Indeed, some articles on why social media is important for universities date back as early as the mid-2000s — when universities first began using online platforms to share news, updates, events, and engage in conversations in a more immediate and interactive manner.
Since then, universities have increasingly recognised the importance of social media as a communications and marketing tool. They have established official social media accounts, created dedicated social media teams, and developed strategies to effectively leverage these platforms.
Over time, universities have expanded their presence on various social media channels and explored innovative ways to use them, including live streaming events, hosting webinars, sharing educational content, and promoting research achievements.
Despite this, there still seems to be an air of uncertainty and hesitancy around social media within universities. Why is this?
In our experience, brands in general can find social media challenging for several reasons. Some common difficulties include:
Handling multiple platforms
Social media encompasses various platforms, with new ones emerging every year. From Facebook and Instagram, to Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat and TikTok. Each platform has its own unique characteristics, audience demographics, and content formats. Managing multiple platforms and tailoring content for each one can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.
Staying updated with trends and algorithms
Social media platforms are constantly evolving, introducing new features, algorithms, and trends. Brands need to stay updated with these changes to effectively reach their target audience — it requires ongoing research, monitoring, and adapting strategies to ensure maximum visibility and engagement.
Building and maintaining an authentic brand voice
Social media demands an authentic and relatable brand voice that resonates with one’s target audience. However, establishing and maintaining this voice can be challenging, especially when different team members or agencies handle social media content. Consistency, clarity, and alignment with brand values are crucial for building trust and loyalty.
Managing online reputation and customer feedback
Social media provides a platform for customers to voice their opinions, both positive and negative. Brands need to proactively monitor and respond to customer feedback, addressing concerns and resolving issues promptly. This requires efficient community management, handling potential crises, and maintaining a positive brand image.
Measuring and analysing ROI
Determining the return on investment (ROI) of social media efforts can be complex. Brands often struggle to track and measure the impact of their social media activities on key performance indicators such as brand awareness, website traffic, lead generation, and conversions. Accurate data analysis and attribution modelling are crucial for assessing the effectiveness of social media campaigns.
Dealing with competition and saturation
Social media platforms are highly competitive spaces, with numerous brands vying for attention. Cutting through the noise and standing out in a saturated market can be challenging. Brands need to develop creative and engaging content strategies to capture audience interest and differentiate themselves from competitors.
And not to panic you, but that’s not it for universities. Running social media pages for universities comes with its own unique challenges.
Unlike traditional businesses or brands, universities are multifaceted; they are typically composed of different departments, each with its own distinct culture and atmosphere for both students and faculty members. Universities also have to communicate with a diverse audience ranging from prospective students, current students, alumni, faculty members, staff, and the wider community.
According to Hootsuite, one of the primary obstacles encountered by higher education institutions in establishing a social media presence is granting individual faculties the autonomy to manage their own social media initiatives, while still adhering to certain guidelines or regulations regarding the type of content that can be shared.
Overcoming these difficulties requires a strategic approach, consistent effort, and a deep understanding of the target audience and platform dynamics. And despite the obvious challenges, it’s all worth it in the end. Social media can present tremendous opportunities for universities to connect with their audience, build brand reputation and perception, and drive growth.
The important thing to remember is that your university’s social media page is more than a page. See it as a dynamic and interactive ecosystem that enables you to communicate, engage, and connect with their audience in meaningful ways.
For universities in particular, here are the top main benefits of a vibrant and considered social media presence:
1. Improve student recruitment
Social media platforms offer universities a powerful means to reach prospective students. By sharing engaging content, including campus tours, student testimonials, and academic highlights, universities can showcase their unique offerings and attract potential applicants. Social media also enables targeted advertising, allowing universities to reach specific demographics and engage with individuals who may not have been aware of their institution otherwise — locally and internationally.
2. Enhance current student engagement
Social media provides a direct channel of communication between universities and their current students. Through platforms like Facebook groups, Instagram, or Twitter, universities can share important updates, events, and resources. Additionally, and especially through emerging platforms such as TikTok, social media allows students to connect with each other, fostering a sense of community and enabling peer-to-peer support.
3. Communicate your brand values and promise
Social media platforms serve as a powerful tool for universities to communicate their brand values and mission to a wide audience. Through consistent messaging, visual content, and storytelling, universities can establish a distinct brand identity that resonates with their target audience. This helps attract students who align with the institution’s values and enhances overall brand recognition.
4. Improve your university ranking
Active engagement on social media platforms can positively impact a university’s reputation and ultimately contribute to improved rankings. By sharing research achievements, faculty expertise, and showcasing the accomplishments of students and alumni, universities can enhance their reputation within academic and professional communities.
5. Tell your stories
Social media allows universities to tell compelling stories that highlight their impact and contributions. By sharing stories of student success, research breakthroughs, community initiatives, and unique campus experiences, universities can engage their audience emotionally and create a deeper connection with stakeholders.
6. Provide opportunities to share research
Social media platforms offer universities a convenient and accessible way to share their research findings with a broader audience. By creating visually appealing and digestible content, universities can showcase their research projects, discoveries, and academic contributions, generating interest and potential collaborations.
7. Improve academic citations
Active engagement on social media can lead to increased visibility and exposure for academic publications. When universities promote their research articles, presentations, or scholarly work through social media channels, it increases the likelihood of citations by other researchers and scholars. This can positively impact the institution’s academic reputation and contribute to the advancement of knowledge.
8. Enhance your reputation
Social media provides universities with an opportunity to manage and enhance their reputation. By actively engaging with followers, responding to inquiries, and addressing concerns, universities demonstrate their commitment to transparency and accountability. Building a positive online reputation through social media interactions can influence the perception of the institution among prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, and the wider community.
9. Keep you relevant
Social media enables universities to stay current and adapt to evolving trends. By actively participating in conversations, sharing timely content, and engaging with emerging topics, universities can demonstrate their relevance and demonstrate their commitment to staying at the forefront of innovation and knowledge.
With all things considered, it shouldn’t take much convincing to put more thought and consideration into your university’s online presence; it’s a no-brainer. With that said, what about the aforementioned challenge of ensuring all departments are singing from the same hymn sheet within their own specific social subject-pages?
If there’s one thing a brand thrives on, it’s consistency. A consistent brand voice across social media pages is essential for creating brand recognition, maintaining coherence in messaging, building trust and credibility, reinforcing brand personality, enabling effective communication, and facilitating integration across various platforms. It establishes a strong and unified presence that resonates with your audience, strengthens your institution’s brand image, and contributes to the overall success of your social media marketing efforts.
The answer lies in enlightening and up-skilling. Social media requires a unique set of skills, and universities should ensure that their academic team is equipped with the skills needed to effectively use social media. This may include providing training on social media best practices, content creation, and analytics.
The Brand Education Social Media Workshops
The Brand Education’s Social Media Workshop for academics is an excellent resource for academics who want to improve their social media skills and create a powerful platform for their department.
Our workshops provide a comprehensive overview of the various social media platforms available, and teach academics how to use them effectively. Participants will learn how to create a consistent brand voice, build a strong social media presence, and engage with their unique audience. Academics can up-skill themselves and learn how to use social media to share their research and improve their citations. All whilst adhering to the wider university’s brand values, voice and guidelines.
We’ve trained over 3,000 academics on social media use. If you’re interested, join the likes of Durham University, University of Birmingham, University of Exeter, Nottingham Trent University and more, and book a free 30 minute call to learn more about how we can help you.
To learn more about social media use within universities, take a look at another one of our articles, Using data-led keyword research and social listening to engage with your audience: Universities — you might be targeting the right people, but are you saying the right things?