Missing you already

As your students head home for summer, Tina Badley looks at the best ways of using social media to stay in touch

On campus, at a festival or on the beach, one thing’s for sure; your students will still be on social media. In fact, recent research from Ofcom shows that 16–24-year-olds now spend an average of 2 hours and 26 minutes on networking sites and social apps each day.

So when summer comes, and your students fly the academic nest, just how can you ensure engagement remains high and the conversations you’ve worked so hard to start throughout the year, continue? 

Sarah Bradley, Assistant Director of Social Media Digital Content and Engagement at the University of Northampton, says: “If students aren’t on campus then they’re not reacting to our news in the same way. Social media is emotive and relationship-based and our audience has to feel engaged on an emotional level in order to interact.” Sarah says the answer is to use social media communities and switch content focus to a wider stakeholder group across public channels.

Content that connects

City, University of London do just that. Sabrina Francis, Social Media Officer, says that during the summer months, the focus switches to clearing, answering questions from students looking for a place and congratulating those who have secured one. It’s also the time they run their ‘Welcome To City’ campaign which gives students informative hints and tips for starting university and culminates with someone winning a starter kit containing everything they’ll need for moving into halls. 

As Sabrina says: “Summer is a key time for us because that’s when our new cohort of students are starting their City life and social media can help them feel like part of the city community before they arrive.” 

Someone who also handles projects for City, University of London, is Colin Cheng, Strategic Digital Account Director at MintTwist. He adds that summer is also a great time to deliver peer-to-peer content, something that really seems to resonate with Generation Z (the demographic cohort after the Millennials). “During graduation we produced video content from graduates talking about their own personal stories. It allowed City to show the authentic voice of the student, for potential students as well as current ones, and was a really successful campaign. Authenticity is the really big influencer.”

Social media changes all the time and it’s up to social marketers to respond to these changes

Murray Simpson, Head of Higher Education at specialist digital agency Net Natives, agrees that authenticity is key and says it’s all about creating tribes or communities and letting them go out into the world and advocate for you. At the University of South Wales they did just that when they filmed students taking part in ‘random acts of kindness’. Speaking about the campaign, Murray said, “The students really got behind this because it says something about who they are as part of a wider university-centred story. The campaign wasn’t promoting anything specific but it demonstrated shared values, a supportive experience and created that sense of community.”

Channel your energy

Although there’s much talk about Snapchat being the new channel of choice for the 16–24 demographic, Instagram Stories now has 200 million daily users, overtaking Snapchat who are languishing with a mere 158 million daily users. However, Colin thinks the popularity of these channels is more down to the type of content evolving, than the actual platform, saying, “Live video is more engaging to the young generation because it’s not a staged photo shoot or carefully orchestrated FB update. It’s more real.”

Sarah agrees that it’s not all about the channel but how you use it. She says social media changes all the time and it’s up to social marketers to respond to these changes. “Our main social media channel is still our primary focus, however, we have definitely increased use of other social networks such as Snapchat and found a huge jump in engagement as a result. In a world of paid media emphasis, community management and organic content is key to sustaining growth in digital. So taking a multi-social network approach is the best way to do this.”

Top tips:

Our experts know a thing or two about using social media to connect with students, whatever time of year it is. Here are their top tips:

  • Tip: ‘Senior marketers, decision-makers and academics should trust social media champions and give them freedom to experiment with content. Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid to be human. Some of the best social channels or campaigns have come from student or alumni takeovers with no corporate control.” Murray Simpson, Net Natives
  • Tip: “Have fun with it, try stuff, get a bit silly! And remember, social media content is short-lived, the relationships you build using it are not.” Sarah Bradley, University of Northampton
  • Tip:“Think about who you’re engaging with and put a lot of time and effort into breaking down your target audiences and what they’re really interested in. If you can hyper-personalise your communications to them, they’re much more likely to respond or engage back.” 
  • Colin Cheng, MintTwist
  • Tip:“You find out very quickly what content gets the best engagement with your audience so just keep an eye on your insights and replicate what works. Our students love anything to do with the university in the past and our heritage. They also really enjoy content about people who met as students and are now married – City students are a bunch of hopeless romantics!” 
  • Sabrina Francis, City, University of London

Murray also believes we can get too hung up on channels and not hung up enough on content. “Finding out which social media spaces your audience is on is the easy bit, engaging them is much harder. Undoubtedly there will be emerging social channels to come and we are just as likely to see massive changes in usage of the hero platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. But if we understand more about our audience and their values and behaviour and are willing to communicate with them on their terms, this for me is where we can make the big wins.”City, University of London, use Snapchat geofilters at big events and always get a good number of students using them as part of their Snap Story. As Sabrina says, that’s great for the University. “It’s a direct endorsement being sent from one friend to another – putting your face next to a brand is a big thing to do.”

Beware the pitfalls

While social media undoubtedly gives universities a fantastic opportunity to reach out to potential and existing students – even when they’re on holiday – Colin warns that we need to be mindful of the risk of over-exposure. “Social media profiles are personal, somewhat private and first and foremost used for talking to friends. So we have to remember that our students are not giving us a blanket welcome to receive communications and we shouldn’t be constantly forcing our way in.”  

Another good reminder from Sarah is that if social media is a standalone from other customer communications, it doesn’t work as effectively as it could. “People need to be able to recognise your brand through the way you present yourself on every channel, from a tweet to a phone call. Consistency is key!” 

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