Six Reasons Your Community College Needs A Social Media Strategy And Not Just a Facebook Page
Few Colleges Have Overarching Strategy
Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest — most community colleges have some presence on one or more of these social media channels. The reality of today’s world is that all higher education institutions must have a foothold in social media. Students expect it. However, very few two-year colleges have an overarching strategy for how to use these applications in a planned, coordinated, and measured manner that benefits their students and additional constituent communities. To maximize impact and effort of social media, consider these six elements of strategy.
Differing Needs, Multiple Channels
Using multiple channels of social media in a planned manner, your institution can reach different audiences by taking advantage of the most appropriate characteristics of each channel. For example, 53 percent of young adults ages 18-29 now use Instagram, making it very significant for student recruitment. LinkedIn has a strong showing among those with higher levels of income, suggesting that it might be an appropriate way to reach potential donors. LinkedIn is also used extensively by human resource operations for hiring. Of course, the large gorilla of all social media is still Facebook. With 71 percent of all Internet users, Facebook shows tremendous strength with all demographic categories. It cannot be ignored. In essence, social media channels are the building blocks for a social media strategy. (Data from Pew Research Center).
It’s All About Content
So much of what is created for marketing, branding and promotion of a college is actually the production of content that is available on the institution’s website. Content available on the college website should also have social media support as these media channels are important ways to drive people to the website. It is important to coordinate production, placement and promotion of content on the official website (and in print media) with social media.
Create Engagement Experiences Social media also offers opportunities to engage with students and others through social media dialogue. A wellcrafted social media strategy should include the use of social media channels in teaching and learning and not limit its use to promotion and marketing. Speaking specifically about the use of Twitter in eLearning, educational technology guru Christopher Pappas says that this popular channel can “build a strong community among your learners,” as well as providing “opportunities for real time discussion.”
It’s Not Really Free
Social media is generally considered “free media” — that is with no advertising expenditures. However, truly effective social media that develops and follows a strategy has cost elements. To do this right there should be personnel costs. Strategic use of social media cannot be handed off to a faculty member as an extra duty or turned over to an eager work-study student. Invest in building capacity by hiring a dedicated coordinator who has responsibility for social media. Your plan should also allow for involvement with social media by all institutional staff, including faculty. Setting protocols and standards for social media use provides institutional oversight, yet allows for appropriate use. Keith Quesenberry, Social Media Marketing professor at Johns Hopkins University, suggests that “different employees are best suited for communicating with students and other constituents at different stages of a particular campaign. When you include employees outside the marketing department, one-on-one engagement with your “customers” becomes more scalable. You can distribute social responsibilities across departments to the most relevant people.”
Further, institutions should definitely consider paid advertising on social media channels. Facebook ads, for example, are remarkably inexpensive. Plus, they can be very targeted to the specific populations desired and carefully tracked for analysis.
Measuring for Results
One of the benefits of a strategic approach to social media is that an institution can set goals and measure results with considerable precision. Virtually all social media channels include analytical tools that will show the knowledgeable social media staff what is going on with views, clicks-through, and other means of engagement. In addition, there are aggregating tools that will measure across multiple channels. Your college should already be using Google Analytics to analyze your college’s primary website, but social media analytics will complete the picture.
Beyond the Cool Factor
In summary, you know that your community college must treat social media with a sense of purpose. How well the institutional brand is presented and how effectively the advantages of social media channels are leveraged are important to your students and to much of your constituent community. Using social media is definitely cool, but using it well is even better.
The author is the founder and CEO of Miller & Associates, an educational consulting firm based in Chattanooga, Tenn. He is formerly director of the National Institute for Staff & Organizational Development and chief academic officer at Snead Community College.