Evidence-Based Innovation Blog

6 Tips to Help you Enhance Your Higher Ed Social Media Campaigns

Posted on Apr 26, 2017 8:30:00 AM

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I have a confession to make -- I have recently become emotionally invested in Oreos. Every time I see a hint of that black and white cream combo, I cannot look away, particularly if it is dwarfed between Shaq’s massive fingers, looking like a wee crumb. And, I’m afraid my unhealthy attachments are not limited to cookies. Because of Airbnb’s jaw-dropping Instagram account, I have mapped out an entirely new life that will be lived on a houseboat floating along the coast of Spain. And, do not get me started on how much time I have spent watching a pregnant giraffe

Now, I admit that it is totally possible I might be spending a tad too much time on social media. But beyond that, as a marketer, I see these campaigns and find myself nodding along with a slightly audible “brilliant!” I feel personally connected to these brands whether I intend to or not. And that, my friend, is smart marketing.

 Working in higher education, it is easy to look at these fabulous campaigns and think, “Sure, that’s great for Nike or Marriott, but that does not apply to what we do. Our audiences are different, our products are different, we do not have the staff, etc., etc.” All this is true, BUT there are still many, many nuggets of brilliance we can steal from our corporate friends. To kick things off, I have compiled a handful of valuable lessons that we can learn from these large corporate brands to create higher education marketing campaigns that capture attention and drive tangible results.

  1. Know your goals

Sounds obvious, right? But with social, this can be tricky, and you can get caught up in creating posts that are fun, or beautiful, or moving, but can end up as lonely images in your institution’s Facebook feed getting lots of “likes” but not a single click.

Higher ed is a sophisticated puzzle, with various audiences representing unique needs. Denny’s has it simple --­ they want everybody to come in and eat pancakes. But you are dealing with more complexity than Denny’s – schools have prospective students, current students, alumni, business practitioners, and the press, just for starters. And each of those audiences expects different things from you.

Tackling this challenge means sitting down with your team to identify audiences, outline goals, and establish clear priorities for your social media strategy. That does not mean you cannot serve all these audiences with your social media or that there are not opportunities to hit multiple audiences with a single post. To plan for success is to keep these priorities in mind as you put together your social media calendar. If increasing your prospective student pool is at the top of your institution’s goals, for example, make sure you have a higher allocation of activity dedicated to that goal and that those posts are being measured against the appropriate metrics (e.g., information session registrations, brochure downloads, etc.).

  1. Know your audience

This is universal advice for everything you do in the marketing realm. Know who your people are and make sure you check your assumptions frequently. The demographic and psychographic profile of your prospective student may not be the same this year as it was last year. Your MBA prospective student profile might be older than the typical student was two years ago. Or, there might be more self-sponsored students, or international students entering your admissions funnel than you’ve seen in the past. Your prospect database should provide excellent data to dig through, as should your entry and exit surveys.

 Audience profiles (also known as buyer personas) can change in a relatively short period of time, and if you are not capturing and monitoring this information you could miss it, and spend a lot of effort talking to the wrong people. Along those lines, remember not to cast your net too wide. You are not Coke and your audience is not simply anyone willing to drink a soda. Know who you want to target, and just as importantly, who you do not want to target and allocate your resources accordingly 

  1. Use your content

Content is one area where so many big brands struggle. I presented at a conference a couple years ago where a gentleman spoke about the content strategy for Scrubbing Bubbles. He discussed having a team of people producing content about “super-cool cleaning ideas.” Lucky for you, content happens to be one area where higher education has a big edge over these companies.

Schools already have much better content than "super cool cleaning tips". In fact, you have an entire crew of Ph.Ds who are generating fascinating research that is specifically about business, which, as it turns out, is a topic of keen interest for all your audiences. Leverage this valuable content. Now, I know that doing this is not always easy. You have to work with your faculty to translate their research into digestible nuggets of wisdom. But the effort is worth it. Not only do you create terrific fodder for your social campaigns, but you also help raise the profile of your faculty and gain insight into what topics are most interesting to your prospective students. Does your school see a bunch of clicks on monetary policy in China? Or are new insights into consumer behavior driving big spikes in your web traffic? What you learn from the performance of your campaigns will help you create more content that is designed to further engage your target audience.

That is just the tip of the content iceberg. But that’s a blog for another day…

  1. Be aware of your surroundings

Not all social media channels are created equal. The audience, expectations for style, and content vary from channel to channel. Twitter works better for “wonky” topics than Instagram for example. And if you are targeting anyone over the age of 35, it is probably best to avoid Snapchat (at least for now - ask me again in six months). Understanding what content to use and how to present it on each channel is very important.
wework instagram social media example

Wework Twitter social media example

These posts are great examples of different types of content for the different social platforms (Top-Instagram, Bottom-Twitter). WeWork posted on the same day, but with two very different messages.

  1. Be timely

Take advantage of what is happening in the world. Do you have a current student who is a former NFL player? Push out a profile of him during the playoffs. Did a faculty member conduct research about the impact winning awards will have on lifetime earning? Share a write up about that research just before the Academy Awards.

Pushing content that takes advantage of the conversation that is already happening at a macro level on social media helps amplify your brand for free with all your audiences. Plus, it positions your school as one that is in touch with what is happening outside the walls of academia. This is an important message to convey at a time when higher education is accused of being out of sync with real life.

social media superbowl example

Columbia leveraged the Superbowl to draw attention to some recent relevant faculty research.  

  1. Don't be tone deaf

Many social media tools allow you to schedule social activity in advance, which is great news, particularly when you are working with a small team (or happen to be the sole person who is tweeting, writing brochure copy, running an SEM campaign and cooking a chicken all at the same time).

However, make sure you are paying attention to what is going on in current events. Sometimes a tragedy occurs, or a major news event becomes the primary focus for everyone. Step away from social media at that point and cancel any of those “pre-scheduled” tweets. You do not want to be running a promotion for an upcoming info session during a national tragedy. And whatever you do, do not try to leverage a major news event to promote yourself… 

Using mass protests to push your spring collection? Not a good look.

example of what not to do on social media


Putting together a social media strategy can seem intimidating, but the effort can yield incredible insights and results. Plus, you will receive immediate feedback, allowing you to test and learn in real time at a low cost. You can’t say that about running a banner ad in the New York Times. 

We can help. Drop us a line to chat about how we can help you become a master of social.


Add to the tip list! What has worked for your social campaigns? Are your rocking the Instagram takeovers? Or have you mastered the Snapchat filters? Tell us what has worked best for your school’s social efforts.


Susannah Stayter, is a Marketing Communications Consultant at Percept Research. Susannah welcomes your questions and comments.

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Topics: Marketing Strategy, Marketing Communications, Social Media