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In 2012 a document was released by the ‘The Center for the Study of Higher Education at The University of Arizona’ and ‘Claremont Graduate University’ called Social Media in Higher Education: a literature review and research directions. Today we take a look at the fast moving subject of social media in Higher Education once again to discuss why we should be using it and how exactly. 

The growth of social media over the past few years has taken many industries by surprise, some seeing a logical way to utilise the benefits whilst others have taken longer to find a way to approach the scenario. Those with physical units to sell have cashed in nicely on an extra avenue to promote their items and interact with the customer base, but the education sector has been viewed by many as a grey area in terms of using social media for gain.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that Facebook originated as a social media site exclusively for universities, so was designed with the higher education demographic in mind. Also worth remembering is that we are at the stage now that most students entering higher education will have spent their teenage years living with social media sites as the norm (and moving forward we will notice this more and more), so if you want to be able to interact with a community within a university or college the best way is to approach them in their own territory – online.

But how can higher education bodies use social media effectively? Many already have intranet sites where they push out educational content, but as these are not accessible by the wider public they are not classed as social media. Social sites include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine and even blogs. The key to successful social usage is knowing what you want to achieve. There will be different approaches for selling yourself to prospective students and their parents, keeping current students engaged and informed, and also interacting with alumni after they have graduated.

The most basic form of social media use within educational establishments is one-way communication with the publishing of upcoming events, deadlines, sporting fixtures, and even school closure notices. The same content will get posted to the website and all the social sites for blanket coverage of these announcements – which is a good way to get the messages to the students, but isn’t the most engaging or creative use of the sites.

To step it up a notch, students can create the content for you – enabling you to give them a practical exercise whilst being brand ambassadors for their university or college. They could blog about their experiences, about an academic subject, or anything you feel will be engaging for other users to read and interact with. Do you have outstanding musicians as students? Give them the opportunity to showcase their talent on your YouTube channel. Have sports teams? Live tweet their next fixture or training session. Even by inviting a renowned lecturer to host a live Q&A session online you will be boosting your interactive potential, all the while benefitting your students and showing to prospective students what life is like at your establishment. The same principle can be applied to alumni. They can inspire others by giving an insight into what the future could hold, and open doors for work experience opportunities.

Social media can also be used to improve the well-being of students away from the academic benefits. Clubs and teams have long been a part of university life, and the creation of online groups to co-ordinate social events or even just to build friendships further can have a hugely positive impact on students. By using the educational institution as a central ingredient that binds all students together, the opportunity to build relationships with other users outside of study groups or sports teams is something that was not so easy to achieve in the days before the social media boom.

Many of those in charge of developing social strategies for the education sector are wary of making the change to embrace social media, but as long as you are creating professional, relevant and engaging content with a clear idea of what you are trying to achieve you will be well on your way to successful online presence. Social media isn’t a fad that will die out soon. It has totally changed the landscape of working and social life, and will only continue to advance further – so don’t get left behind.

Keep up to date with the fast paced movements of social media and digital marketing on our Twitter profile @ElephantCreate

Read the 2012 research document PDF here

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  1. Sian Hughes 25th November 2013 at 01:39pm

    What a great article.

    I work for MMU and take control of the International Office’s social media. We have really embraced social media, with student blogs, an international office blog, Facebook and Twitter pages. I made the decision to cut down the number of platforms we used, to ensure that we do fewer sites better, do you think this is the right approach? We decided to take a step back from Pinterest and Google+ as we didn’t see much of our target audience on these sites.

  2. Helen Hammond 25th November 2013 at 02:13pm

    Thanks for the comment, Sian. My personal view is that you’re spot on – do a few well, rather than several poorly. The most important thing is that you’re having engaging conversations in the ‘places’ that your target audiences are already.

    My only comment is that I wouldn’t write off Google+ just yet. There is a lot of advice out there that it contributes significantly to your SEO, and it’s a great place to build recommendations and testimonials… particularly if you’re trying to demonstrate, to international students, how the university fits into its local area – links to local businesses, things to do, places to visit and stay etc.