The same colleges and universities that happily invest in paid social media advertising sometimes hesitate to build out an organic social media strategy. It might seem like a lot of work for results that are sometimes difficult to measure, but organic social media can recruit students. We know that potential students are researching schools on social. Having a strong organic social media presence can help capture and keep their attention.
Whether you’re just getting started, or looking to get more out of your organic social media presence, the core advice is the same. Choose the right platforms and use them effectively. That’s easier said than done, so here’s my best advice for where to start.
Why Higher Ed Needs Organic Social
So many colleges and universities are hesitant to do organic social media because they can’t tie it directly to enrollments. Unlike paid marketing where the return on investment is easy to track, organic social is a little more opaque. In terms of how you measure impact, you have to think of it more like traditional media. That’s not to say that organic social is untrackable. You can still use metrics like referral traffic from social channels, clicks, comments, and shares to understand content performance.
Asking how many students you can enroll if you spend a certain number of dollars is the wrong question. Organic social is about more than just direct inquiry. Your brand image is vital. Students go to these sites to see that image and decide whether they can envision themselves studying with you.
If the last time you posted was four years ago, they might move on to the next program on their list. About half of post-traditional students said they access Facebook daily. An additional 20% said they access it weekly. One study found that 58% of teens use social media to research colleges. In total, 77% of these students said their social media research was either somewhat or extremely influential in their choice to enroll.
Choosing the Right Social Platforms
Colleges and Universities often ask about the cutting edge social media platforms. Should they be on TikTok? What about Snapchat? Clearly, these platforms are popular. TikTok’s user base has grown 800% since the start of 2018. But the newest, hottest platform may not be the best use of your time.
Snapchat, while popular among younger audiences, isn’t growing as quickly as it was only a year ago. Plus, the structure of Snapchat networks means that people can only see your content if they already follow you. This makes Snapchat a useful resource for connecting to existing students, but less valuable for growing brand awareness or generating inquiries.
TikTok makes it easier to get in front of students, but still presents more challenges than solutions at this point. The truth is, we just don’t have enough data to know if TikTok videos can deliver enrollments for your school. What we do know is that making engaging videos is time and resource-intensive. It takes a lot to make these videos look as effortless as they appear in your feed.
For now, you’re better off focusing on the big four social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We know those platforms work. We’ve seen them drive engagement between students and universities. If you have resources left after you get situated on the big four, you can start exploring other channels.
3 Ways to Optimize Your Organic Social Presence
Across all platforms, these three actions can help optimize your organic social presence to reach more potential students.
1. Clean up your profile
Your number one goal in organic social is to drive traffic to your site or online form. Posts may capture attention, but your profile is what converts.
Follow best practices for each social media channel. These change often, but your social media strategist should be up to date with the latest evolutions. At a minimum, you need a complete bio that gives the student a sense of who you are and what you’re offering.
Most importantly, include a link that sends the student to your enrollment form or home page. Check-in on these elements regularly to make updates. The bulk of social-media-based inquiries come from people who see your content in their feed and follow it to your profile. They explore that profile before ultimately clicking on your link. Link tracking can help you attribute those visits appropriately.
2. Create authentic content
Social media should feel personal and authentic. When a potential student comes to your profile, they expect to see the real you, not just repeats of your ads.
Real photos of real people make a huge difference. If you have quotes, photos or reviews from students, share them (with their permission, of course). Getting students to send in content can sometimes be difficult, but professors are already in your circle. They’re the subject matter experts and can offer a first-hand look at your program. Whenever possible, ask professors to write up quotes, blogs, or infographics that you can share. If they don’t have the time, bring in freelance writers who can interview your professors and ghostwrite content.
Don’t let online learning stop you from sharing real images. Show screenshots of students meeting online for classes or clubs. If you’re pretending that online classes aren’t the reality, people will have a hard time trusting your content.
Also, start looking for ways to create content based on trending conversations. Tap into social media trends like “motivation Monday” or reference fun holidays that relate to your program. For example, a college with a cybersecurity program could create content for cybersecurity week.
3. Be responsive
The point of social media is to communicate with potential students. That communication needs to flow both ways. Make sure you are engaging with people who are engaging with you. That means answering messages and responding to comments as quickly as possible. Doing so is worth the effort.
About half of the enrollments we see attributed to social media come from engagement. The potential student might comment or even send a direct message to your profile to ask for more information. Leaving those comments unanswered undermines their confidence in your brand. Imagine your admissions team is sitting in the office when the phone starts to ring. Nobody answers it. It just rings and rings. Unacceptable right? That’s what you’re doing when you ignore messages and comments on social media.
Ideally, you would have someone on your admissions team tasked with checking in on messages and comments a few times a day. In general, people between the ages of 18 and 35 are more comfortable with chat instead of talking on the phone. If your university doesn’t yet have a live chat feature, using direct messages on social media is the next best thing.
Getting Started With Organic Social
Whether you’re using it to build brand awareness, generate inquiries, or engage existing students, organic social media is a powerful tool. For help getting started with organic social, reach out to EducationDynamics or register for CALEM 2021 and learn more about growing your audience and brand within the evolving social media spectrum at the Next Gen Social Platforms session.