When it comes to social media, the world of higher education is a bit of a mess. Most arrived late to the game – some have yet to show up – and many have yet to figure out how to use social channels in an effective manner. Understandably, administrators are cautious about the way they present themselves on these new forms of media, especially with the amount of confusion and branding misfires social media has brought about. That said, it’s difficult to think of a brand more suited to social media than a college; its largest audience is students, social media’s heaviest users, and there’s a veritable wealth of content to be shared, from events to classes to pretty pictures of campus. It also makes a lot of sense for attracting prospective students and keeping alumni and parents in the loop on what’s going on around campus.
In myriad ways, a university’s social media page is the face it presents to the world. And yet instead of conveying the kind of frenetic energy found on campuses across the country, we find the opposite. Erratic posting patterns, long intervals and colourless content indicate an industry in disarray. The above is not true for all colleges of course, there are several that are consistently doing good work. One such institute is the University of Michigan, which might just be the best college on social media.
I know nothing about Michigan, I’ve never been there and probably never will be. But I know a lot about the U of M. I know about the Wolverines and the Big House (#GoBlue). I know about the different areas of campus like Pierpont and events like TEDxUofM. I even know everything about its elaborate bus system.
I know these things because of the great work of UM Social. UM Social handles all the official social channels of the university. It is its own office, composed of two full-time employees, Director Nikki Sunstrom and Manager Yasin Id-Deen. There are also five student interns, each with specific roles: Analytics, Graphic Design, Strategic Development, and two general purpose interns. As far as I can tell, the students carry out most of the work under the supervision of the Director and the Manager. They have their own modern, clean office space where students can get creative by writing on its tables. They also have an active blog that they update every month with new stats — they’re surprisingly transparent about their numbers online (albeit those numbers are phenomenal, so there’s not much that they’d want to hide).
- Facebook fans: 711k
- Instagram: 76.3k
- Twitter: 134k
- Snapchat: 7.4k
- Pinterest: 19k
- #GoBlue tag: 767k
These numbers are really impressive within the education sphere, and their month-to-month growth even more so – in the month of May they picked up over 2,000 Instagram followers. That said, there are a number of things in their favour, namely, a giant audience. Their enrollment is over 40,000, they have the prestige of being the number one public university in the country, a renowned sports program, and a lot of fans within Michigan as its premier public college. Regardless, their numbers are very strong.
Their engagement rate is impressive too when compared to other universities, with Instagram clocking in at 3.39%. There is strong co-ordination between all channels conveying a single, unique voice. They also are quite diligent in cross-posting between platforms; after big events they’ll take their Snapchat story and post it on YouTube to reach a larger audience, for example.
UM Social is on the ball when it comes to new platforms too. They are quick to experiment with new channels like Meerkat and Periscope, but not before establishing a clear use policy first. When abuse on YikYak became a topic of concern for the college, they decided to be proactive and introduce a voluntary pledge advocating positivity that students could take if they so wished. In addition to this, new channels are usually dissected and explained on the UM Social blog not long after their release. Platform content has a strong emphasis on creativity; on Snapchat students leverage all the creative tools it has to offer, Instagram is filled with pretty pictures of campus largely crowdsourced from UM students, and Facebook implements graphic design in a very successful manner.
Graphic design is UM Social’s key to setting their brand apart from other colleges online. Their intern doesn’t mess around, and his work conveys a distinct, fresh and exciting image of the university (distinct, fresh and exciting are three words that one does not normally associate with #HESM). It works particularly well on Facebook; it alleviates the dullness of link posts, and makes photographs much more arresting. It makes everything more interesting and bridges the gap between targeting younger audiences without losing the engagement of the older crowd to confusion.
But perhaps the most important weapon in UM’s arsenal is a freelancing video group that they contract periodically called Filmic Productions. These guys do incredible projects focussing on all aspects of college life. They’re also entirely student-run. Their best video is called “The Letter M” which is nothing short of genius. It’s an amazing piece of story-telling; touching, poignant, perfectly executed and distinctly creative. They routinely take mundane things and turn them into very funny, intelligent stories. Nothing truer could be said of the “Michigan Transportation Musical” which takes the UM’s bus system and turns it into a ten minute musical featuring three full songs. It’s kind of amazing, and I dare someone to watch it and not smile. The video is shown at every freshman orientation session.
It’s not your average orientation video, but then again, this isn’t your average social media team. UM Social successfully leverages both new and established social channels through advanced strategy and structured teams. They’re not afraid of leading trends and they employ creativity to populate its channels and drive engagement.