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The Art of Social Media in Higher Education: A Q&A With Dave Musson

Dave Musson, Social Media Trainer, shares his thoughts on how higher educational institutions can improve their social media marketing.


What are the biggest social media challenges for Higher Institutions?

Arguably the biggest challenge for any institution on social media - universities included - is actually being seen. Think about how busy your timelines are - getting someone's attention on social media in 2019 is a real challenge. Universities need to have a deep understanding on who their audiences are and what motivates them. Without this, your posts are likely to get lost in the maelstrom that is the crowded world of social media. You need to create amazing content that is too engaging for people to scroll past. And, you need to do that consistently to keep your audiences and the algorithms happy. It's not easy!

On top of that, there is always the question of budget; is there any? And, if so, how are you going to use it? Will you invest in targeted, specific ads with a clear call to action, or is it more effective to post high performing content instead? And then there's knowing how to handle social media in a crisis - what procedures do you have in place? How much authority does your brand have on social media? Do you have the resources to stay on top of whatever might happen?

Lastly, there is the challenge of improving the digital capabilities of people across your organisation and getting buy-in from your leaders. Are they interested? Do they have the skills to do it and do it well? Does the top table understand value of social media and do they know the great work you're doing? And, can you devolve access to colleagues across your organisation so that more voices can get involved and help your story?


What constitutes a successful social media campaign in higher education?

A good campaign should stand out, be memorable and have your audiences at its heart. It should also differentiate your organisation from the crowd - much as it may pain us, the reality of the sector is that we're not that different from each other.

Most of my favourite campaigns haven't been done simply to get a load of likes - they've made a difference. Take #TeamUofG from the University of Glasgow or Loughborough's #LboroFamily campaigns. They do a terrific job of making students feel part of their institution's story before they even arrive on campus, and they build a real sense of pride and community. Or, how about the incredibly human way in which the University of Reading speaks on Twitter? That led to them quoting a line from Hot Fuzz to a load of racists and subsequently crowd-funding a scholarship for a refugee - talk about impact!

There is also far more scope for the sector to band together, take a stand and make a statement; the #WeAreInternational campaign did this brilliantly. While it started at the University of Sheffield, it soon became something that was gifted to the sector and that receive universal backing. It was a poignant moment where we could all stop worrying about competing with each other and instead really amplify a key message.


Do you have any tips on how to engage your audience?

Understand what they are passionate about, why they are following and what they want to hear from you. Spoiler alert, that might not necessarily be the same as what you think they want or need to hear from you.

Take the time to build relationships with your followers - it's called social media for a reason. These platforms are not broadcast spaces, they thrive on two-way dialogue - don't shy away from that.

Prioritising creating amazing content that has your audience at its heart, that adds value to their day somehow and is worthy of their attention in your direction. Don't get blinded by chasing follower numbers and other meaningless vanity metric - be worth following.