Learning Curve: 5 Community Building Ideas from Higher Education

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If you’re looking for community building experts, you’ll be hard-pressed to find brands savvier than universities that have embraced social media.

Take Harvard University. They’ve amassed nearly 3.5 million likes on Facebook and 391,000 Twitter followers, earning them the title as most influential university in the CollegeAtlas.org “A Study of Social Media in Higher Education.” Other accolades in the report rank Harvard #1 in Facebook, Twitter and Google+ interaction, as well as having the second-most engaged social media community.

So how do they and the other top-ranking schools build rabid fans online?

During interviews with some of these top schools for the study, we’ve noted five ways these colleges strengthen their communities and bring the fandom apparent on campus and at sporting events to the online world—and you too can create a winning social media program using the same best practices.

5 Community Building Ideas from Higher Education

1. They get everyone involved.

Social media is about building human connections, so it’s vital that organizations of all types get employees advocating on their behalf starting at the top. Many of the universities that have built strong online communities have presidents that snap Instagram photos, tweet curated content, and respond to Facebook messages through their personal accounts, as well as through their university’s brand channels.

Michael Morand, the Deputy Chief Communications Officer for Yale, shared, “President Salovey emailed the image [of a double rainbow on graduation day] in real-time, showing that our network includes anyone with a smartphone, even our President. The result was our biggest and best photo from commencement.” Similarly, “76% of Executives Believe CEOs Should Be Utilizing Social Media,” as stated on MarketingLand.com.

2. They post consistently.

Texas A&M—whose social media community was ranked #1 in engagement, in addition to earning them the #2 spots for most influential overall and for their Facebook interaction—typically posts once per day on Facebook, occasionally skipping a day here and there.

Their timeline is a collection of campus news, mascot love, and getting fans hyped for upcoming sports seasons. Texas A&M’s Communications Coordinator Krista Smith says,

“Our Facebook page’s high engagement level can be attributed to several factors, but it primarily boils down to this: Texas A&M views social media as a relationship and our chance to share what we call the Aggie Spirit online. Facebook epitomizes this—we work hard to create a community of spirit for our fans to enjoy on our page, and we interact with our fans by responding to their comments, encouraging them to share their stories with us, etc. [And] all of our Facebook traffic is organic.”

So, instead of spending money boosting your page and risking the accumulation of likes that won’t result in any engagement, focus on creating likable content that your target audiences will care about.

3. They have clear calls to action.

Baylor University embodies how social media can level the playing field between small and large organizations. As the 19th smallest school in the CollegeAtlas.org study, Baylor still ranked #6 on Instagram. How? By having a call to action in their Instagram bio—“Want to share your photos? Add #mybaylor to your posts.” And true to their word, they constantly give shout-outs to fans who have tagged their photos and share them on Baylor’s official feed. This give-and-take has resulted in 26,185 followers and consistently over 1,000 likes on every image they share (often two and three times that amount!). Be sure to include specific hashtags in your Instagram and Twitter bios to encourage others to share their photos and content using your hashtag.

4. They have dedicated social media personnel.

Geoff Rushton, Penn State University’s News and Media Relations Manager, explains their approach to managing all their social media outlets. “We’ve developed a fairly successful system, having a point person for each network we manage, but it’s collaborative. We’re all pretty good at thinking about what each platform needs; valuing each other’s viewpoints on things. We’re all contributing. We offer experience and help to other departments that are just getting started, and work with different social media teams to collaborate on bigger social media efforts.”

So while you want your team members to be active on social media about your company, it’s important to have point people to make sure everything is on message and consistent with your social media goals.

5. They have a presence on all the major networks.

Christine Heenan, Harvard’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Communications, emphasizes the global reach that being active online in multiple places achieves:

“The immediacy and reach of today’s digital and mobile world call for a robust social strategy as key to engagement within and beyond our community. We are pleased to have built a strong social approach that builds on Harvard’s remarkable people and content, and enables sharing and engagement with larger global audiences than previously possible.”

While you don’t have to post every day on all your social media channels as your brand, it’s important to show activity on at least a weekly basis or you may risk turning a potential new fan off because they won’t see the value in clicking ‘like’ or ‘follow’ if they’re not going to get content regularly from you.

Which of these five community building tips will you implement first? Share in the comments!

About the author:

justinJustin Dennis leads product marketing and communications for Social Strategy1.com. He has developed digital strategies for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. Justin joins SocialStrategy1 from a digital ad agency specializing in digital strategy, social application design, analytics, and mobile . His work has been featured by the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, Jacksonville Business Journal, and Advantage Business Magazine.

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