The Value of Understanding Social Media Outlets
Social media has become an increasingly important way to connect with potential students for schools of all sizes. Facebook has long been known as the most popular social media outlet with 87% of online adults aged 18 to 29 using the platform.* However, Instagram (53%), Pinterest (34%), and Twitter (37%) are all becoming increasing popular especially for young adults.* But the real question is how do you connect with younger users and, more importantly, how do you leverage your social media accounts to gain new students for your college or university.
Each of these outlets requires different kinds of content and content structures to connect with prospects. They are not one hundred percent transferable. If you don’t take the time to really understand the differences between each social media outlet, you will not be able to connect with potential students the way you want. Each social network is set up differently creating limitations on the kinds of content you can use. At the same time, the ways users can browse content changes depending on the social platform. Understanding these differences is key to creating a successful social media plan.
The Most Common Social Media Mistake
The biggest problem I see when we start working with a school on their social media is a sense of confusion. This confusion is a problem for both the social media team at the school and the users they are trying to connect with. The problem is usually a lack of focus about the overall goal of their social media efforts. This makes it hard for the social media team to find and generate content regularly. Plus, current students or prospects have trouble connecting with the content because it doesn’t seem to have an overall focus. While there are often great people working on a school’s social media with great ideas for content, the lack of a goal makes it difficult to harness those ideas and use them to connect with prospects.
There are two main goals that a social media plan or strategy can have: community building and prospect generation. Most schools try to generate prospects while using content that works for community building. They may also use a single social media account to build community with current and former students as well as attract new students, but those two groups don’t necessarily want the same thing. While alumni love seeing photos of graduation, prospective students won’t connect with those pictures in the same way. That doesn’t mean you can’t post those pictures to your Facebook page, but don’t expect to get a bunch of calls to your admissions office from it.
The Reason Social Media Plans Build Community Not Prospects
A school that posts pictures of events on campus occasionally as well as an article or two that seems related to education is doing it wrong. Many people look at social media accounts like their own personal accounts. Not that they use them for personal reasons but they post the same types of things that they would to their personal accounts. On their personal account, they post photos from a dinner party last Friday. On the school account are photos of Wednesday’s wine and cheese with the dean event. Those kinds of photos build community. The people who want to see those photos on your personal account were either there or want to stay in touch with you. The people who want to see those photos on the school account were also either there or want to stay in touch. Both of those groups already know you and are already sold on your product.
You have to look at social media in a completely different way in order to generate prospects. Community building is great and can be very valuable to a school. However, it is more important for alumni or current students who probably aren’t going to pay to go to school again. Sometimes creating separate Facebook pages for alumni or current students is a great way to build community and stay connected. Then you can use your flagship accounts to showcase what your school offers to prospective students. At the same time, be careful about how many accounts you end up with. One school we work with Bradley University has an account for just about every department. They have a flagship account, an admissions account, a bookstore account and the list goes on. Current students are split among several accounts and prospective students don’t know which to follow. Make sure each account is clear and has a single purpose. The alumni account connects with alumni. And the flagship account focuses on prospective students.
Why This Guide Focuses on Prospect Generation
Community building is the default aim of most higher education social media accounts today. This is because the idea of community building is one most people understand. Generating prospects, however, is a more elusive goal. While I appreciate the need for community building, prospects pay the bills. If we can’t find new students, then there won’t be a school to build a community around.
Some schools don’t need to worry about this. For example, Harvard does not need to think about generating prospects. They will always get more than enough applications regardless of what they do. Their Facebook page reads like a version of the Washington Post where every newsworthy item is by a Harvard alum or professor. For the non-Harvard among us, I have created this guide on generating prospects. You can always add in some community building here and there. However, if you are serious about growing the size of your school through social media, then this is the guide for you.
What You Will Learn from this Guide
First, this guide is for people who may not have as much experience using social media for a business instead of a personal account. It may also be valuable if, as a member of a social media team, you always feel a bit frantic trying to stay up-to-date with your social accounts. Finally, if you don’t feel like you are regularly generating prospects from social media, then you should read this.
Second, in order to understand how to generate prospects and create a social media plan, you need to understand each social media platform. I will focus on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest as the four largest social media outlets. Each outlet will be broken down into four sections. I will start with the type of content to post and how to structure that content. Then I’ll look at how to cross-promote content from that platform to others and how to use that platform to leverage your followers into prospects.
Third, I will talk about how to create an overarching social media plan for your school. This section of the guide will be broken down into six parts. I will look at how to decide which programs or program areas to target and how to pick the types of content to use for each program. Then once you understand the kinds of content you want to post, we will look at how to make creating content easier. This includes how to schedule your time, how to front load content and how to automate posting. Finally, I’ll talk a little bit about how to insert timely, relevant content into your scheduled content.
The goal is to help you understand each social platform and then to help you create a social media plan that makes it easy to create quality content on a regular basis. All of the aspects of this plan focus on generating prospects. I do this by marketing each program or program area specifically, creating content regularly so prospects want to return and structuring content to make it discoverable to new prospects.
Check back for each new section of this Guide on Leveraging Your Social Media to Increase Prospects!