Higher ed leaders: It's time to strengthen your social media strategy

Dive Brief:

  • A new EAB study found underrepresented minorities rely more heavily on social media to help guide their college search and selection process than do other students. 
  • The survey found 27% of first-generation students, 25% of Hispanic students, 24% of African-American students, and 24% of students from households with $60K or lower income levels report they first discovered a college on social media, compared with significantly lower percentages of legacy, Caucasian and higher-income students.
  • According to a survey of 5,580 college-bound students released Tuesday, underrepresented students are less likely to see their family and friends as resources, and they are less likely to have opportunities to visit prospective schools in person. 

Dive Insight:

Social media is a low-cost outreach medium that everyone from the president's desk to the admissions office to financial aid, development and other critical support offices can and should be leveraging to engage and inform students. Research indicates that only 15.7% of private universities and 16.8% of public universities had someone on staff whose sole focus was social media. As schools continue to find uses for new tech to introduce students to universities, they must also invest in digital marketing to ensure they are reaching students where they are looking as they consider their choices.

Admissions officers can't possibly visit every high school in the country, but having an active presence on social media and offering virtual tours and quick answers to questions students may have could help provide a significant cost to recruitment efforts — while increasing the general public's exposure to and familiarity with the brand. 

But it isn't just admissions that could benefit from stronger social outreach. Leveraging social media in capital campaigns and other fundraising efforts helps broaden the efforts to cultivate a culture of giving among a younger generation of digital native students by allowing them to share in the efforts to raise funds. And having a strong social media presence for presidents helps to solidify him or her as the chief ambassador on campus.

It is important, however, to make sure any social media efforts are thoughtfully planned. Any strategy that does not incorporate two-way interaction will be less effective. Social media should not be used exclusively for pushing information outward, it should be a tool through which leaders stay abreast of student experiences and sentiments and through which the university can get feedback from key stakeholders and the general public. It is also a good place for collaboration and an exchange of ideas with other thought leaders in the industry. 

Good practice for all individuals and institutions is monitoring social media mentions for any negative comments that may project on the brand and addressing those quickly. Students are quick to post pictures of mold in dormitories, complain about everything from professors to cafeteria options, and report their own observations on campus administrators on social media. It is prudent for leaders in several areas of the college to be aware of these conversations and respond where appropriate. In some cases, just an acknowledgement of the gripes or an invitation to offline conversation can quash concerns and make students feel valued. In others, more action is needed to solve the problem, but the last thing any college leader wants is for members of the media to be aware of a problem because it leaked on social media before the leadership is aware. 

Pat Donachie contributed to this piece.

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Filed Under: Higher Ed Technology