International student numbers are rising fast – in line with universities’ efforts to recruit them. And social media has become increasingly ubiquitous, now becoming students’ preferred method of gathering information and communicating with their peers  – often informing their decisions.
Higher education institutions know there’s value in social media. They also understand they need to get serious about it to experience the returns, given increasing numbers of international students are using social media to research potential universities, often across several different platforms. If there is a correlation between the popularity of their social media channels and the number of students they recruit, universities need to make the most of it.
By establishing a strong social media presence alongside other channels, universities can showcase what they’ve got to offer, bolster international recruitment efforts and engage with different groups of constituents, ultimately establishing a global network.
And the good news is, you don’t need to be an Oxford or a Harvard to build your brand on social media. All you need some is the motivation, some best practices, and a little creativity.
Here are four tips to get you started.
1. Showcase the best your university has to offer.
Your community doesn’t just provide a ready-made audience – it’s a potential content-generating machine. And good content is essential when you’re building a brand on social media.
What better way of establishing your academic credibility than by showing off a sample of your world-class research on your social channels?
Or inviting a student to be the voice on one of your accounts for a week?
You could even go as far as to provide free educational material, giving prospective students a taste of learning at your institution.
Your academic community is brimming with user-generated content just waiting to be shared in creative ways.
2. Don’t hesitate to communicate directly.
A social media presence allows you to be where your constituents are. And the immediacy of social media allows you to be more responsive to enquiries, questions and feedback, engaging with your community on their terms.
It also frees you from the shackles of the more formal tone of voice sometimes required by other channels – your website, for instance.
Let’s face it, no brand was ever hurt by appearing more human.
3. Engage with your community.
Universities, business schools, and colleges have one major advantage when it comes to social media: they don’t need to build a community from scratch. They can tap into their very own ready-made audience.
Chances are your students (whether prospective or current), your faculty, your alumni, and your administrators are active across a number of social networks already. They have a vested interest in your institution. They’re probably already talking about you.
You just need to get involved and join the conversation.
Social listening tools (like our own Social Studio are a good starting point. They’re a great way to follow the conversation, so you can decide where and when to wade in.
That’s not the only thing your audience is good for, though.
4. Strengthen your international network.
It’s never been easier to keep in touch with your alumni, your colleagues and even other institutions or industry partners, regardless of where they are in the world.
Engaging with those communities – for instance by posting content aimed specifically at them – will help you build stronger relationships, which you can then continue to nurture offline.
Strong international relationships are integral to a university’s prestige. This is particularly important for business schools, for whom a global alumni network is an essential part of the draw.
Social media can help you build an active global presence, fast – enhancing your reputation and your ability to attract top global talent, whether student or faculty.
The new frontier for higher education
As students’ international mobility and social media use both increase, social channels offer a fantastic opportunity to engage with students – prospective and otherwise – on their terms.
The right social media strategy can help universities and business schools differentiate themselves against better-funded, better-established competitors. It can help with recruitment, student engagement, community building and even fundraising further down the line.
Social media is an ideal playground for universities to stand out, and one that’s only going to get more important.
So what are you waiting for?
You might already be using social media for some of the above, or you might not – yet. Either way, we’ve collected 50 social media best practices to help you increase your visibility and power up your social reach.