media literacy

5 ways higher ed’s social media use has changed from 2015 to 2016

New data from over a thousand different institutions provides a detailed snapshot of 2016’s college and university social media use.


2. From More Visuals to Customization, Advertising and Video

In 2015, a rising trend in college and university social media use was in posting more images and video across all channels. Thanks to the popularity of Instagram, Vine and Periscope, institutions responded by posting more images and video and less text.

This year, institutions seems more focused on customization of content to specific audiences. On average, institutions used 12 versions of a single post to reach recent students who had not opened emails. Most of this was done via advertising with a budget of $2,750. Over 13,000 students were reached at $22 CPM. There was an average of 810 clicks from 498 users ($3.40 CPC).

“We’ve done it specifically to get reach for a certain post in the hopes of encouraging some action,” said one respondent. “For example, we found a vinyl LP recorded at a music camp here in the mid-1960s and boosted a post talking about this record to a 50+ year-old audience hoping to find people who might have attended that camp.”

Video was also mentioned by many respondents as a great way to engage on social media, especially if the video is constituent-generated and not advertisement-looking.


3. From More Channels to Visually-Oriented Channels

Last year, the authors noted that the number of social channels used by institutions is proliferating, while there was a notable decline in the use of blogs. Colleges and universities were also posting more often to various channels.

This year, while institutions are still using a number of channels, those with visual-heavy components are more in use than ever before: 65 percent of respondents use Instagram (54 in 2015) and 15 percent use Snapchat (up from a meager 5 percent just last year).


4. From Fundraising to Engagement

According to the 2015 survey, 57 percent of institutions used social media to raise money, versus 47 percent in 2014 and 35 percent in 2013. One of the most popular ways of raising money in 2015 was via crowdfunding, with 63 percent of respondents having known of a crowdfunding campaign at the institution. Though the use of crowdfunding is flat for 2016, the percentage that consider their crowdfunding to be successful went up.

In 2016, respondents said that one of the most important ways to use social media is to connect with new audiences, with 45 percent saying this strategy is what they cite to convince institutional leaders to invest in social media. 42 percent cite engagement with young alumni. “In general, respondents emphasize the value of connecting with new audiences over the ability to raise money using social media,” say the report’s authors.


5. From More Channels to Social Prospecting for Measuring Success

In 2015, institutions self-labeled as successful with social media included tactics such as using more channels, posting more frequently, posting more images, having socially active leaders, using it to fundraise, and in campaigns.

This year, respondents who self-labeled as successful with social media noted tactics such as:

  • Selectivity in boosting (mentioned above)
  • Using social prospecting, or identifying new prospects based on their engagement with social media. It’s also important, said respondents, to identify new areas of interest for current prospects, based on their engagement with social media.
  • Specificity in content targeting (mentioned above). “For example,” noted one respondent, “if you have a post about a professor who is discussing the Greek Debt Crisis, consider spending money to promote it to people in Greece or the European Union.”
  • Sharing content generated by constituents that is “fresh and changing”
  • Using social media to listen to what stakeholders are saying
  • Using proven successful techniques including sponsoring Day(s) of Giving, highlighting social media ambassadors, and having a “Thanks a Giver” Day.
  • Using video in posts (mentioned above)

For much more in-depth information, view the slideshow here: The full report will be made available at the end of the summer.



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