While decreasing organic reach on social media has been a problem for businesses for some time now, Facebook’s 2018 ‘Friends & Family” algorithm update caused a particular stir. Announcing the update, CEO Mark Zuckerberg warned that even less branded content would show up in users’ newsfeeds than before. Zuckerberg’s reasoning? To increase “meaningful social interaction.”
Brands have faced similar challenges on other social networks. Both Twitter and Instagram class a user’s relationship to a poster as one of their top ranking signals, and there are fears that organic reach for brands on the latter will soon fall close to zero.
But while these changes make it more difficult for schools to reach prospects organically, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The key, in simple terms, it to demonstrate that your social media presence provides users with the ‘meaningful social interaction’ social networks are looking for by creating posts that generate high levels of engagement.
Has your school’s organic reach suffered in recent years? Check out these tips to learn how to directly connect with prospective students through social media engagement – and outsmart social media algorithms along the way.
Re-evaluate your Education Social Media Marketing Content to Centre on Engagement
In order to increase engagement, you need to adopt the mindset of your prospective students when posting content. If you share what’s relevant to them, they will want to interact with it.
Examine the content you produce on a day-to-day basis and ask yourself these questions:
- What percentage of my posts are promotional?
- Do I produce a wide variety of content?
- Do I tailor my posts to each social media channel?
If your school falls short in any of these areas, it may be what is stopping you from reaching your engagement goals.
Promotional vs. Informative Content
Overtly promoting your school too often may hurt your lead generation efforts more than it helps. People are more likely to trust a brand if they demonstrate an intention to provide them with useful resources, instead of just selling to them.
Build trust by developing helpful, informative, or interesting content that you know prospective students want to see – and your engagement rate will increase accordingly. What’s more, they will be more likely to trust any content you do post that promotes your courses and programs more directly.
If you want to make sure that you strike the right balance, consider applying the 80/20 rule. 80% of your posts should be useful for your target audience, while 20% can be promotional.
Take a moment to reflect on your education social media strategy; does your content have an 80/20 balance, or do you need to alter your approach?
Does your content come in many forms? From blog posts to videos to infographics, there are many ways to get your particular message across on social media.
The more variety you demonstrate across channels, the more likely you are to engage prospects in the long-term. By sharing new, different, and exciting content across different platforms, you will generate followers rather than one-time account viewers.
The Right Content for the Right Channel
Even if you produce top-notch content in a wide variety of forms, that doesn’t mean you should share the same posts across all platforms. If you want to engage prospects, you must think about what users want to see on each social media channel. This may mean altering the tone of your text – like using emojis on Twitter and Instagram, but not LinkedIn – or even creating entirely different posts for certain platforms.
Certain post formats also perform better on particular sites than others. For instance, the current Facebook algorithm prioritizes photos and tags over external links. As a result, sharing links to your web pages on Facebook may not generate as much engagement as it used to. However, there are other ways you can package and post information.
Example: University of Toronto created an eye-catching image to highlight some impressive admissions statistics on Facebook. Infographics are a great content option for the platform.
Instagram, of course, requires either photos or videos in posts – but did you know that photos of people tend to perform better on the platform than other images? Schools can tailor their marketing strategy for Instagram by making content that showcases student life their top priority.
Example: After each sightseeing event, CultureWorks updates their Instagram page with a fun team photo.
A quick test to evaluate your content’s potential for engagement is to ask yourself, before posting it, if it’s something that would stand out on a student’s news feed long enough for them to give it a like or leave a comment.
Try out Interactive Social Media Features
The more social media algorithms narrow in on engagement, the more features platforms create to generate it. From Facebook Live, to Twitter polls, to Instagram’s “Question” feature in Stories, the sky’s the limit for direct engagement. Here are a few fun and popular features your school may want to try.
Users are currently able to share live content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, although Facebook is most known for it. Facebook’s live videos produce 6 times as many interactions and 10 times more comments than regular videos – likely because users can interact, in real time, with the person hosting the Facebook Live stream, and the host can see their responses. If you want to directly engage with prospective students, livestreaming is one of the most effective ways to do it.
Example: McGill livestreamed their convocation ceremony. Even alumni and non-students chimed in during the stream.
The “stories” format is intended to enable users to share personal messages in a unique and creative way – and that’s how schools should see them. As such, feel free to try out new things when using the feature. The more fun, interesting, or interactive, the higher the engagement.
Example: On Instagram, you can add various stickers to directly engage with your target audience. LAL Schools used questions stickers to allow prospective students to pitch questions, and the school to respond.
While Facebook may not currently have as many story features as Instagram, you still have the option to share gifs, videos, and even ask for recommendations.
Example: Inlingua Malta captured their school potluck via Facebook story – and added a ‘Tap-to-Reveal’ samosa sticker for extra flair. As the user watches the story, the miniature food icon gradually disappeared – as though it was being eaten – the longer they watched. Even little tricks like these can help keep viewers engaged for longer.
Facebook is also always working on updating their stories, so keep your eye out for cool new features your school could use.
Another fun, simple way to engage with followers is through polls – which you can create on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Whether you’re asking what your followers look for most in a school or where you can get the best cup of coffee on campus, there are many ways to use polls to both engage prospective students and interact with current ones.
Example: This Twitter poll by Autodesk University asks a meaningful question relevant to both current and prospective students.
“Ask Me Anything” Threads
Whether it’s former president Barack Obama or a famous CEO, “Ask Me Anything” threads hosted by prominent individuals on sites like Quora and Reddit have become an increasingly popular way to engage with audiences.
Prospective students have lots of questions – and Reddit and Quora are often where they go for answers. Having the opportunity to anonymously ask questions to a student, faculty member, teacher, or administrator about your school can be very helpful for both parties.
Example: Engaging with a former Harvard student and admissions interviewer over Reddit is an easy way for interested applicants to have their questions answered.
One thing to keep in mind with Reddit, however, is that users are often skeptical of promotional content, whereas that’s less of an issue on Quora – so tailor your tone accordingly. Should you strike the right note, it can be a great way to reach an audience that is not often accessible for schools.
Create Captions that Invite Responses in Your Higher Ed Social Media Posts
Captions can serve a wide variety of functions – like adding context, humour, or a heartfelt story – and ultimately make your post more meaningful. Use these tips to make the most out of your captions and ensure you aren’t making any marketing mistakes.
Don’t Use “Engagement Bait”
In 2017, asking users to “comment FREE FOOD below” or “tag a friend if you love PUPPIES” on social media posts was all the rage – that was, until Facebook cracked down on this “clickbait” content and other channels followed. People recognized that engagement was crucial to the algorithm, but the interactions they created were not, as Zuckerberg said, meaningful. While you can proactively think about what kind of content your prospective students would want to see, anticipate their reaction, and seek to generate it, you shouldn’t outright ask or prompt a certain response. Your content should do that for you.
Positive content generates many more shares than negative or even purely informative content. By sharing student testimonials or success stories, you create a more personal connection to your followers. Students not only connect to the person whose story is being told, but to the school. Through your captions, you can add some real depth to these posts – and the added resonance will show in the form of increased likes/reactions.
Example: Westminster Kingsway College regularly features profiles of exceptional students. In this post they give a short bio of Otis Smith, and direct users to continue reading the full story on their website.
By including a question in your caption, you’re directly asking people to engage with you. Your questions could be as open-ended as asking people what they think about a particular news piece you shared, or as specific as asking students where their favourite study space is on a photo of your school’s library.
Example: In the spirit of Sunday brunch, Inlingua Malta shared a food-filled blog post and asked users to share what they ate that day in the comments.
Edit, edit, edit your text
Before you post anything, edit your text for optimum word placement and conciseness. It’s important to strike a balance between contextualizing or supplementing the content you share, while keeping it short enough for people to actually read it.
Put the most important words at the beginning of your caption to draw followers in and ensure that even those who quickly scroll through your news feed get the gist of your post.
Example: To accompany their blog post, John Cabot University uses a concise, provocative caption – with a fun emoji. This combination makes the post both eye-catching and scannable.
Before finalizing your post, ask yourself whether your caption adds any value to it. For instance:
- Does it make it more exciting, or entice readers to click?
- Does it provide useful information?
- Does it tell a story? Does it have a call to action?
If your answer to these questions is “no,” perhaps you may need some more time editing.
Ensure Prospective Students See Your Content at the Right Time
Don’t waste your efforts marketing to people who won’t even see your post. Instead, experiment to find the optimum amount of content to post per day, and the best times to post them. By posting strategically and consistently, you’ll increase your overall engagement, and your social media visibility by extension.
Share Content Consistently
Social media algorithms love consistency. Channels want to see that brands are dedicated to maintaining their account’s presence and will favour your school if you can demonstrate that. Ensure you post at least once a day on each channel for maximum engagement.
To ensure consistency, scheduling is key. If you want to streamline this process, it’s not a bad idea to invest in a third-party app that enables you to schedule all your social posts centrally, and track them accordingly (for more info, see Tip #6).
Example: HubSpot makes it easy to schedule and manage your social media posts.
Experiment with Timing
If you have experience with social media algorithms, you’ve likely been counselled to post at peak social media times. While it makes logical sense to post at times when most users are online, each audience is different.
Source: Silver Hill Funding
Depending on the size of your school, it may actually not be a bad idea to try posting at off-peak times. Those with large followings already may see a great payoff if they post at times when most users are online, but if your engagement is lower, you may be lost in the noise. Smaller schools may therefore be surprised by the results get from posting outside of busier hours.
If you’re recruiting international students, it’s also important to post at times when they will see your content, so you may need to tailor your schedule to line up with the time zones of your main target markets.
By using the analytics tools your social media channels offer, and conducting trial-and-error experiments with different posting times, you’ll find the best time for your school to generate the most engagement.
Engage with Reviews of Your School
Online reviews have become an essential piece of ‘social proof’ in inbound marketing for schools over the past few years. Prospective students often want to know how current students and alumni feel about the schools they’re interested in before making a final decision.
And while it’s impossible to control exactly what a reviewer will say, your school can choose how they’re going to respond to them. According to BrightLocal, 89% of consumers will read businesses’ responses to reviews, meaning how you engage with them could make a real difference to how you are perceived.
When responding, it’s important to demonstrate that your school is engaged with its students and listens to their concerns. For those who leave positive reviews, make sure you thank them. This also encourages other students to take the time to leave a review in the future.
It’s especially important to respond to unfavourable reviews. One bad review can alter how a prospective student sees your school. In your reply, you can address any misinformation, apologize if your school fell short in a certain area, and even provide them with your contact information to continue the discussion.
Example: The University of Calgary addresses both student complaints and praise. While thanking people for writing positive reviews is no difficulty, addressing the negative ones is. However, the university responded calmly to the first review below, contextualizing the source of the complainant’s grief.
Reviews are personal endorsements – and people trust them. Engaging with reviewers will not only sustain your school’s reputation, but help you learn more about your school’s strengths and weaknesses.
Track Your School’s Social Media Engagement
By boosting your engagement, you’ll likely boost your overall lead generation and conversions from social channels. But it’s hard to tell how effective your strategy is if you don’t keep track of your results.
Fortunately, there are number of data sources that can be useful in gauging the effectiveness of social media marketing for higher education institutions. Each social media platform has its own native analytics tools which can offer a wealth of insights. It may also be useful to see and compare data using a third-party application dedicated to social media management. HubSpot, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social are popular examples.
You can measure pure engagement in terms of likes, comments, reactions, shares, retweets, and more to see how many people are interacting with your content, how often, and in what ways. Use this data to see what works and what doesn’t – and what kind of content you should produce in the future. Getting lots of likes but not a lot of comments, for example? Perhaps your content is interesting, but you could add a question in the caption to further pique interest.
Example: On HubSpot, you can easily track general engagement, as well as particular forms of engagement (conversations and interactions), and compare your results between social media channels.
You should also measure how well that is engagement is translating into conversions. Are users clicking on the blog post you shared on Twitter and browsing your website? Or signing up for an event you shared? Or following the link in your Instagram bio to your homepage?
Using tracking codes, you can measure the effect your social media engagement strategy has on the number of inquiries and applications your school receives.
Example: There are numerous tools – such as Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics, and HubSpot – that enable you to measure the conversions your social media activity generates.
For example, Google Tag Manager tracks – or “tags” – the path a user takes as they move from your social media channels, to your website, to your inquiry page, and displays it for you on your Google Analytics dashboard.
While there are numerous ways schools can improve their engagement on social media, the response to particular tactics will differ from institution to institution. By measuring your results, you can better understand what followers want to see most on your account, and alter your content accordingly. If you wants to generate inquiries and applications through social media, you’ll have to prioritize engagement in your marketing strategy – just as the algorithms do. By boosting your likes, comments, and shares – not just the number of followers you have – you’ll increase your reach and visibility on social networks, and the number of inquiries you receive through these channels by extension.