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Social Media Marketing for Colleges and Universities: 6 Tips

Does your college or university have a targeted direct mail campaign to reach prospective students? Here's some advice: Save money and focus your marketing efforts online.

College-bound high school students receive an onslaught of postcards and thick packets every summer. Parents stack them neatly on the table, getting excited thinking about the possibilities hidden within each piece of mail. Students? Untouched. Their typical reply?

“Anything I want to know, I can google.”

Your online presence is critical, and that includes social media for educational institutions. Social media is the go-to media for reaching younger generations. Even if your school is already doing leveraging it, this article can help you:

  • Understand what a higher ed social media strategy can do for your college.
  • Create a social media plan.
  • Learn tips to up your social media game.

How can social media be used in higher education?

According to Pew Research, younger Americans embrace a variety of platforms that they visit multiple times daily. This provides your school with several opportunities to advertise and gain optimal visibility.

More than any other reason, a social media marketing strategy gets you to face time with your target audience. Because most prospective students get their information digitally, you can meet them where they are with a strategic digital marketing campaign across all social media platforms.

There are other reasons to enhance a social media strategy for colleges and universities:

  • It’s a great recruitment tool. Videos depicting campus life and events show students what it’s like to be a student at your school.
  • It’s a quick way to disseminate information. Guest speakers, sporting events, and even emergencies can be pushed out to the public immediately.
  • It lets you engage your audience directly. Platforms like Twitter are ideal for asking questions to your audience. Use it for polls or to glean student preferences.

Social media marketing plan for higher education

Exactly what is it that you want to do? Recruitment? Fundraising outreach? Student engagement? Answering these questions gives you the backbone of your social media plan.

The next steps fall easily into line:

Define your goals

Do you want to gain more followers? Encourage students to visit campus? Build a stronger social media presence in general? Knowing your outcome gives you something to work toward as you implement your social media strategy.

Be specific about defining your goal. Make sure to define and include all key performance indicators (KPIs) you need to measure whether your campaign is a success.

Create your buyer personas

An audience persona simplifies “audience” into specific character types or personas. For example, you might have a prospective student, first-generation student, transfer student, parent, donor, and alumni—all of who are relevant but very different parts of your collective target audience.

Research your audience and create your accounts

You want to meet your audience where they are. Once you identify your target audience, invest in knowing who they are and where they are. Create your social media accounts based on your goals and audience. 

For example, if you want to target prospective students who are Gen Z, focus on channels like Snapchat and Instagram. For targeting families, especially parents, Twitter could be a better channel to focus on.

Develop a social media calendar

Who will develop an editorial calendar and post content? What voice/tone do you want to use across multiple platforms? What platform will be used for what purpose? Creating a strong plan and sharing it campus-wide will get your entire team and school on the same page.

Create compelling content

The more organized and coordinated your social media efforts, the better your success. Take time to schedule content based on annual events, holidays, important campus milestones, deadlines, and program schedules.

Track your results

Data about the performance of your social media channels provide insight that you can use to make improvements that enhance your school’s digital presence. You should track what is happening with each college's social media post on your account.

A robust CMS will have analytics from social channels integrated when you publish via the CMS. Make sure to keep track of different metrics such as likes, shares, views, video watch time length, among others, to determine what your audience responds to and what they don’t.

A quality CMS will have strong reporting features integrated such as social media analytics.

A quality CMS will have strong reporting features integrated such as social media analytics.

Evaluate and improve

Act upon the insights you gain from the analytics. Learn from the data what kind of content your audience is engaging with and at what time, what targeting strategies are working for you, and for which channel. Use these insights to improve your strategy and boost your social media engagement.

Tips for a winning social media marketing plan

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead, see what other schools are doing and personalize these ideas to work best for your college or university’s social media strategy.

Here are eight social media marketing tips to consider:

1. Create a “student ambassador” program

Guest posts from students in specific colleges, study abroad programs, campus activities, and athletics give viewers a “day in the life” glimpse of niche areas of campus life.

2. Get current students and alumni involved in content creation

Having current students and alumni create, curate, and publish presents your school’s most authentic voice because these are the people who have lived and are living your school’s experience and can help you create brand awareness. Potential students appreciate the genuineness of content coming from real people and real experiences.

For instance, Texas Christian University’s #tcustudyabroad social media posts adventures on Instagram from students involved in exchange programs in various parts of the world—a stellar social media marketing strategy.

Texas Christian University’s #tcustudyabroad posts adventures on Instagram from students involved in exchange programs in various parts of the world.

– Image courtesy of Texas Christian University 

3. Automate repetitive tasks

A quality content management system (CMS) allows you to schedule content for platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Such automation of repetitive tasks frees you for more important work.

4. Maintain a cohesive voice across all your accounts

Because voice is part of your school’s brand, it should be consistent no matter what medium you use. If you do decide on a more formal tone, take time to explain any academic terms that may not be familiar to some students.

5. Maximize the strengths of different platforms

Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are holding steady as top platforms for this new generation. This makes sense: they’re visual and quick. Information is succinct and “fluff-free.” If you’re a techie, venture into newer social platforms like TikTok. Snapchat has been around for a while, but colleges have yet to take full advantage of the platform. And don’t forget texting. It is effective in getting the conversation started and keeping it going.

According to the 2019 E-Expectations Trend Report, texting has surged in popularity over the last couple of years. It’s one of the easiest ways to get messages in front of students.

According to the 2019 E-Expectations® Trend Report, texting has surged in popularity over the last couple of years. It’s one of the easiest ways to get messages in front of students.

6. Prioritize responsiveness and engagement

Your social media accounts represent your institution, so anything posted will be considered an “official” stance. That’s why it’s so important to vet what you plan to post through this lens.

Also, pay attention to what others are saying to and about your college or university online and, if possible, join in those conversations with your audience. This will strengthen connections and give your institution a positive online personality.

By listening to your audience, you can gain a better comprehension of their needs and wants. This method can be used to get more precise insights into your current and potential clients and delve further into your audience research.

It also helps to build meaningful and long-term connections with your audience. Social listening is a popular and useful way to do audience listening and involves tracking conversations on social media platforms.

Importance of social media in higher education

Every year, data from the E-Expectations Trend Report confirms that a college or university’s digital presence is an important part of an institution’s overall persona. As this generation of digital natives continues to mature, you can expect that the influence of your online messaging will become even more crucial in sharing your school’s brand.

Don’t wait until you’re so far behind that it feels impossible to catch up. Instead, go ahead and implement the higher education marketing strategies suggested, even if it’s one at a time, to make sure your higher education social media strategy is not only executed but on point.

Don’t waste time—Download our latest research reports and get started today in learning about the digital habits of high school students.

Karam Singh

Karam Singh

Karamjeet Singh Khosa is a Content Marketing Manager at Modern Campus. With more than a decade of progressive professional experience, he has a thorough understanding of content, marketing, technology and the education industry. Prior to joining Modern Campus in 2022, he worked with leading technology enterprises, like Google, and leading education services and products providers, like Pearson Education. A digital nomad with a Master’s degree in English literature, Karamjeet loves to read, write, travel and trek.

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Last updated: April 17, 2023