This post was submitted by Kimberly Barnes.

With 98% of 18-24 year olds using social media, it only makes sense that colleges should be, too. But that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Social networks are largely shallow and unproductive – anathema to the mission of colleges and universities.

However, done correctly, social media can be a great way for colleges to find, attract and recruit with current and future students. And they can look to a surprising source for inspiration: big brands.

So – what inspiration can your school take from big brands on social media?

Articulate your identity

Social media is the perfect platform to refine and promote your school’s brand identity. And you can do so in just a few steps:

  1. Think of those things that best represent who you are as a college/university.  Why do students choose your institution over another? Is it course rigor or engaged learning? Student involvement in the community, athletics or both? Flexible schedules or small class sizes?
  2. Take the above and incorporate it into your social media presence.  Post photos of your campus.  Link to class previews and interviews with students or faculty. Share video clips of sporting or campus events.
  3. Whether it’s a tweet, post on Facebook, or picture or video on Instagram, keep your identity consistent across multiple social media channels.

Your Inspiration: Starbucks. The company uses multiple social networks to promote the quality, comfort and convenience that make up its brand personality. And its ubiquitous cup is featured prominently on the Web, from Instagram to Pinterest and beyond.

Engage your followers

One of the best parts of social media? It allows you to engage and interact with your target audience. You can ask questions, respond to comments, share others’ posts and gain likes, friends and followers.

Just make sure your posts have a purpose – you want meaningful engagement that adds real value. Join a larger conversation instead of relying on simple, pointless posts.  Respond to current events, pose questions about relevant issues, and encourage students to reply with their ideas and opinions.

Your Inspiration: Verizon nailed productive engagement with their “FiOS Football Girl” commercials. The spots show an 8 year-old girl learning football after getting laughed out of a neighborhood game – and this spurred a timely dialogue about attitudes toward women in sports.

Respond to concerns

The ease with which colleges can engage students on social media can be a mixed blessing. Yes, students can use social media to interact with their institutions – but they can also use it bring public attention to things that college administrators might prefer to keep private.

The best way to handle tweets or posts that don’t paint your school in the best light? Respond to them – politely, truthfully and in a timely manner. Whether it’s a student upset about prices in the dining hall or a campus group protesting a policy, replying to them will lead to resolution faster than ignoring them or deleting the post – and it will make your institution look much better.

Your Inspiration: JetBlue is one company that has mastered conflict resolution on social media. The airline constantly scans Twitter for mentions, messages and hashtags. They respond promptly to any dissatisfied customers, offering flight updates, weather information and even compensation.

Keep up with trends

Here’s another tip colleges can take from big brands on social media: keep up with trends. Social media moves at an incredibly fast pace, and schools need to know what’s “in” to make the most impact – especially since their target audience is sure to be up on the latest fads.

Pay attention to which social networks are popular – and which ones are losing ground. This can change quickly, and it can depend on your location and student body. Spend the most time and resources to the social networks where your students and prospective students are spending the most time.

Caveat:  Trendy doesn’t necessarily mean effective. Some social networking sites will result in a tangible return on your investments, and some won’t. Devote your resources to the sites that work – whether that means the most followers or the most meaningful interactions – and nix the ones that don’t.

Your Inspiration: Brands that are connecting with customers on newer, trendier social networks, like Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram. Fast-food chain Taco Bell uses the photo-messaging app Snapchat to promote products, offer perks and create narratives with Snapchat Stories – colleges and universities could do the same.

The takeaway? Done right, social media can and should be a great resource for colleges and universities looking to better engage with students. Follow these tips to build a productive, positive social media presence and reach more students, more effectively.

About the Author:

Kimberly Barnes is a digital marketing specialist dedicated to helping organizations connect thoughtfully and holistically to their customers through social media, content marketing, and CRM. When not buried in her laptop, Kimberly enjoys bowling, singing (mostly in the car, sometimes on stage) and drinking non-coffee beverages at Starbucks. You can reach her on LinkedIn or her website.


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Higher Ed Live

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