According to a study done by BuddyMedia, asking questions with the word “why” on Facebook produces the lowest level of engagement. For many higher ed institutions, measuring “engagement” on Facebook (and other social media site) is the holy grail of higher ed marketers.

Now I’m no stranger to engagement strategies and I understand why communications folks want to produce engagement for their posts, but should higher ed focus on their own meaning and measurement or should we follow the lead of corporate social media marketers?

There’s a disconnect between general corporate social media best practices and the core mission of educational institutions. Unfortunately in trying to keep up with the latest buzz online, colleges have asked, hired and demanded their institution have more likes.

The most frequent questions I receive from people are “How do I get more likes?” and “Which posts produce the most amount of engagement?”

Lately I’ve been coming across more and more evidence that makes me question the direction social media in higher education is going. A recent comment by a social media manager stated:

“The most engaging post I’ve ever had on Facebook was a picture of jar of peanut butter that we posted on National Peanut Butter Day.”

According to most social media experts, these type of posts show an engaged community, brand affinity and successful engagement, however, I can’t help but ask “why?”

Just the other day Seth Godin wrote a post about the importance of asking why, and if you haven’t seen this amazing TED Talk, getting to the core of “why” is how great leaders inspire action.

In light of the current state of our economy, perhaps we need institutions asking why. It may not produce the most amount of likes.

The Buddy Media article goes on to say: “Avoid asking “why” questions because this may be seen as intrusive and/or challenging.” Isn’t education’s goal to challenge a student’s world view and train them to ask tough questions?

We shouldn’t be training our students to be passive social media followers; what our country needs now is active future leaders. And leaders ask why.

Social media shouldn’t be about liking and following – it’s about leading and caring. I understand why likes and followers is touted as supreme success metrics, but I am asking you to dig a little deeper and ask why.


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Higher Ed Live

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  • Marty Bennett

    I certainly agree with your premise, Brandon. Too much of what institutions get caught up in with regards to their social media approaches is driven by what the corporate world is doing, and what is hot in social media. Certainly, as institutions of higher learning, there needs to be much more of a balanced approach, and certainly more for how to use social media tools to help achieve their larger strategic/mission-related goals. I do think the dynamics of how social media are used institutionally are used throughout the student life cycle (prospective-enrolled-alumni) can and should match the needs of the audience at that time. What a prospective student wants and needs to hear about the institution (and not hear on social media platforms) will be very different than what (and potentially where) a current student wants to interact with. The balance I’m most concerned with (professionally and personally) is for institutions to be providing content and opportunities to engage with prospective student audiences without pandering to the “likes” push, and more importantly, the artificial, superficial share phenomenons of the peanut butter jars of the world.  Good post!

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  • Kathi Browne

    Brilliant thoughts, Brandon. The only way to change how people think is to ignore what is accepted and do something different with a goal in mind. Ask “why” enough times and you may get an answer that goes viral.

    • Brandon Croke

      Thanks for the comments Kathi. Not sure if you caught yesterday’s Higher Ed Live, but they had some great dialogue around asking why and doing things differently. 

      If we aren’t experimenting and creating our “own path” in edu, we’ll never find out the true value of any of these new technologies. The episode was on Google+ and instead of focusing it on a “marketing” medium it was really about the potential for online advising, open classrooms etc. 

      Exciting time to be working in ed tech!

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  • Kyle Golembiewski

    Nice post, Brandon.  Glad to see your work come up in the SERPs while doing some client research 🙂 

    What are your thoughts on Medical Colleges?  Can these types of institutions find success/engagement in social spaces?  There seems to be a level of disconnect with this segment as most of the students are in their late 20s/early 30s.  I assume this will change in 3-5 years.  Maybe sooner?

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