/ Sep 21, 2016 /

Getting a Handle on Your University or College’s Social Media Strategy

Have you taken a count lately of all the social media properties in existence that represent – either officially or unofficially – your institution? The number may surprise you. (Take our poll at the end of the article.)

Besides your primary institutional properties for Facebook, Twitter, etc., you may also find that several departments and programs have set up their own properties. Digging further you may find Instagram, Snapchat, and other properties on channels you haven’t even ventured onto yet. Before you know it, you could have dozens of accounts spread over multiple social media channels all representing your institution in the public domain.

This is enough to make a grown marketing & communications professional shudder.

Some questions you might ask yourself at this point:

  • How did this happen?
  • Is this good or bad for our institution?
  • How do I get a handle on this?

How Did This Happen?

The rise of digital marketing has provided higher education marketing teams with an unprecedented toolkit of tactics and methods for reaching their intended audiences. We are now at a point in time where 1 to 1 marketing is not only a reality but it’s an affordable reality. Psychographic and demographic targeting are a marketer’s dream and the inherent nature of the digital medium allows us to modify and manage our campaigns mid-flight.

It’s marketing utopia.

However, the same tools that allow the professional marketer to manage an institution’s social media presence are also readily available to anyone – and I mean anyone – with access to the Internet. Not only are these tools available, they’re also very easy to use and they’re cheap. How cheap? We’re talking free here. So now any department, program, club, group, team, or cohort can create their own social media property in a matter of minutes at no cost. To them it’s marketing utopia. To the rest of us marketing professionals, not so much.

Social media has always been built for the personal user. Only after their adoption of a channel and significant growth do businesses take notice and decide to join the party at the latest virtual water cooler. This order of events allows the personal user to view the channel not as a business tool but as the social communications tool it was initially intended to be. It’s no wonder they feel comfortable and justifiable in creating any property or group they deem worthy – even if it means creating one that represents your institution or brand. Besides, the lack of oversight from peer institutions means that everyone else is doing it so why shouldn’t they?

As an industry, higher education wasn’t prepared to develop or enforce social media policies primarily because the technology came on too rapidly and to this day still changes too often. Marketing teams are always playing catch-up. Meanwhile, users are enjoying their time as marketing outlaws in the Wild West of the social media frontier.

Is This Good or Bad for the Institution?

As a general statement, the presence of numerous social media properties is not good for an institution. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule but in general, this practice does more harm than good to an institution’s marketing strategy and brand.

Your primary properties are rich with followers, posts, likes, mentions, shares, and activity. When you create a new (smaller) social media property, you have to build an audience and sometimes that takes time and an enormous amount of effort to achieve. This is where the outlaws can be shortsighted in their strategy. They have the Field of Dreams mentality of “If I build it, they will come.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. You have to work hard to build and engage an audience. You need:

  • An overall plan on what your social media property is intended to achieve.
  • Great content in the form of text, pictures, and video.
  • An editorial calendar to keep you on track.
  • A responsive administrator to fuel engagement.

Open a social media property without a clear strategic purpose, with a potentially small group of followers, or the lack of an editorial plan and your property will quickly turn stale. When you research your own social media properties, ask yourself these questions:

  • How many of them have less than 100 followers?
  • How frequent are the posts?
  • When was the last post made?
  • How much engagement are the posts receiving?

They built it but the audience did not come.

Wouldn’t it have been better for this property to have utilized the main institutional property and taken advantage of the thousands of followers already there and actively engaged with an established social media property? The benefits to this approach include:

  • Access to a larger number of followers than could be accomplished as a standalone property
  • Institutionally, the opportunity to grow your fan base
  • A broader and deeper mix of content for your audience to consume
  • The appearance of being an active and engaged community instead of a stale and lonely one

How do I get a Handle on This?

When you have 20 social media properties and only five of them are thriving, then you are actually doing damage to your brand. Spreading your efforts across numerous properties dilutes your presence, minimizes your reach, and does not paint the intended picture of a rich and vibrant institution of higher learning.

This brand dilution is enough of a reason to want to get this situation under control. Your brand is everything. You take great care in making sure your brand standards are adhered to in print, your press releases are professionally written, and that you have a PR team to help with crisis communications. All of this is done to ensure the health and integrity of a brand your institution has worked tirelessly to build, enhance, and maintain. Why should social media be any different? It’s still your brand. It’s just establishing roots in the new digital marketing frontier.

In order to get a handle on this situation you are going to need the backing of your administration. Presenting this case to them should be an easy victory. With their backing, you now have the leverage to establish a policy that clearly states what can and cannot be done on social media in reference to properties that represent the institutional brand.

Some properties may need to be shut down and some feelings may get hurt but the overall marketing and communications strategy of your institution and the protection of your brand image are the end goals you are ultimately aiming for. In the end, you’ll end up with an even stronger social media presence, a better overall marketing and communications strategy, and a more cohesive brand. It will be a good thing too because you’re going to have to prepare for the next big marketing breakthrough that comes along...whatever that may be.

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