10 Social Media Marketing Strategies For Universities

Social media marketing for universities

Gen Z and Gen Alpha aren’t compulsive Googlers like the Millennials. Instead of typing keywords in a search engine, these college-bound students use hashtags on social media to find what they deem “authentic” information.

But why? According to a survey by eMarketer, they prefer searching on socials because the results are:

Notice the quality of content they like? You won’t find the same attributes in traditional higher education marketing, often dry and visual-less.

If you want to appeal to prospective students, you’ve got to meet them in the middle.

Social media marketing for universities is a marketing approach that ticks all the boxes. It can effectively and cost-effectively attract, engage, and convert your audience.

📌 If you’re just starting university marketing, check out our Higher Education Marketing 101 guide to master the basics.

Ready to get started? Here are 10 tactics to consider when crafting your next social media marketing plan.

  1. Create engaging social media content

  2. Run hashtag contests

  3. Put social media feeds on the website

  4. Leverage the student ambassador program

  5. Use alumni storytelling

  6. Organize social media takeovers

  7. Tailor campaigns to different audience segments

  8. Run Ads to reach enrollment goals

  9. Offer weekly news and updates

  10. Invest in video content

1. Create engaging social media content

Social media algorithms are nobody’s friend. The rules of engagement change so frequently across platforms that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. In such a scenario, publishing relevant, valuable, and entertaining content is the “evergreen” way to engage students and other relevant audiences through the cycles of change.

Use success stories, campus tours, faculty interviews, or campus life.

2. Run hashtag contests

​​At a young age, students naturally have a competitive spirit. Running hashtag contests on social media lets you harness that innate quality—while offering dual benefits:

Harry Asche, Marketing Manager of howtostream.co.nz, suggests running a photo competition where students can share “best campus moments” using a branded hashtag.

He says, “This user-generated content (UGC) on social media can help you showcase the university's accomplishments, community, and culture. It will make the brand more relatable to prospective students and strike a chord with them.

Case in point: The University of California, Irvine, ran a #UCIResearch contest on LinkedIn, allowing students to share their research projects.

UCI Hashtag contest example

As evident above, the contest was a huge success—earning traction and attracting interest from students, alumni, and fellow researchers.

Tip: Use Flockler’s free hashtag generator to create hashtag ideas for your social media contests quickly.

3. Put social media feeds on the website

While prospective students will look up your social accounts during college research, their first brand interaction will likely be with your website. This is especially true for international students.

To make a good impression on first-time visitors, you can embed live social media feeds on your website and welcome them with a visually appealing teaser about the university. This can effectively engage the audience, offer social proof, and strengthen your university’s brand perception.

At the same time, you can direct the website traffic to your social media channels and boost engagement.

Harvard Kennedy School, for example, uses a four-grid layout to highlight its Instagram content on its website.

Harvard Kennedy School’s social media wall on its website

Notice how visitors can interact with the content as they scroll the page. This is made possible with Flockler, a social media integration tool that allows you to curate and display social media walls across digital screens.

4. Leverage the student ambassador program

Starting a student ambassador program is one of the oldest tricks in higher education marketing books. However, in the context of SMM, you should turn students into content creators for your TikTok, Instagram, and other social media channels. They can

How can you promote your student ambassador program? Two simple ways:

#1 As the University of California has done below, make the application process ridiculously easy for interested students. Create valuable creatives and share them across platforms to drive recruitment.

University of California’s promotional creative for its ambassador program

#2 Let student ambassadors share their direct experiences with the program. They can share their reasons for joining, program highlights, and meaningfully engage prospective students. Here’s how London Metropolitan University showcases ambassador stories.

London Metropolitan University’s student ambassador story

5. Use alumni storytelling

When students research colleges, they’re most apprehensive about their future. Can this degree help me achieve the career of my dreams?

Sharing alumni success stories is like showing the students a glimpse of the future. They can find inspiration and assurance in hearing an alum talk about their career highs and college moments.

The Alumni Association of the University of Michigan is a brilliant example. They have a dedicated account on X (formerly Twitter) @michiganalumni, where they regularly post alumni achievements to foster a community of “Wolverines.”

The feeling also goes both ways, as the graduated students feel better connected to their alma mater.

6. Organize social media takeovers

Student-generated content is widely effective as social proof. But if you want to step back, you can organize student social media takeovers.

Tristan Harris, Demand Generation Senior Marketing Manager at Thrive Agency, vouches for student-led narratives:

“As far as social media marketing for universities goes, there’s a unique advantage you can use. Higher education institutes already have a built-in audience, i.e., their students. By tapping into this demographic, universities can create content that resonates with them and encourages them to engage and share.”

This is precisely what student takeovers offer. When students take charge (partially, since you guide them), they can capture day-to-day student life and share unique experiences. This provides a refreshing break from the university's usual posts, leading to high student engagement from the audience.

Here’s one example from the University of Colorado Denver.

The university hosts #TakeoverTuesday, where a chosen student gets to take over its social media accounts for the day and share their day’s activities like classes or fun events.

Student takeover of CU Denver’s Instagram account

UC Denver also has a page dedicated to student takeover guidelines, which lists the do’s and don’ts of the takeover. This works well in encouraging student participation while ensuring the content stays on-brand.

7. Tailor campaigns to different audience segments

As a university marketer, you’re not only targeting potential students. Your audience pool is also made up of parents, alumni, staff, and other relevant groups.

That’s why, as Michael Ares, Principal Owner of MDA Corporate Marketing and a strategic communications architect, explains:

“The most important decision in crafting a social media outreach campaign in higher ed is deciding who that campaign will be structured to reach. Prospective students and parents? Potential faculty? Alumni donors? Business partners and other potential employers of graduates?”

For example, while Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are more popular among students, they won’t be as effective in reaching other, more strategic audiences.

He also shares a two-step approach to figuring out the right social media platform:

8. Run ads to reach enrollment goals

Social media advertising can be a powerful tool when strategizing marketing to increase student enrollment.

You can hyper-target prospective students and parents evaluating colleges as they’re scrolling through social media. Since these ads are featured in feeds, stories, DMs, and more, they work well for micro-targeting within the mobile app.

To create a relevant, high-converting social media ad, pay attention to:

Let’s take Facebook as an example.

Kamel Ben Yacoub, Co-Founder at Getuplead, who has managed social Ad campaigns for some important European universities, suggests the following two tactics for running Facebook ads:

HEC Paris’s Facebook ad

9. Offer weekly news and updates

Nearly 87% of all college students access social media platforms daily to create, share, and engage with content from friends and influencers they follow. Whether for fun or information-seeking, one thing is clear: social media will always play a decisive role in shaping the student’s academic experience.

So, take advantage of this habit by turning your social accounts into information hubs. Share regular updates about the latest University happenings and keep students posted.

Stanford University, for example, uses a dedicated highlight called “This Week” on its Instagram account to share weekly news, resources, and updates.

Stanford University’s Instagram highlights

They also encourage the students to participate (see the image on the right) and share updates about upcoming events. This simple gesture keeps the students posted while making the experience more interactive and engaging.

10. Invest in video content

Do you know the most popular social media platforms among Zoomers? Have a look!

Social media platforms most used by Gen Z

While all social media platforms are somewhat visual-oriented—the most popular ones based on usage are YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram. These platforms are specifically video-driven.

To connect the dots, video content can give your social media marketing efforts a credible boost. Especially short-form video formats, which are snackable and appeal to the short attention spans of the average social media user.

How do you approach video content?

In the For Your Institution podcast, Kyle Campbell, founder of Higher Education Marketer, makes a compelling case:

“You need to use video at different parts of the cycle. Universities are home to some of the most incredible content, but the challenge is that it’s always locked away in courses.

Videos are excellent ways of unpacking much of the content that makes the university remarkable and presents it differently.

MIT’s YouTube and UCLA’s Instagram channels, particularly the #uclabound reels, are a few examples of brilliant storytelling. They use student-generated content to highlight

MIT university content

Get started with social media marketing

Effective social media marketing for universities can attract ideal-fit students while engaging the current student body. However, most attention is often given to optimizing the channels and tactics.

While that’s important and necessary for consistent success, building and refining your content strategy should be the top priority. You can craft a winning social media strategy by strategically defining the goals, audience, messaging, formats, platforms, and other elements.

Then, once you have built a solid content foundation, start experimenting with the social media marketing tactics shared above and take it from there.

With Flockler, you can gather and display social media feeds from your favourite channels. See the full list of supported content types and sources

Flockler helps marketers like you to create social media feeds and display user-generated content on any digital service. Keep your audience engaged and drive sales.

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