Report studies close to a thousand different institutions to provide a detailed snapshot of 2015’s dynamic college and university social media use.

social-media-trends[Editor’s Note: Our editorial picks include stories the editors believe either highlighted an important issue in 2015 and/or signaled the beginning of an escalating trend or issue for 2016.]

If you want to know how other colleges and universities are using social media today, know this: they’re using it like any other media-savvy millennial. From a spike in “giving days” and crowdfunding campaigns to a heavy focus on multimedia, higher education has become a social media heavy-hitter.

But measuring success is another issue.

The findings are part of a yearly report (currently in its sixth year) conducted by CASE, Huron Education, and mStoner, Inc.—written by Jennifer Mack, senior researcher at Huron Education and Michael Stoner, co-founder and president of mStoner—on higher education’s refinement, prioritization and expansion of their social media habits.

According to the 2015 report, which surveyed a random sample of 28,000 CASE members in the U.S. and abroad and received 894 responses across all types of institutions (almost 50 percent of respondents work in universities, 27 percent in 4-year colleges, and 15 percent in independent schools), social media advancement has gone mainstream in higher education.

“Furthermore, schools, colleges, and universities continue to refine their use of social media channels as they learn how to use these powerful tools more effectively to engage constituents, communicate about institutional goals and priorities—and raise money,” note the authors.

Here are 5 trends revealed in the 2015 report:


1.A Big Growth in Campaigns

According to those surveyed, the number of institutions using social media in campaigns, which the report defines as a planned strategy to achieve a specific goal, continues to grow, with 70 percent indicating they used social media in campaigns–up from 50 percent in 2012 and 59 percent in 2014.

Also, in 2015, 91 percent of institutions that rated themselves as “highly successful” with social media reported using one or more social channels as part of a campaign.


2.There’s a Need to Measure Success

The authors emphasize that there’s a struggle for institutions in knowing how to assess their overall success with social media tools.

The data shows that 58 percent of respondents consider themselves “somewhat successful” in their use of social media; 23 percent are “very successful,” and 3 percent say that they are a “model for successful use of social media.” And among those who say their practice is either very successful or a model for others, a key characteristic of success includes a likeliness to plan, having goals, and measuring outcomes.

Other characteristics that distinguish the institutions self-labeled as successful include:

  • Using more channels: more likely to use YouTube (87 percent use it, as opposed to 67 percent overall and 63 percent of the less successful institutions), Instagram (83 percent versus 54 percent overall and 49 percent of the less successful), blogs (44 percent versus 28 percent overall and 26 percent of the less successful), Vine (13 percent versus 7 percent overall and 4 percent of the less successful), and SnapChat (10 percent versus 5 percent overall and 2 percent of the less successful).
  • Posting more frequently: 64 percent post to Facebook at least once a day (compared to 49 percent of institutions overall); 68 percent share on Twitter more than once a day (vs. 44 percent overall); and 34 percent post to their social media aggregator webpage more than once a day (vs. 24 percent overall).
  • Posting more images than text: Successful institutions post more images (52 percent of their posts) relative to text (33 percent of posts), as opposed to less successful institutions, whose posts consist of 43 percent images and 45 percent texts.
  • Having socially active leaders, especially on Twitter: Leaders of the successful institutions tend to be more active on Twitter (33 percent vs. 23 percent of those less successful).
  • Using social media in fundraising: 64 percent of successful colleges and universities raise money using social media, versus 57 percent overall; 31 percent raised over $10K-$50K in the previous fiscal year through social media; 51 percent have “giving days” versus 42 percent overall; 33 percent have engaged their ambassadors versus 22 percent overall; and 75 percent use social media for stewardship of donors versus 62 percent overall.
  • Using social media in campaigns: 91 percent of institutions successful with social media use one or more channels as part of a campaign, versus 70 percent overall and 63 percent of less successful institutions.

“We’ve [also] heard some discussion among advancement leaders about attempts to assess the level of connection individual constituents have with the institution,” say the authors. “This is sometimes referred to as ‘engagement scoring.’” This year, 34 percent of respondents said that they assign some type of engagement scores to alumni and/or donors. Some of the most common engagement scoring elements include: giving; participating in person at events; volunteering in person; participating in mentoring, internship, or employment programs; engaging with social media; engaging in recruiting prospective students; et cetera.

But in terms of measuring social media effectiveness, colleges and universities still use numbers of followers/friends/connections/comments (89 percent), click-throughs to a website (75 percent), and anecdotal evidence (55 percent). Only 9 percent tie information back to a CRM system. 54 percent of respondents rely on free software platforms like Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, and Hootsuite to derive their data on social media effectiveness.

(Next page: Visuals, Channels, and Fundraising trends)


3.More Visuals Everywhere

A rising trend in college and university social media use is in posting more images and video across all channels. Thanks to the popularity of Instagram, Vine and Periscope, institutions are responding by posting more images and video and less text: This year, only 42 percent of respondents use text on social media, down from 65 percent in 2012. 46 percent today use images, up from 30 percent in 2012; and 12 percent use video today up from 6 percent in 2012.


4.More Channels, More Often

This year, the authors note that the number of social channels used by institutions is proliferating. Facebook (91 percent of respondents use), Twitter (81 percent), LinkedIn (76 percent), YouTube (67 percent), and Instagram (54 percent and the largest rising channel) remain the most widely used.

However, there have been declines in some channels, particularly in the use of blogs: Blogs peaked in 2012 at 55 percent and this year only 28 percent use blogs.

Colleges and universities are also posting more often to various channels. 49 percent of respondents post to Facebook at least once a day and 38 percent post a few times a week. The majority of respondents post to Twitter at least once a day, and the most successful tweet more than once a day. 44 percent post on Instagram a few times a week, with 67 percent posting on LinkedIn a few times a month. 86 percent post to YouTube a few times a month as well.


5.Fundraising—and How—is Big

According to the survey, 57 percent of institutions are using social media to raise money, versus 47 percent last year and 35 percent in 2013.

Colleges and universities are also using two relatively new kinds of fundraising:

  • Giving Day: A 24-hour fundraising event, often held on a day of significance to an institution, in which staff, volunteers, and donors attempt to raise money, defines the report. 42 percent of respondents reported holding a giving day, and 84 percent of those institutions said the days went well.
  • Crowdfunding: A technique exemplified by Kickstarter, this is becoming a popular way to raise money for everything from funding smaller initiatives at the institution to financing a program or project, says the report. 15 percent of respondents held a crowdfunding campaign and 87 percent of those institutions considered the project successful. 63 percent of respondents reported that there was at least some crowdfunding conducted independent of their unit at the institution, while 5 percent of institutions have a policy against independent crowdfunding.

However, the report reveals that outside of extraordinary giving day successes like at Florida State University and Columbia University, only 13 percent of respondents raised more than $100K through social media in the preceding fiscal year, while 64 percent raised $10K or less. 83 percent said that their social media-based fundraising represents 5 percent or less of their institution’s total.

Yet, for those who are experimenting with social media fundraising campaigns, some characteristics do lead to better success, such as motivating and involving key ambassadors on social media, establishing a student philanthropy month, and providing a direct-giving button on Facebook.

For much more in-depth information, read the full report, “Refining, Prioritizing, Expanding: Social Media and Advancement in 2015.”

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