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10 higher ed social media lessons from 2015

Every year, we learn more and more about social media – and we have to because just about everything changes over the span of 12 months. 2015 was no exception; so let’s take a look at the 10 things we learned about social media.

1. Take the time to produce short videos

Videos are not only the present but also the future of marketing; they’re as visual as it gets, and people like that. The key is to not overwhelm our audiences, so the shorter the better. In 2015, we created two short video projects intending to house the videos right in Facebook and Twitter. We found that it was not only possible to tell a great story in 30 seconds, but that it was at times even more powerful than a 3-5 minute video.

2. House your videos everywhere 

For so long, I think we’ve always thought about videos as YouTube specific content. However, now that Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are making video a bigger component of its platform, it has forced (allowed) us an opportunity to try video elsewhere. The video series we launched throughout October and November – featuring 14 different videos – had more than 400,000 views, an average of more than 28,000 per video. To compare, our average video on YouTube receives about 1,000 views. So, don’t just house your videos in YouTube. Post them natively. Make it easier for your audience … they’ll love you for it.

"Here, going first means we're bold enough to dream big to take risks." Daniel Brewster, an instructor in the Department...

Posted by West Virginia University on  Wednesday, November 4, 2015

3. Snapchat can be king

At West Virginia University, we LOVE Snapchat. It has been our most successful social media platform of 2015 when it comes to reaching and relationship building with prospective and current students. I’m not sure why some universities around the country are still worried about the potential of the app – it is gigantic. This year, we’ve put a lot of effort into creating content specifically for Snapchat, and we’ll spend even more time on that in 2016, since the platform isn’t going away and continues to grow. Snapchat is potentially higher ed’s most powerful recruiting tool, and many of us aren’t even using it yet.

Check out how we're using Snapchat in a Q&A format.


4. Social spending isn’t just an option anymore

It’s a necessity. There have been so many changes to social media in the last year, but one of the most significant – at least when it comes to our budgets – is the decrease in organic reach on Facebook. Prior to this year, I was one of the people who thought it was unnecessary to spend on social and that “content was king.” But, I can’t say that anymore. In 2016, social media spending will be a much bigger player when we develop our digital advertising plan. But the key is to be smart with that spending. Go into it with a plan, and only spend on the posts that truly matter. Don’t just spend on social to increase views – make sure there’s a much higher-level goal you’re trying to reach.


5. Audience-first focus should be first priority

This one shouldn’t be a surprise … and perhaps some of you reading are going “yea, I’ve been doing this for years.” But, this is one of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in 2015. Sometimes, we put so much of a focus on content that we want to make sure people see that we forget about what the people actually want. Sure, I know demands within higher ed force us to be a bit different than the average brand, but that doesn’t mean we should forget about who we’re trying to reach. For example, before we post something on Snapchat, we ask ourselves, “Would prospective students like it?” If we can’t answer that question with a quick “yes!” then we don’t post it. It’s as simple as that, really. Before this year, however, we never asked that question.


6. Trust students

In 2015, we started a Snapchat campaign called “Takeover Tuesday,” in which a different student would take over our WestVirginiaU Snapchat account each Tuesday. When we were speaking about this at the Higher Ed Web Conference in Milwaukee in the fall, the thing we kept hearing was, “How can you feel comfortable giving students your account?” Well, the simple answer is trust. Everything new we do in social media is a risk, but if we don’t take it, we won’t find out whether it had the potential to work. Students are our best assets, and for us to ignore that makes our jobs as social media content creators that much harder. Students provide different perspectives, which we need. Embrace those perspectives. Get to know them, and it makes it much easier to trust them with your social accounts.

More on Takeover Tuesday on Snapchat  

WVU student? Here's how to get involved with our social media


7. Reporting matters

We all can run our social media accounts without looking at analytics. In fact that’s what we did for years before 2015. But, it’s like walking with your eyes closed, and I don’t know about you but I trip enough with my eyes open, so I’d rather take a more cautious approach. In December of last year, we started monthly reports to take a look at how each of our social media accounts did. In addition, we create separate reports for larger campaigns we run. These reports make a difference, because they 1) let us know what works and what doesn’t from analytical standpoint; and 2) give our bosses an idea of the significance of our work and, on a larger scale, social media as a whole.

Check out an example of our monthly reports 


8. Social-specific content can rule

For many years, we used social media as more of an aggregation tool. We took content from everywhere else and used it. In 2014, we started to create our own content specifically for social media, and in 2015, we did it even more. Content for social media should be treated differently than in other places. For example, sometimes a photo will work great for an admissions piece but it won’t work for Instagram. As social media managers, we have to make a conscious decision to do what is best for our platforms – and most of the time that means original content. Earlier this fall, we took a photo of two WVU-themed pumpkin pies to post on Thanksgiving. On Facebook alone it had nearly 1,300 shares, 7,500 likes and a reach of 300,000 people. A generic post about Thanksgiving would’ve never, ever received that type of response.

pumpkin photos

Happy Thanksgiving to our entire Mountaineer family!

Posted by West Virginia University on  Thursday, November 26, 2015

9. Emojis can sometimes be better than words

There’s a reason why Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2015 was actually an emoji – the face with tears of joy. Emojis are changing the way we speak to each other, and it’s changing the way we talk to our audiences on social media. We have embraced this trend in 2015, and it all began with a few tweets around Valentine’s Day. Don’t be afraid to use emojis in your conversations and posts. In fact, we’ve found that our posts that use them have a better chance to succeed. 

10. Social media is a team game

At the start of this year, we had one person managing all of our social media accounts. That is almost an impossible job, but that’s what most colleges and universities are working with right now. We will end this year with one-and-a-half social media managers and a team of student ambassadors that have been a huge help. The more people you can involve, from co-workers to students, the better your content will be. Collectively, if we as social media managers have one goal for 2016, it should be to convince others that social media isn’t a one-person job but one for a team.