A more strategic approach to social media

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Today, many colleges deal with an in-house shortage of social media expertise. Add in limited support from faculty and staff outside the marketing department, plus the sometimes minimal student participation in content development. These challenges can make it overwhelming to figure out how to use social media to its fullest potential.

Social media marketing is not apart from other marketing endeavors and should be a vital part of the college’s integrated marketing strategy that aligns with their core objectives:

  • Advance the mission.
  • Assist student recruitment and retention.
  • Foster community.
  • Build relationships.
  • Enhance and encourage philanthropy.

This article is part of a monthly series provided by the National Council for Marketing & Public Relations (NCMPR), an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

What if every community college president was on board 100% to support their college’s social media strategy? What if they took the following big steps toward ensuring their school is fully leveraging social media? The result could be the golden trifecta: improved enrollment, retention and brand awareness.

What if college administration treated social media as a high-profile, high-potential communication channel?

Social media has an unmatched power for reaching prospective students, connecting with current students and expanding the visibility of the college in the community — even more than a TV commercial, magazine ad or billboard at a busy intersection. More than 80% of people in the United States has a social networking profile, according to the New York-based Statista, which provides market and consumer data. On average, those users spend more than two hours a day on social media.

More than half of teens researching colleges use social media in their research, according to “Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses,” a book put out by the Wisconsin-based Campus Sonar, which works with colleges on their social media strategy. Once they decide to apply, that percentage increases, according to the 2021 E-Expectations Trend Report put out by Ruffalo Noel Levitz, an Iowa-based group that works with higher ed institutions to reach students and donors.

What if everyone on campus was aware of how the social media strategy is applied?

Three out of four social media leaders in higher education say defining clear social media marketing strategies and objectives is their top priority, according to the 2019 Social Campus report, based on a global survey of 530 leaders in social media. Another 45% hope to coordinate social strategy campuswide. What if presidents, CEOs and chancellors understood that one size no longer fits all across social channels? What if they helped demonstrate that to the rest of the college?

Each social platform serves a specific audience, has specific requirements and uses best practices geared to that platform. Managing even one platform well is a time-intensive undertaking. Each channel should have a specific strategy designed for it based on trends in users’ age range, gender and location. If the information is available, the strategy should also consider users’ occupation, education level, interests and behavior. Messages can then be tailored to target the channels’ different audiences.

LinkedIn, for example, is the ideal place to market continuing education programs, connect with alumni and business communities, or recruit new instructors. Facebook, on the other hand, is great for talking to prospective students’ parents and adult students looking to start or change careers.

What if the college invested in social media staffing and training?

Despite its potential and importance, colleges often under-invest in all aspects of social media, including staffing, tools and advertising budget. What if the administration allocated sufficient resources to successfully implement their social media strategy? To design and execute a social media strategy that achieves a college’s goals, the president should be realistic about the school’s current available resources and not shy away from increasing funding when the desired results necessitate it, says Liz Gross, Campus Sonar CEO.

Managing numerous social media accounts requires far more than posting upcoming events and registration deadlines. Keeping up with current trends, creating fresh and meaningful content, and training staff and faculty are all key to implementing an effective social strategy. It takes a lot of time to make messaging look and sound great, conduct analytical research to achieve a better understanding of the platforms and audiences, and collaborate with students and the community to encourage engagement. As such, social media for the college is not a one-person job. Nor is it a job that should be left to interns, though it’s a great idea to include student interns or student worker positions on your social team.

What if the president realized that social media management is best done in-house?

Some may think it’s more economical to outsource their social media content rather than hire dedicated staff to develop and implement it. However, what if the college fully supported the idea that being cost-effective in certain areas doesn’t always equate to achieving desired results?

While people may love a brand, what they’re really responding and relating to are the people behind that brand. Only college staff truly have their fingers on the pulse of what their school’s current cultural trends and business objective are. To reflect these on social media, it makes sense to employ the very people who are where the action is. Social media an ongoing effort. Having a dedicated in-house person to manage all the college’s social accounts will help to maintain the college’s hard-to-imitate voice, take advantage of internal knowledge from working on campus and provide real-time content.

What if the president participated in social media efforts?

Who can better represent every facet of a college than its president? Through visibility on social media channels a college president can educate the community, legislators and businesses on the college’s goals; increase the college’s visibility as a partner and provider of a highly trained workforce; and expand connections and partnership opportunities with local organizations.

People like doing business with people they know. By becoming a familiar face to social media users, the president can become a more trusted public figure, representing their institution and demonstrating their commitment to college concerns and objectives.

Presidents can even display a sense of fun and personality in social posts, playing an instrument or joking around with the college mascot. The aim is to make the president more identifiable and relatable, which presents an approachable leader who genuinely cares about the college and the community.

Wherever your college is in its efforts, the president can play a significant role in its success by understanding, supporting and participating in your social media platforms. Taking these steps to leverage the power of social media could have a monumental impact on your institution’s visibility, enrollment, retention and graduation rates.

About the Author

Maya Demishkevich
Maya Demishkevich, Ph.D., is senior director of marketing and creative services at Carroll Community College in Maryland. She has more than 15 years of experience in higher education and is a 2022-23 NCMPR Leadership Institute participant.