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6 free ways to boost Higher Education social media engagement

In Education, Technology, Youth by Jen Steadman

The digital era has totally transformed the way we communicate. Thanks to smartphones and near ubiquitous connection, we’re able to plug in anywhere and everywhere. And when it comes to students, it’s often social media they turn to: nearly nine out of ten (88%) 18 – 29-year-olds use social media.

Universities have responded appropriately and most have official accounts on all the major platforms. As well as using it to meet their digital native students where they already are, social media can help recruit students, cultivate campus culture, increase alumni donations, promote research and even help manage reputation.

But beyond vanity there is little value in amassing followers for the sake of it. It’s engagement that really matters when it comes to building a community. Here are six methods you can use to boost engagement across your social media accounts without having to spend a penny.

1. Think visual

If you want more interaction inspired by your content one of the quickest, simplest and easiest changes you can make is to use more images. We are visual creatures and it shows up in the statistics: tweets with images get 150% more retweets than those without and Facebook posts with images enjoy 2.3 times more engagement than those without.

Creating certain types of original visual content can be expensive; a commissioned infographic or professional photoshoot certainly isn’t free. But thankfully in this age of social media there are plenty of ways to obtain free visual content too – from snapping arty shots on smartphones to sharing other people’s content (so long as you have permission and give credit).

Action: Experiment with images on platforms that aren’t image centric, such as Twitter and LinkedIn and measure its impact on engagement.


2. Utilise video

When you add up all the video content people consume on a typical day it averages out at around 1.5 hours. And it’s not all funny cat clips and Netflix: more than seven in ten people would rather use video to learn about a product or service when there is both video and text available. Consider a campus page with detailed information as well as a video tour. Most prospective students are going to watch the video first, so it’s incredibly beneficial for it to be there.

But the world of video is no longer restricted to YouTube. There has been a 53% increase in engagement on videos on Instagram and the platform recently introduced Instagram TV. While video is excellent for engagement, make it live and watch the interaction skyrocket. According to Facebook, live videos get ten times as many comments as pre-recorded videos.

Like photos, video can be captured using smartphones or university recording equipment. You could even get your multimedia or film students involved in the process.

Action: Take a look at your editorial calendar and see if there are any written projects which could work well in video format.

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3. Showcase students

There are only so many hours in a day and your communications team can only do so much – but fresh content is a must for social media engagement. The answer? Get your students involved!

Around half of prospective students want to connect with current students and what better way to achieve this than by putting your current students in the social media spotlight? Find key students who are plugged into certain areas – subjects, societies, halls of residence etc. – and ask them to be an ambassador for your channels.

Your student ambassadors need to be the movers and shakers; people who can keep a pulse on what’s happening. This allows prospective students a unique, and better yet, more relatable insight into life at your university.

Action: Set up a student ambassador process and start! You could get them to do a Q&A session on twitter, film a day of the life in a Geology student or get the rowing club to do a 24 hr Instagram takeover.


4. Use multiple accounts

Every university should have a main account across each social media platform they are engaged on. This is necessary as it is the official social page for the institute and will most likely attract the most followers. This account should include a healthy mixture of information relevant to everyone concerned with the university which will include past, present and future students and faculty members, as well as less directly involved parties such as trustees, local community and the parents of students.

That said, you might want to consider setting up separate accounts that are geared towards a specific audience. While these accounts will have fewer followers – only so many people will be interested in a live tweet of the university hockey team grudge match – those that do follow will do so because they are genuinely interested in the content and thus more likely to engage with it.

Action: Audit which separate accounts currently exist and determine if any new accounts would be beneficial. Set up a process so all accounts can easily share strategy and best practices and ensure they are all being monitored.

5. Ask questions

Sometimes simplicity is best. One of the most straightforward ways to illicit a response and increase engagement is to simply ask a question. While social media lends itself well to sharing information, promoting an event or showcasing a recent award winner, sometimes it’s fine to get back to basics. For example, you could ask current students for their top tip for navigating Fresher’s Week. Not only will this engage current students, but it will also be of interest to prospective students.

Action: Be interested in your audience and from time to time ask them a question. This could be by way of a twitter poll, asking them to weigh in on a big issue or simply asking them a straightforward question, such as their weekend plans.


6. Refine and revise

Ultimately what works best will be specific to your institute and students. While following best practice advice is a useful starting point, the best way to increase engagement is to experiment and measure the results. By doing this you’ll build up a bank of evidence which can be used to refine your social media strategy.

Action: Ensure social media engagement is being monitored, the data analysed and best practice documents updated accordingly.