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Social Media Strategies to Help Your University Survive the Digital Market

Sitafa Allen, MBA, PMP, SP, SA, SSM

Increasingly, social media is becoming the most ubiquitous channel for communication in this generation. It is intertwined in almost everything we do, from catching up on the latest news to checking in on close friends and family. In fact, a 2017 report from Nielsen found that Generation X (people between the ages of 35-49) spends about 7 hours a week on social media, while Millennials (aged between 18 and 34) clock in at around 6 hours a week. Everyone’s online, and that certainly isn’t going to change any time soon. As a university seeking adult learners, you will find value in this statistic, which truly highlights how your target market spends a large portion of their time. Learning to harness the power of your social media strategies is key to both a successful marketing strategy as well as an established and active relationship with prospective students.

Consider this guide of Abound’s recommended best practices as the starting point for your social media strategy. Knowing how to leverage your resources will make it easier to gain quality leads and garner information about your future students.

Target, Target, Target!

Before running any type of social media ads or campaigns, you need to ensure that your messaging will be seen by the right people. Take some time to understand exactly who your target market is. Most of the large platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, have detailed analytics functions that can tell you who regularly engages with your content, where they are, their demographic information, interests, and other predictive habits.

Use this information to create “personas,” fictional representations of your target demographic designed to help you understand their motivations to engage with you. It is useful to get an idea of the kinds of life circumstances and goals that would ultimately lead a potential student to consider your institution. When you then set up social ads or organic campaigns, you can incorporate keywords and hashtags that you have identified as interesting to and used by your target market. You can also geo-target your posts to make sure the appropriate cities are aware of your messaging.

A great time to use geo-targeting to your advantage is just before hosting a recruitment event or college fair. You can focus your social promotions on prospective students within a certain radius of the event to increase your chances of finding legitimate leads in the area.The more specific you are in tailoring your campaigns to unique user personas, the more return on investment you will see from social platforms. Social media is a pay-for-play game, so you want to make sure your campaign money is well spent and seen by your unique audience.

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Engage Actively

Today’s social media climate is all about speed and engagement. Trending topics change by the minute, and the pressure is on for companies to stay relevant and active. A study done by Eptica, a marketing research firm, shows that 85% of Facebook users expect a response from their favorite brands within 6 hours, while 65% of Twitter users expect a reply within an hour.

Based on these numbers, you’ll want to be sure to have sound social media strategies in place for responding to user inquiries and other comments in a timely manner. This is valuable not only because it is a customer expectation, but also because it builds a sense of trust and preference for your university. A solid foundation of trust and engagement could be the differentiator that influences a consumer to choose you over a rival school.

Luckily, there are a number of different strategies you can use to increase your response time and efficiency on social media. One of the easiest social media strategies to adopt quickly is installing a chatbot. The chatbot can respond to messages on social media with predetermined responses that are triggered by certain keywords and phrases. This is super helpful and convenient, as it can respond to inquiries 24/7 with minimal effort from your staff. The chatbot can also gather useful information about your potential students, including their frequently asked questions, general sentiment towards your brand, and some demographic insights.

Abound member UNC-Charlotte uses a chatbot on their website to help students find the answers to common questions. Although their plugin isn’t on a social media platform, it aptly demonstrates how useful and valuable chatbots can be for interested students.

If a chatbot, or any kind of 24/7 monitoring, is out of your price range, there’s no need to worry! Simply list your staff’s in-office hours wherever your contact information is listed. This way, users will have clear expectations for when your university’s account should be giving active responses.

Invest in Social Listening

Social media will not provide any value to you if you don’t have an understanding of the information and analytics that come from it. Thankfully, you can use social listening tools to help you track valuable metrics, insights, and trends associated with your institution and target audience.

Common metrics include:

  • Engagement – Cumulative Likes, Comments, Shares, Views, etc. on your content
  • Sentiment – Overall positive or negative attitude towards your brand
  • Reach – The number of accounts that see your content
  • Influence – A measure of the amount of influence that users engaging with your brand have

Keeping track of these metrics will let you understand how your posts are performing. It helps guide you with an understanding of what campaign strategies are working as well as which ones need improvement. You’re also able top pinpoint custom metrics that matter to you, including the number of users who got to your website through a social media post or the number of leads who resulted from each of your social platforms.

Social listening tools are typically inexpensive for accounts that have medium-to-large-sized followings (like, for instance, a college or university!). They are definitely well worth the investment, as they decode potentially complex social analytics and ultimately maximize the return on each and every post.

Stay True to Yourself

Authenticity is key in the social realm. People can tell when your brand is being authentic, and nothing turns them off faster than anything that feels like forced pandering. Use data and analytics to understand your own content’s keywords, hashtags, and topics that most relate to your messaging and desired audience. Remember, you can access this data using the either social platforms’ in-app analytics tools or your own social listening applications. Stick to the tone and subject matter of posts that perform well and stay away from topics outside of your influence. When you know your own mission, you can cling on to the keywords that garner attention and meld them into a genuine presentation of your institution.

It can be very enticing to jump in on trending topics with the hopes of going viral or sharing a funny meme. However, before you decide to chime in, ask yourself how/whether a topic relates to your brand at all. Would it resonate with your target audience? Do you think that users want to hear your opinion on certain topics? Pause before posting—a little bit of mindfulness can help you avoid losing trust from your audience, making your accounts less appealing, and even falling into costly PR snafus!

Overall, social media is a great way to connect with people and build relationships with your prospective and current students alike. One of the most important things for your social strategy is ultimately to understand who needs to hear your message and how to use data to reach them.

Social media has burst through the frontiers of outreach and recruitment, and it may feel overwhelming to consider a strategy in what is still a very new platform. But you’re not alone—Abound is here to help you showcase your value and find the students who will thrive best in your programs. Once you’ve mastered social media, you can then refer to the guide on How to Distinguish Yourself to refine your strategy and guarantee that you will stand out among the crowd!

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