Social Media Strategy for Higher Education

Tips for implementing social into your institution’s communication strategy.

GUEST COLUMN | by Juntae DeLane

CREDIT USC.pngThe higher education landscape is changing dramatically as more universities are beginning to embrace social media and realize its relevance in the marketing mix. It’s more important than ever to connect with prospective students through platforms they actively use and turn to for information.

Through social, we want to communicate and create experiences that show the value of applying, enrolling, graduating and donating to USC. Through my work as senior digital brand manager, we’ve utilized social to not only communicate with our audiences, but first, to listen to them. We encourage students to ask questions on Twitter through handles like @USCAdmission and @USCFinancialAid, among others which gives USC deep insights into the gaps in our communication with prospective students.

Through tools like Hootsuite, we’ve been able to track comments online and bundle messages into themes so we can then engage with specific student segments. For example, we tagged any user who asked about the applications process as an applicant, and if students posted photos of their acceptance letters, we tagged them as accepted to keep tabs on them through their enrollment journey.

We pulled tags for every single person and were then able to message them with the information they were seeking.  For example, after listening to comments on social, we recognized that housing on campus was a recurring theme of questions for students. To address these questions, and create a resource for students, we created USC Dorms, a YouTube series, inspired by MTV Cribs. Each video profiles a different, distinctive dorm room at USC, giving prospective students a glimpse of what it’s like to live on campus. Prospective students could vote for their favorite dorm which spurred additional social engagement and social sharing, while addressing an important question for prospective students: what is it like to live on campus?

Through these types of initiatives and the success we’ve had engaging with students on social, I’ve created a useful acronym to use as a formula to achieve maximum social success: P.O.S.T.

People: Who are you targeting

Objective: What do you want to accomplish

Strategy: How are you going to get there

Technology: What platform and tools are you going to use


When developing a social media strategy, the first step is to consider the audience. Most institutions develop a strategy around their school’s core offerings, but instead, consider what your target audience wants and then develop a strategy that caters specifically to them.


Objectives for social should align with traditional business objectives. For most universities, these objectives are to increase applications, yield, retention and donations, which should be the motivating factors behind each social post and campaign.


When developing a social strategy, it’s crucial to think about the motivating factors behind your approach. You should ask yourself questions, including:

  • How can social help meet (and exceed) our goals?
  • What are other universities doing with social media?
  • How will we analyze and measure our campaigns?
  • How will we manage the entire process?
  • What are our long-term digital goals?

The first step in creating a strategy is to overlay your digital and social media funnel with your traditional enrollment or communication funnel. Steps in the digital funnel include: acquire, engage, drive to action and convert.


After establishing a social media and digital strategy, you’ll need the technology to implement these plans. In order to listen, engage and measure your digital efforts, it’s imperative to have powerful analytics to gain a comprehensive picture of your participation in social media. Overall, enable your campus with the platform that allows the institution to listen, publish updates to your social media networks, schedule campaign messaging, and respond to your prospective and real students in real time.

Social media has become a critical component of our communications plan at USC. As Higher Education takes more advantage of these channels to not only speak to, but listen to, students, alumni, and other audiences, it’s important to create an organizational ‘playbook’ for managing these powerful tools. The playbook should include the university’s guidelines around social media. Topics could include establishing a ‘tone’ or ‘voice’ for the channels with a social media style guide, to informing and educating cross functional departments on social media standards and practices and defining what analytics and metrics will be most meaningful for your stakeholders.

There are amazing resources available for digital branding and social media training as well. Digital Branding Institute is a great resource for digital branding resources, training, and education. Hootsuite Academy is great for colleagues that may need a bit of ‘formal education’ to become active and enthusiastic about the social space. At USC, we’ve been able to prove the impact, efficiency and effectiveness of social to drive results with our audiences, and we’re continuing to explore how to use these channels to reach our goals.

Juntae DeLane is Senior Digital Brand Manager at the University of Southern California.


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