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Higher Ed Institutions Learning to Socialize

Julian Zeng

three college students conversing at a table

Hootsuite’s Social Campus Report shows social media use at schools is ubiquitous, but many struggle to measure ROI

Hootsuite’s Social Campus Report shows a widely shifting landscape of social media trends in higher education. The social media management platform’s 2019 report is based on a global survey of more than 500 social media leaders in higher education, examining how schools implement and measure their social impact, and identifying opportunities for institutions to improve their digital presence.

The report identifies a high adoption of social media among higher education institutions at every point of a student’s journey, with 98% of polled academic institutions using social media. From building brand awareness for prospective students and engaging current students, to improving alumni engagement and conducting fundraising campaigns, schools are doing more than ever to stay at the forefront of their domains in the digital world.

The strategic role of social media has become an established focus for executive teams—68% of teams buy in to its importance and 64% agree social media is connected to the institutional mission and strategic plan.

“Schools have a responsibility to stay on the cutting edge of social innovation at every touchpoint, as their audience is made up of digital natives who have high expectations,” says Jeremy Wood, VP of product marketing at Hootsuite. “Organizations that understand how to harness that in a unified way are in a better position to realize the benefits of social.”

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Declining enrollment numbers at higher education institutions is one of the top three factors driving social adoption, alongside heavier student use demanding more social engagement and increased competition from other education providers. Yet despite most schools acknowledging social media’s importance on campus, not enough is being done to quantify the benefits across a student’s entire academic journey. Only 33% of schools reported an understanding of social media’s direct impact on student applications.

One reason for this disconnect may be the lack of a surefire way to measure ROI. Only 25% of schools have social media integrated with their CRM systems, preventing them from tying attribution of applications or alumni fundraising back to social media activity.

“Higher ed institutions can measure organic and paid social data together to better understand how specific tactics impact the student journey,” Wood says. “Those metrics will help social media specialists uncover more efficiencies, such as which content they should produce more of and what content can help lower the cost of customer acquisition with social ads.”

A key recommendation that comes out from the report is that cross-departmental collaboration and operational efficiency of social media on campus must improve in order for schools to realize the full benefits of social.

Georgia State University invested in designing and implementing a social media strategy that would scale across the institution. It centralized content and processes to empower teams and individuals across campus with easy-to-share quality content.

“I never saw it coming, how much the leadership team would like … our social media strategy,” says Terry Coniglio, director of content strategy at Georgia State University. “Prior to this program, our leadership team was hesitant to use their personal social media. The app has been critical to getting them comfortable with the idea of posting and engaging on social media.”

Read the full 2019 Hootsuite Social Campus Report

Julian Zeng is assistant managing editor at the American Marketing Association. He may be reached at jzeng@ama.org.