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Higher Education Marketing: Why Universities Are Skyrocketing on Social


School is cool again. Scoff all you like; the numbers don’t lie. Higher education marketing statistics show that educational institutions experienced the highest follower growth across the social media landscape in recent years, with an average annual follower growth of 77 percent. In comparison, the wellness industry had the second highest annual growth at a mere 50 percent.

Much of this increased performance correlates with more engaging social media content. University brands are now paying more attention to what their audience wants to see and hear, and are considering a customer-first approach to their higher education marketing strategy.

The impact of this new focus isn’t just being felt across university social media feeds, but across a variety of other channels as well.

Cross-channel marketing performance

While higher education institutions are seeing higher follower growth and social media engagement overall, the actual interactions aren’t evenly distributed between channels. For instance, average Twitter engagement levels remain relatively low, while Instagram seems to deliver the highest levels of engagement in relation to the number of followers.

This increased level of social engagement has been visible from a PR amplification standpoint as well. Universities have enjoyed heightened public relations performance, with an average of 121,594 social shares from press mentions per month. This indicates that there’s an increased interest from both the general public and from the media with regards to higher education content, news and media.

But why does any of this matter? How does this translate to a tangible benefit for the university?

The real impact of social on higher education marketing

Marketing’s biggest challenge when it comes to tracking social media performance is proving the return on investment whether that’s in revenue dollars or in other KPIs. Higher education marketing is no different. Social media engagement and interactions need to be properly attributed if the team is to demonstrate tangible value.

There are several areas in which social media engagement can be proven to make a difference:


Universities should not sit back and wait for high school graduates do their research on potential campuses and courses. Higher education institutions need to take proactive measures beyond career fairs and mailing out flyers.

Social media is the ideal vehicle to reach an audience that is already more immersed in the digital space than any other generation. University marketers need to produce content that matches what potential students value and the institution’s strengths. Does the prospect value extra-curricular activities? Is the prospective student an athlete? Do they value job placement opportunities? Is it a combination of all of the above?

The more the prospective student interacts with your social media feed, the better you’ll get at creating content that provides value. This is made possible by implementing powerful social media analytics tools that track interactions across multiple channels. The right tool will take it a step further and organize the data into different categories and produce visually compelling reports.

As your brand gets better at communicating value, so too will the number and quality of your enrollments increase. Students will be able to make more informed decisions and more easily understand how your institution can best help their educational and career growth.


University fundraising strategies generally come in two flavors: big-ticket, high-strata affairs or quick and dirty ground-level events. There are distinct differences in the makeup of attendees, the event program and the amount of funds handled. Where both strategies have the potential to converge, however, is in their use of social media.

Social media is an absolute must in marketing a fundraising event. It expands your reach beyond your core student or donor base and attracts interest from other parties who may have never otherwise encountered your name. Social media provides many ways of amplifying fundraising publicity, from hashtags to shares to promoted ads.

Best of all, it’s very easy to credit donations and/or ticket purchases to social media thanks to digital marketing tactics like content  and social attribution, which social media analytics tools like TrackMaven already do. This makes it possible to assess the ROI of social media as it relates to fundraising efforts and revenue generation, and how much the university should invest in further developing the institution’s digital capabilities.

Alumni relations

Alumni relations tends to be given the short shrift when marketing for higher educationwhich is a huge error. If managed properly, a university’s alumni association can become a powerful driving force for brand power and social media influence that could surpass anything an internal marketing team can do.

Once engaged, an alumni would be more receptive to sharing your content across their own channels, thus increasing your reach online in an organic way. This matters, because prospective students would be far more receptive to an alumni’s message than they would be to communication from your marketing team — no matter how well crafted it is. The alumni may even generate content of their own, which is far more authentic and has a higher chance of getting engagement from the rest of the follower base.

Higher education institutions don’t need an extensive marketing budget to encourage this level of participation. Simply recognizing dedicated alums online goes a long way towards promoting goodwillalthough it would be best to have alumni under one collective group and coordinate efforts between your marketing and alumni relations teams.

What are some social media best practices for higher education?

By now it’s pretty clear that social media carries multiple benefits; but only if it’s done right. Below are some tips for you to kick-start your higher education marketing plan and achieve critical mass on social.

Quality over quantity

You shouldn’t overreach yourself online just because your rival university across the state has six different social media channels. If you’re just starting out on social media, your team won’t have the resources or experience to juggle that many social media accounts.

Instead, focus on one or two channels that see the most engagement between prospective students, alumni, and current students, and shelve the other accounts. Then focus on growing your primary social media channels with useful content and make an effort to engage people as they interact with your posts.

Empower individual departments

Centralizing control of social media feeds in a university environment stifles creativity and authenticity, which will affect how your message is received. Trust each of your departments to know what would interest their audience the most. You should provide them with the tools and training to manage their own social media accounts, and then give them the freedom to develop their own audience.

Make sure to establish guidelines and policies so that these individual departments still retain your brand voice and personality, and don’t fall afoul of any social media gaffes.

Track everything (to analyze everything)

Never underestimate the worth of a good social media tracking and analysis tool. Each social media tool does basic tracking of various actions and events, but they don’t talk to each other, nor do they help establish context. Data visualization tools make it easy to discover trends in your data and help steer the direction of your social media strategy.

Whether you’re raising funds for a new annex or driving enrollment for the upcoming school year, social media is a powerful player in any higher education marketing strategy and should be treated as such.

Want to learn more about how TrackMaven can help your higher education marketing strategy? Request a custom demo today by filling out the form below!

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