The Social Campus

Eight areas of opportunity for higher education in 2018.

GUEST COLUMN | by Phil Chatterton

cREDIT Hootsuite higher education.jpgIn the past five years, social media has become a mission-critical communications technology in higher education. It is used by many stakeholders across campus for various different use cases: student and alumni engagement, fundraising drives, athletics ticket sales, domestic and international recruitment, student services, and crisis communications.

By taking advantage of insights made available by social listening, schools can measure sentiment towards their institution, better understand student needs, and differentiate from their competition.

In fact, social media has become so ubiquitous, so quickly, that institutions are now experiencing challenges with governance, security, cost efficiencies, and cross-campus collaboration.

A recent global survey conducted by Hootsuite, with support from the Chronicle of Higher Education, provides some valuable insights into how social has affected higher ed, and uncovered eight areas of opportunity for social media in higher education in 2018:

1. Campus collaboration

Despite the high adoption of social media across many areas of campus, our survey found that social efforts are still siloed. On the plus side, there is a desire for improved collaboration – over half of higher education institutions want to coordinate with other teams on social strategy in the next 12 months. Cross-campus collaboration would help schools align their social media goals, implement better security measures, and realize more value from social media.

2. Executive support for social

Executive participation on social at higher education institutions is high, with 49 percent of institutional leaders active on social, compared to the 39 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. This is a positive sign of executives leading by example – it’s driven by a desire to engage with stakeholders and be seen as more transparent and trustworthy.

3. Social advertising

With the decline in organic reach on social media, social advertising has become a key part of marketing efforts to reach a wider audience. Our research found that 67 percent of respondents are using paid advertising to enhance their reach. Fifty-one percent expect an increase in paid ads budget in 2018—and among respondents that manage social media centrally, 62 percent expect an increase next year.

4. Social insights

Using social media data is an essential part of building a solid strategy. By taking advantage of insights made available by social listening, schools can measure sentiment towards their institution, better understand student needs, and differentiate from their competition. Unfortunately, thirty-five percent of schools are not using social media to monitor social conversations about their campus – this is a missed opportunity for some excellent insight to inform social strategies in the future.

5. Security

Several high profile institutions have been hit with social media security scandals in the past few years. Some of those institutions have spent millions of dollars on their responses and suffered huge hits to their reputation. Despite this, our research found that 40 per cent of schools still share login credentials to native social media platforms. This represents a massive risk to an institution’s brand. Two-step authentication procedures and third-party social media management and security applications are a must.

6. Sharing authentic experiences on social

User-generated content allows schools to showcase an authentic portrayal of student life on campus to their prospective students—and helps recruit top talent. Our survey respondents are seeing value in sharing these real-life stories. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed allow students to temporarily “take over” the official school social media accounts to share a student’s perspective on special events on campus. We expect this trend to continue into 2018.

7. Delivery of student services

By delivering student services on social media, schools can improve communications with students and significantly reduce customer service backlogs. Schools delivering services on social have experienced these gains. Over half of respondents said that social media helps them respond to customer service queries faster.

8. Measuring return on investment (ROI)

Our survey found that while institutions are leveraging social for revenue-generating initiatives such as meeting new student enrollment targets or driving fundraising efforts, few of them are attributing gains in these areas back to their social media strategies. For example, only 26 per cent have seen an increased number of student applications as a direct result of social efforts and just 11 per cent have seen increased quality of student applications. While these numbers appear low, it is possible this is less related to low ROI and more so not attributing ROI back to social efforts.

There’s a lot of opportunity in social for higher education—with a unified strategy, improved reporting, and centralized management, schools will be able to better understand their ROI and make the case for more investment in social media in the future.

Phil Chatterton is an Industry Principal for Higher Education at Hootsuite. In his previous role at the University of British Columbia, Phil worked with a diverse stakeholder community to develop and execute emerging technologies and the broader digital strategy.

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