Digital marketing has completely transformed how higher education institutions market their schools to prospective students. Your website is easily your most valuable asset, and social media has become an integral part of engaging prospects while delighting current and past students.

There are many factors prospective students consider when choosing a school. Price, location, and course offerings are, of course, chief among them. However, just as important is the atmosphere of the school. Students spend anywhere from 2 to 4 (or more) years at a school; they want to like the time they spend there.

Social media can be the most effective tool in helping your school market its culture and character to your key audiences.

People go to platforms like Facebook and Instagram to be engaged and entertained; play your cards right and your prospective students will fall in love with your school’s branding through social media, making it easier for them to complete applications and choose your school over others.

Choosing the right social networks

One of the first steps any business takes when venturing into social media marketing is to create a social presence on every possible platform, in order to increase their reach.

But the far more effective approach is to build a robust social presence on a select few networks. Most higher education institutions have social media teams made up of one or two people, and these people are often tasked with other marketing duties. If you try to build a presence on every single network, you run the risk of watering down your messaging.

So, if you’re only building a presence on a select few platforms, which platforms should you choose? The first place you can look at is your audience demographics.

Chances are your institution knows key demographics of your student body. Identify which social networks these students spend most of their time in, and commit your team to building a presence on these platforms.

Once you create your presence on these networks, make sure to monitor your performance to ensure you’re getting the best possible return on investment.

Remember, the best social network depends entirely on the audience. As such, you might want to consider testing out newer networks.

For example, our Orlando marketing company has had higher education clients who found tremendous success using Snapchat to engage with young Alumni. These alumni are young enough to have tired out from Facebook, but still use their smartphones to share content and talk with friends. Snapchat, often times, is their preferred app.

Snapchat can be a complicated app to work with, but the company has created an incredible resource for businesses looking to use paid means to reach audience. Take, for example, the ability to create Lookalike audiences (similar to Facebook):

And, of course, there’s the ability to create Geofilters (Snapchat’s claim to fame):

How to structure your social media accounts

Creating an effective social media structure for your institution can be more complicated than you might assume. In theory, it’d be incredible to centralize your social media to one team – and we’ve worked with schools that do that.

However, that’s not always a viable approach. Each department has an incredible amount of movement; one social media team could struggle to represent each department appropriately. Instead of having the social media team control every single platform, you might consider entrusting key members of your departments to manage them.

For that, you need to educate your departments on the proper use of social media. We suggest creating a social media guidelines resource that takes into consideration such things as:

  • Terms to avoid at all costs
  • Proper branding guidelines (colors, font, logo)
  • What type of tone and tenor to use
  • How to handle direct requests or criticisms

Creating great content for your audiences

Here’s a question our higher education digital marketing agency often gets from our clients: How far in advance should we plan our social media calendar?

The answer depends on the type of content and events you have coming up. If you have key events on your calendar, then sure, you can plan your social media calendar months in advance. The more time you allow yourself, the greater story you can tell.

But it’s not uncommon, at all, for our clients to create content on the fly – and we encourage it. Social media is heavily based on “in-real-life” moments, as well as instant communication. It’s important to leverage timely content. Take, for example, this tweet by NYU:

And then, more recently:

NYU couldn’t have “planned” these shots. They leveraged timely content – in this instance, the weather.

What’s key here is NYU has a social media standard in place – part of its mission is to promote its location in the heart of NYC. That’s part of its allure. The university uses social media to help convey its idyllic location to its followers.

Promoting research

But it’s not all about the campus or location – it’s also about the quality of your school. Many organizations rely on their research to attract students. That’s why schools like Notre Dame use social media to share key accomplishments and research:

So, how do you go about sharing this type of key research?

We encourage you to schedule meetings with your professors who are creating these key assets, and try to establish them as thought-leaders in their field.

That means teaching these professors how to make their research more user-friendly, without compromising on the meat of the research. That way, it’ll be easier to share across social media. There are some key terms in the post above: Climate Change; Mosquito-borne Disease; Zika. These are attention-grabbers that are sure to stop folks dead in their tracks as they scroll through their feeds.

If you decide to use Instagram, be sure to focus heavily on image quality. Look what the University of Michigan did to help promote one of their own research assets:

That image is beautifully composed and draws viewers in.

Here’s another example from the school:

Don’t forget the humor

Regardless of your school’s “voice”, remember that you’re looking to attract students to your school. They want to know they’ll enjoy their time there.

Our Orlando SEO department loves what the University of South Carolina did here to promote the unique approach of one of their professors:

That post, alone, could likely pique the interest of prospects.

And in the end, that’s your goal with social media, to pique the interest of your prospects while making sure your current students and alumni are proud to call your school home.

So long as you have a clear social media standard in place, you and your team should be able to use social media effectively to show off what makes your school unique, without compromising on your core values. Often times this means giving control over to department heads, and scheduling interviews with key faculty members. Whenever possible, plan ahead, but embrace the present as an opportunity to tell yet another piece of your school’s story.

Your audiences will thank you.