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Getting Social in 2019 and Beyond: Lessons for Postsecondary Marketers

The EvoLLLution | Getting Social in 2019 and Beyond: Lessons for Postsecondary Marketers
As a low-cost, high-impact outreach tool, social media is an integral part of any modern marketing strategy—yet the rate of technological innovation means marketers must be constantly developing new strategies for attracting their target market.

Social media is no longer a nice-to-have—it is an integral part of an overall marketing strategy for any organization. Yet the rate of change for social media presents a challenge for postsecondary institutions looking to engage authentically with their students: Which platforms should they leverage, and how? In this interview, Bhupesh Shah sheds light on how organizations are using social media as a marketing tool, and provides insight into how postsecondary institutions can leverage social media to create engaging corporate content.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): To set the scene, how has the broad value of social media as a marketing tool evolved over the past five years?

Bhupesh Shah (BS): Social media has moved from a nice add-on that augments existing marketing efforts and build relationships with customers to an essential part of the marketing mix. Brand building, engagement, promotions, customer service and customer self-service are just some of the areas where social media plays a role.

Evo: How has the use of social media shifted in that timeframe?

BS: There’s a movement away from public social platforms like Facebook, where advertising and associated data collection interrupt the conversation. Messaging services offer more privacy or ephemerality. We know that Facebook is losing the younger demographic (in North America) as their parents and grandparents increasingly embrace the platform. Twitter has become the place where real-time content is consumed but not necessarily created. It skews younger than Facebook but is not attracting the higher ed target demographic in sufficient volumes. Snapchat has received a bit of bad press but it’s hanging on amongst 18 to 24 year olds.

Instagram and WhatsApp (both owned by Facebook) are the platforms where higher education institutions should play if they want to attract their target market. It would also be prudent for all marketers to study WeChat and Viber to see what’s to come for platforms like WhatsApp.

Evo: Social media was once seen as a low-cost mechanism to quickly communicate with a wide audience at scale. Is this at all the case today?

BS: That hasn’t changed. What has changed is technology, which is impacting the quality and availability of tools: Cheaper, more powerful drones; faster smartphones with longer-lasting batteries and cameras that can enable things like 3D images or 360 videos; standalone 360-degree cameras and DSLRs that auto-upload to the cloud or social media; feature-rich video and photo apps. All of this has enabled content creators to create media that continues to engage users.

Evo: What are some of the significant opportunities social media presents to postsecondary marketers?

BS: Asking this question in 2019 is like asking about the benefits of breathing!

Evo: How about the challenges of using social media as a marketing tool?

BS: Time is always a challenge. The time spent on social media is an opportunity cost for most organizations that do not have a dedicated team solely working on social.

Another challenge with social media is that it takes a lot more work to maintain an active online presence with relevant and engaging content. With the move towards visual communication tools like video, this becomes even more difficult.

Evo: What are a few lessons higher education marketers could adopt from their colleagues in the corporate world when it comes to getting the most out of social media marketing?

BS: To get the most out of social media marketing, you need to put something in! Social media accounts for about 12 percent of marketing budgets and is forecasted to go up to nearly 20 percent within the next five years. The corporate world has already made the shift to spending more on digital channels.

Higher education institutions need to wean themselves off of print (I think OOH and radio still have merit given where the target is). When I was in the corporate world, there was a saying: “Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.” This meant going with the tried and true—which is to say, “don’t be innovative, don’t take risks, be conservative.” That didn’t work for companies (or IBM) back in the 90s and it doesn’t work for higher ed now.

The corporate world has not been afraid of making mistakes or showing a more personable side. They’ve unshackled community managers, whereas higher ed is tightening the noose for fear of offending a stakeholder. I find many higher education marketers are constrained by the decision-makers with the directive to “keep things professional.” And most institutions look and sound the same—a staid, stale, old-school (pun intended) approach. Money is being wasted when you have a presence that doesn’t really do much other than what is expected.

That said, an excellent exception to this is Seneca College, which is using its Student Life Instagram account to great effect. They are drawing on pop culture, nostalgia, hashtag norms and humor with just the right tone and voice to distinguish themselves from the crowd.

The corporate world is using video ads on Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and, increasingly, Instagram Stories to engage with their target audience. As an industry, higher education has to start doing more video content and fewer static, less engaging static inline ads which are ignored via a swift thumb swipe.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


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