Facebook, the most popular social network in the world, is likely the centerpiece of your higher ed social media presence. But using it is not the same as having a solid Facebook strategy.
First, let me address a frequently asked question:
“Should we still be on Facebook at all, since Gen Z is increasingly using other platforms?”
While studies are showing Gen Z is falling off of Facebook, the largest group for college marketing – alumni and parents – are still strong users. These are primary influencers, and keeping them engaged is vital to your overall strategy.
Speaking of strategy … As I said of Twitter in my last blog post, Facebook with no strategy will get you nowhere:
- A college presence with no strategy looks like photos with no context.
- It’s merely an Upcoming Events page with only past events, or nothing at all, making it seem like nothing is happening on campus.
- Inconsistent posts signal a lack of human engagement.
- Too much shared, few original posts, so there’s no voice.
- No groups, or few groups to join, and therefore no sense of community.
- Content about the school, but so little about the students makes users wonder whether students matter … or just the tuition they pay.
What makes Facebook so challenging is that it’s so well established, and offers so many ways to engage, that users expect a lot more from account managers than activity. They expect an experience.
Read on for tips on how to use Facebook for college marketing.
Setting Up Your School’s Business Pages
If your college is just starting out with Facebook, you have a great opportunity to create a strategic structure for your pages. But that’s not the case for most schools.
Instead of a blank canvas to work with, most schools today are looking at a patchwork of Facebook accounts, all run by different departments, groups or programs, ranging from high engagement to barely active.
The right idea is there; having different pages to attract different audiences (such as this page just for postgrads) is a good thing. But each account has to be set up for success.
In addition to making sure each page is in line with the brand (properly using the university’s logo, etc.), make sure each account manager has thoroughly set up the page:
- Page name that clearly connects the department with the school.
- Logo as (or incorporated into) the profile image.
- Strong cover image.
- A brief description.
- Appropriate categories (e.g. Education, College & University, Nursing School).
- Contact information.
- A longer description and image for the Our Story section.
- At least one link back to the school’s website.
- Reviews are enabled.
This will help ensure that each account page functions as a strong landing page. This creates a positive impression on Facebook users and connects them with the appropriate website.
Posting and Boosting: 7 Tips
As I’ll outline below, there are many ways for users to engage with Facebook. But the news feed is still central, and posting updates to your page is the main way to get into your audience’s news feeds. Here are a few basics for posting and “boosting” (i.e. paying for further reach).
1. Frequency: Be Consistent
Social media managers often wonder about how often to post, but the key is really to be consistent. If once per day is the best you can do consistently, commit to that.
2. Length: Keep it Short
Research has shown that, despite Facebook’s whopping 63,206-character limit (don’t ever post anything that long, please), the ideal length for engagement is between 40 and 50 characters. That’s roughly the maximum length of an email subject line you can read on mobile.
3. Images and Video: Visuals Should Dominate
I think the reason short posts are so effective is because they leave more room for images and video. Facebook users are increasingly expecting their news feed to be less text-based and more visual, like Snapchat or YouTube. Post texts should be like captions, not abstracts.
4. Hashtags: Use One, Maybe Two
While some research suggests hashtags are less important on Facebook than on Twitter, it’s still a good idea to use them to make your content discoverable in a relevant search. Just don’t overuse them. One or two is best.
5. Tagging People: As Often As Possible
If you’re writing about a student, alumnus, member of faculty, or anybody else who follows the account, be sure to put an @ symbol before their name. Facebook will notify them, which dramatically increases your chances of personal engagement.
6. Content: Anything Audience-Centric
Facebook touches virtually every demographic, so there is no content that is inappropriate for the platform. Just keep it focused on the audience you’ve defined for the page. Fun content for prospects, infographics for parents, development news for alumni, etc.
7. Boosting: When Time is a Factor
Building your organic reach for each page takes time. Most of your posts will be part of this long-term strategy. The ones you should boost (pay to reach outside of your followers) are the ones that help drive a short-term strategy, e.g. event signups and admissions deadlines.
Making a regular post about an event is like putting flyers out on your followers’ windshields encouraging them to contact the box office. Publishing events on Facebook is more like bringing the box office to them.
It’s a great tool for not only providing information, but allowing users to RSVP with a single click. From that point on, Facebook will remind them of the event, and with a click or two they can forward the info to other users.
Facebook events also build interest with social proof. Users can see how many have RVSPed and how many are interested.
If it’s a ticketed event, you have options:
- Provide contact information (not ideal, as having to call a box office is an extra step).
- Include a link to a purchase page you control.
- Use a ticket processor like Eventbrite that can be integrated with your Facebook event.
Keep your Events page populated. You never want to give Facebook users the impression that there’s nothing going on at your school, nor do you want to assume they will bother to navigate to the calendar on your website.
Livestream Events with Facebook Live
Homecoming, move-in days, visit days, and any other event you’re talking about on Facebook are great opportunities for live streaming.
These videos can double as virtual tours as well (to supplement or promote your interactive virtual tour). The energy on campus at a time like homecoming makes a great backdrop to create excitement for viewers.
One of the best ways to make the most of Facebook Live is by asking a student ambassador to play host. Brands are seeking college students all the time to become their ambassadors, and colleges themselves can win by using the same tactics.
Another task you might give student ambassadors is to make Stories on Facebook. Stories are series of images and/or brief video clips that users piece together to form a single piece of ephemeral content; that is, they only last for 24 hours.
This type of immediate, temporary content proved extremely popular among Gen Z users on Snapchat before it was adopted by Instagram and now Facebook.
Stories give users a stronger sense of connection with the content than a post because of how recently it was created, and of intimacy with the creator because you can only catch it if you’re paying attention.
This is a great way to supplement event coverage or just to capture campus culture. Stories are for capturing fleeting moments: tossing a coin into a fountain, unwrapping a sandwich in the dining commons, viewing the bust of the first college president, nothing of major importance.
That said, if you do want to hold onto them, you can archive Stories for future use.
Posting to a page encourages casual engagement, comments that users drop before their news feed distracts them with something new. It’s like shouting out at a noisy parade going by.
In contrast, Facebook groups encourage deep engagement. They’re like the quiet coffee shops where people gather to get away from the noise and talk.
Groups for incoming freshmen, parents, minorities, residence halls, clubs, alumni, etc. can be powerful tools for maintaining user interest in your school and building advocacy.
With permission and support from the admin, you can use groups to recruit ambassadors:
- Watch parties are a way to show videos, such as a video explaining how to become a student ambassador, to the entire group at the same time and field their questions.
- Polls allow you to survey the group. You could ask how likely they would be to join a student ambassador program; if not, what would motivate them to change their mind, etc.
Done right, group engagement can be a powerful tool to drive general engagement, direct contact and enrollment.
Be Responsive and Track Engagement
Commit to responding to comments and Facebook Messenger queries quickly. Users expect you to respond as quickly as you would to an email, if not faster; respond the same day if possible and take no more than 24 hours.
These direct engagements are the precious fruits of your labor. Use Facebook Insights to track them and assess your progress.
However, you should also consider putting Facebook ads in the mix for your next major campaign.
With its impressive market penetration (1.9 billion users worldwide) and incredibly precise demographic targeting capabilities, Facebook ads are among the best value for your digital marketing dollar.
Facebook is about creating virtual spaces in which your audience can experience your school.
When it comes to using Facebook for college marketing, there is so much to cover that a single blog post can only scratch the surface.
This robust platform has grown far beyond the news feed. It’s a virtual world where you can host events, meet with others in groups, tell stories and give tours.
Facebook isn’t going anywhere. On the contrary, it’s only getting more robust as it gains more users every day. That makes it a world your school must inhabit.
My team and I are here to help you navigate that world. Let us know how we can help.
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Featured image by Tashatuvango via Adobe Stock