The Crucial (and Growing) Role of Social Media in Higher Education

The years that social media was supposed to be a fad are long gone. Today, it's one of the core communication channels audiences across age groups and demographics use on a daily basis. And yet, too many colleges and universities still ignore its potential impact.

Yes, your institution probably has a Facebook page. It might even have an Instagram account. Don't be afraid to push beyond that. Social media has begun to play a core role not just in recruiting students, but also in engaging your alumni and highlighting your research. As such, it should be among your core strategic initiatives both today and in the coming years.

The Exponential Growth of Social Media Usage

First things first. Let's dig into just how common social media usage has become among all demographics:

In other words, the growth is not stopping anytime soon. Social media is now more popular and consumes more time than radio, TV, and phones. That alone highlights just how crucial it is for your entire university to realize its opportunities.

Leveraging Social Media in the Recruitment Process

Let's start with the obvious: your social media strategy has to be focused around recruiting new students. To some degree, it likely already is. More than 70% of prospective college students now use social media to find their school. Their parents are just as active, looking to find information about campus atmosphere, events, and more.

A few years ago, that trend led to a simple conclusion: just post a few times a week about your events and news, and you'll be fine. If it was ever actually impactful, those times are long over. Your potential students and their parents expects an authentic presence, filled just as much by student-generated content as by the official voice of your college. If they do get that voice, they want it to be real, answer questions quickly, and treat them as equal instead of talking down to them.

Don't forget about the visuals, either. A video about the rooms in your residence halls, ideally led by a student, can be much more impactful than simply writing about the options. Visual networks like Instagram and YouTube are especially relevant as you look to recruit new students to your university.

Engaging Alumni to Maintain Close Bonds

Social media might be a young person's game, but the older generations are catching up. Today, 65% of 50 to 64-year olds use Facebook alone, which doesn't even account for other networks. That makes social media an ideal opportunity to engage your alumni and keep them connected to your university.

How you approach that goal differs significantly from your recruitment. Alumni expect both nostalgic content that takes them back to their own time on campus, and updates on what has changed since then. Naturally, this can best be accomplished in a visual way. There's a reason #ThrowbackThursday has been such a hit on alumni pages across the country.

If you're looking for content or the right voice, tap into your development officers and annual fund managers. They speak with alumni every day, and can provide valuable insights into the types of questions they receive and content this audience shows interest in. Engaged alumni on your social media pages can also be invaluable to showcase your community and networking opportunities for prospective students.

Optimizing Social Strategies to Raise Community Engagement

A third audience that you should consider as part of your social media presence is the local community. The bonds between a university and the town in which it lives is as crucial as it is tenuous. Local pride tends to be counterbalanced by partying college students and unruly off-campus housing situations.

Social media can be a crucial bridge to close those perception gaps. Here, you can highlight the difference the university makes in the community. Consider highlighting elements like community service events, local clean-ups, or even student research projects that benefit the community.  Use your social channels not just to push out content about your campus, but about the town and its tourism opportunities as well.

Of course, these social media efforts have to be followed by a consistent, university-wide strategy to bring the local community into the fold. In concert, though, the two can be immensely powerful. You highlight local pride, while counteracting the negative perceptions that come with the territory for most colleges and universities.

Highlighting Research to Build Your National Profile

Finally, social media should be the central channel to highlight the types of research that your institution engages in. Many universities simply push out a few news items on their website, and hope to pick up coverage. Instead, build research into your social media content strategy.

You probably already know just how crucial this process is. A better research reputation attracts better faculty, more students, and increased state and national funding. Social media is your opportunity to highlight not just the process of research itself, but the impact it can make.

From learning about the impact of lyme disease during tick season to uncovering dinosaur fossils, your students and faculty are doing amazing things. Through social media, you can let the world know about it and raise both your statewide and national profile.

Are You Ready to Leverage Social Media to its Fullest Potential?

The importance of social media in higher education can be boiled down to its popularity among all of your target audience. But it goes much further than simply maintaining an active presence. Only an in-depth strategy that considers your various audiences and content opportunities can help you stand out in a world where Facebook users generate more than 4 million likes every minute and 30,000 new hours of video get on YouTube every day.

To leverage social media to its fullest potential, you need a strategy. You also need the expertise to pick the right channels and content for the right audience. Let's chat about the opportunities for your institution, and how we can partner to maximize your social media potential both today and in the future.