers who add value to your brand In the college context this might be individuals who are respected or well-known alumni in business, sports, entertainment or other areas. These brand ambassadors can amplify your message and increase your reach.

Build privacy and security into your planning When building out a social media campaign be sure to have the conversation about risks. These include security factors and how the platform meets your privacy policy requirements. You should not be blindsided because you didn’t consult your legal department. Perhaps they even have guidelines for you.

Embrace the fuzz, but crunch the numbers. The goal is primarily engagement, but we can’t always quantify that. Likes and follows give us metrics, but the audience may also just be viewing the content and it may well have an affect on their thoughts and actions, but is not easy to calculate the worth of this influence. This is where the fuzz is in social media and where art meets science. Ultimately, you will have to quantify your success as college budgets are increasingly tied to results. Have metrics in mind when embarking on any social media component. Not to do so is to risk termination of the project when budget conversations arise. There are many tools out there that will help you evaluate social media data. Running reports that show key metrics like audience growth or engagement should become a standard practice. Depending on the channel, this can be each semester or as often as each month or week.

Monitor emerging platforms It is the nature of social media, and digital communications in general, that things change rapidly, and often unpredictably. New platforms emerge constantly and, sometimes, old stalwarts can disappear remarkably quickly. Keeping up with what is new is now part of the game.

Train the professionals As social media permeates every aspect of higher education life, colleges and universities must acknowledge its influence beyond recruitment and marketing. Business training for social media managers is not optional. Just like any kind of specialist communications, social media in this context requires training in tools and strategies, best practices and insights into developing platforms.

Educate your audience Higher education institutions have another responsibility in regard to students. They could be more proactive in offering social media understanding as part of their curriculum, perhaps even as a required class, educating students about protecting privacy, communicating in ways appropriate to the medium, avoiding social media blunders, personal brand management, being wary of manipulation by brands, and more.

While social media strategy is embraced by Higher Ed with varying degrees of commitment, resources and knowledge, there is no doubt that it is here to stay, and that its importance can only grow. Next step? Call a meeting of your social media committee and be sure to put all the issues on the table.

Simple Steps To A Social Media Strategy

Social Media Icons

Social media is an indispensable marketing/communications tool for organizations that want to build their businesses and get to the next level. It has become the primary channel to find, and connect with users/customers, and, far beyond that, it can bring you closer to the customer for more personal interaction, helping you build and extend your relationship over the long term. 

The rise of social media platforms have been nothing short of phenomenal, with traditional advertising rapidly replaced by social media marketing, which can be more far reaching, timely and personal. With a low barrier to entry, social media provides new opportunities to connect and deliver your message, and can be an inexpensive advertising/promotion tool. 

However, social media campaigns do require skill, and a well-thought-out strategy needs to be in place. Also, they need an interactive and responsive approach with dedicated resources and the right level of management/oversight that is appropriate for your organization.

In order to set up a campaign, you can follow these steps:

1.    Clarify your objectives

What do you want your social media campaign to achieve? This can be as simple as increasing sales or less measurable goals that relate to visibility and branding. Either way, without goals there can be no measurement, and, of course, ask yourself if social media is the most effective method to achieve these goals and whether it provides the best ROI. 

To provide more direction and simplify your goal, you can tie your objective to the broad categories of visibility/awareness, sales or loyalty.

Additionally, this a good place to consider your company mission and how you position and differentiate yourself.  This can be used as an anchoring platform to inform all your social media messaging. 

If you are able to convey a unique benefit for your target audience, that too can be used to attract and retain users.

2.    Determine your audience

The more focused and narrow your target segment, the better you can serve their needs by creating content that resonates with them, focusing on their issues and needs, speaking their language, and positioning yourself as the expert, go-to source.

Another factor in determining whom you must reach depends on your objectives. In order to meet objectives, you must choose those social media channels your audience frequents, and decide on appropriate messaging. 

This step requires some primary research and can be called the listening phase as you are discovering your audience location and habits.

3.    Integration with wider marketing objectives/plans

Make sure that your social media strategy is inline with the rest of your Internet strategy, website goals and inbound/outbound marketing initiatives. You should adhere to the principles of integrated marketing communications for maximum impact and efficiency.

Quite often you can use your website to funnel users and motivate actionable events, such as filling out contact forms or requesting more information. 

4.    Allocate resources and integrate into culture

An effective social media strategy requires an investment of time and resources. You must assign qualified individuals to spend the time it takes to support your chosen channels and create content that helps your organization deliver branding and marketing messages. This requires planning, and is an important function as these individuals are representing the company in a public setting and must be able to do so with professionalism, tact and with the ideals of customer service. 

Be sure that your social media efforts do not operate in a silo because it needs to be owned by the entire organization and embraced in the culture. Let your team know how they can support your strategy.

5.    Tactics, tools and implementation

Your social media commitment is likely to grow as you find more and better channels to use, so it is best to explore tools that increase the efficiency of your workflow. Social media tools and services abound now and there are more than ever. They can assist with the planning, timing and monitoring of campaigns, and can help you manage resources.

6.    Monitor and measure, and experiment

Crunch the numbers and see if you are meeting your goals.  This can be as simplistic as counting the increase in followers to your channels or more advanced analytics that help you to calculate improvement in engagement. 

Is campaign improving traffic to your website and specifically to those areas that you designate as being important action items that can be tracked?

Selecting social media channels requires some research and analysis to discover the places where your customers/clients congregate and communicate. 

Also, you must be prepared to try something new.  Sometimes you can get unexpectedly good results, but, at the same time, if a campaign fails to get traction after a reasonable amount of time, then it is best to reallocate your resources to maintain a high level of ROI. 

In the age of accountability, it is essential to embrace a results based approach and put into place only goals that can be measured. 

Set a reasonable time-frame to evaluate (probably a minimum of two months) progress, and identify any changes that are required. Thereafter, schedule regular reviews with the management team, so that everyone is onboard and is invested in the strategy.

The holy grail of successful social media strategy is engagement, personalization and relevancy, and to achieve that you must be prepared for the shifting landscape that is social media. Create a roadmap to build and sustain the right channels methodically and organically over time, but build in flexibility, so that you can adapt as things evolve. 

If you require help setting up a social media strategy, contact us. We look forward to hearing from you. Call 612-278-5880 or leave details on our Contact page.

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