Social refresh: Nailing the basics in higher ed 

May 09, 2017  

By 2020, the number of social media users worldwide is expected to reach 2.95 billion. And thanks to a wide range of social channels, it’s never been easier to communicate with brands and get the information we need. For brands in higher ed, this means that you have a unique megaphone to reach your audiences.

And most of the time, what’s the audience that higher ed brands are looking to reach? Prospective students, of course. But here’s the catch, which we know from our Gen Z research: when prospective students are making decisions about colleges and universities, they don’t use social media as a primary way to evaluate or engage with your institution. However, they do peruse your school’s social feeds to check out student life and the overall experience. It’s important to understand this behavior—and to know that most of your followers will be current students, faculty, and alumni. Here are a few tips that will help you craft engaging content to reach all of your audiences on social media.

1. Keep it simple.

Twitter’s 140-character limit has trained us well. Whether it’s an Instagram caption or a Facebook post, the number one rule is to keep it short and simple. Sure, these channels are prime real estate for reaching your key audiences—but when users are scrolling through a social feed, your chance to get their attention lasts about three seconds (!). If you ultimately want users to take action, think of each post as your brand’s front door, and lead with the most important message in the fewest words.

2. Drive them somewhere.

A simple post is good, but a great post also sends users to your website, your blog, or another channel of yours. The key is a strong call to action (CTA). Some tried-and-true examples: Learn more, Apply now, Sign up, Watch more, Donate now, and Contact us. Then pair your CTA with a tracking link to the right destination. Tracking links, created through services such as, help you analyze clicks and conversions by individual social posts, and attribute value to your social media plan.

3. Be disruptive—in a good way.

The struggle is twofold: You need to stand out from your peers and competitors on social media. And you need to stand out amid the deluge of content that floods the typical user’s feed. So how do you get noticed? Don’t be afraid to upset the norm with new content types. Try posting a Facebook Live video of a campus event, or use an Instagram carousel to tell a compelling alumni success story. Remember: Users want to see content from you that looks and feels like it was posted from one of their friends. So stand out, but be relatable.

4. Put your best foot forward.

High-quality photography and videography are a must on social media. Toss out photos that are dark or poorly composed. If you place text over an image, limit it to just a few words. For videos, trim your content down to a manageable size: about one minute at most. Studies suggest that Facebook users watch video with their phone’s volume off, so include closed captions on that channel. (No captions needed for Instagram or Snapchat.) Finally, strive to hook your viewers within the first three seconds of your video.

5. One size does not fit all.

Many brands make the mistake of posting the same exact content to all of their social and digital channels. Your social strategy should start with campaign and channel goals, and then allocate the content accordingly. This way, you can tailor your content to fit the needs of each audience and channel. Need a place to start? Facebook and Instagram offer demographic insights to business profiles. Here you can dig into user behavior and background information (like sex, gender, income, and location) and begin tailoring your content accordingly.

6. Test and learn.

It’s important to test your content continually to know what’s resonating most with your key audiences. In A/B testing, also known as split testing, you post two or more pieces of content to determine which one performs better. You can test many things: design, copy, content type, or time of day, to name a few. Testing gives you valuable insights about what your users engage with most. Your mantra for A/B testing? Test, refine, repeat.

7. Staff the ship.

No matter how solid your social strategy is, you must have a proper team in place to carry it out. This is vital both for good customer service and for fostering brand loyalty, engagement, and awareness. Ideally, choose people who can not only create content for your channels, but who can also work behind the scenes to manage the community that forms. A community manager proactively engages with followers, and reactively responds to user inquiries—and becomes your front line for understanding your audiences. By allocating resources to manage your social media presence, you can successfully reach new and existing followers.

Need more social media tips? Read our list of best practices.