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How to Use Social Media Data in Higher Ed

Posted by Don Crow on Feb 1, 2017 9:00:00 AM


"Data" and "Social Media Data" are words and phrases showing up everywhere today. As a Higher Education marketing and communications specialist, you may find yourself asking, "There's data everywhere, how do I know what to pay attention to?"

You're literally swimming in data if you have email lists, social media profiles, and a website. Determining what to do with all that information can be overwhelming for Higher Ed professionals and your B2B peers as well. In addition to helping you determine which social media sites you should invest time in, we also want to help you with the all important, how to use social media data in higher ed.

Step One. What platforms should you be investing time and resources in?

56 pct online adults.png

Today's social media users are two things: (1) savvy and, (2) spread out. For example, over half (56%) of online adults today are on more than one of the five most popular social networks. And from there, it doesn't really matter if that user is on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or Linkedin, they are almost all also on Facebook.


social media simo usage.png

As we've seen here at Verge Pipe Media since we began in 2011, Facebook is too large to ignore for virtually all marketers, regardless of industry. As the Pew Research Center chart above shows, 93% of Twitter users also have Facebook, 95% of Instagram users are on Facebook, and do on.

If you're more concerned with "daily usage" as the determining factor in where to be, you'll again want to focus on Facebook and more than likely, Instagram.

social media daily usage.png

You may be tempted to say LinkedIn, but those users don't typically "check in" more than weekly, and a lot of LinkedIn users are checking in even less often. Twitter is a good third option behind Facebook and Instagram if daily users is your benchmark.

Please also keep in mind, if attracting and retaining students (13 - 21) is a priority in your role, you'll need to include Snapchat as one of your social media platforms. We've talked about Snapchat in previous articles, as well as live video stories on Instragram.

Is Visual Marketing where it's at in Higher Ed? Learn more in our FREE eBook.

Lastly, if you already have an established presence for your school, college or university on all of these platforms, you'll need to know what data to review before deciding on which platforms to invest the most time and energy on. That leads us into....

Step Two. How to Use Social Media Data in Higher Ed

Obviously, you would want to start identifying what is important to your Dean and how that relates back to the work you do promoting your college on social media. For the sake of brevity, let's assume you've already completed that all important step.

Next, road map in hand, you'll need to define your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and avoid vanity metrics. I recommend two that are relatively easy to explain to your non communications and marketing minded leadership:

  • Audience growth, and
  • Engagement

Audience growth is important for two reasons. One, is it is a good measure of how many incoming students you are able to add to your rolls as they pass from college tours to enrolled freshmen. Two, it is a great measure of how many Alumni you have who are fans and followers. Both of these are then easily measured by looking at your audience demographics. For all of your social networks, you will need to be an admin to access the insights that allow you to view analytics which include audience demographics (male / female, age ranges, and more).

Engagement is important to measure for two reasons as well. One, it is a good internal barometer of how well you are doing at producing remarkable content. In order to do that though, you'll need to know who it is you're speaking to and on which platform. See how all of this is interconnnected now? Two, it is arguably the easiest metric to explain to a Dean after you show growth charts.

Don't forget to include seasonality in your metrics and data analysis. For example, the time period between semesters may have fewer posts and shares, and therefore less engagement. Spikes in engagement could be due to athletic event tie-ins or tagging notable alumni. No matter the case, take notes of your weekly spikes or dips so when you present data over a longer period of time, you can reference the noticeable changes in the trend line.

Which leads us to the last important factor in how to use social media data in higher ed: "Check points." The easy check points would be by semester (or quarter if your institution uses those), but that is too long to check in on your online performance. We recommend weekly and monthly check points to allow for the most flexibility in changes to your upcoming content calendar, event changes and even coaching up that student intern or recent new hire.

BONUS Step Three. How to Use the Outcome of Your Data Gathering.

Measuring and reporting on Return On Investment (ROI) has never really been a prerequisite for long term success in Higher Ed (let's just be real here). However, with the gradual phasing out of traditional marketing and growth of online marketing across campuses, there's not much excuse for skipping out on shouting the results from the rooftops.

Here are a few places you should map your data back to in order to help positively tell your story:

  • Dean's Strategic Plan - For example, let's say your Dean has issued a challenge to increase attendance at Young Alumni events regionally or nationally. Use your audience demographics to show not only growth online, but attendance at events as a result of having more distribution and better communication platforms.
  • Develpoment fundraising goals - For example, let's say your Development Officers want to increase annual giving participation rates. Use your engagement numbers and email open rates to highlight the relationship between connecting and informing alumni, and participation in annual fund initiatives.
  • Enrollment goals - For example, your student services and enrollment teams have challenged the college to increase out of state attendance with students from Texas. Use your location demographics and targeted Facebook Ads Campaigns to show growth and therefore, awareness with decision makers in the great State of Texas.

As a reminder, we've been an Inbound Marketing strategy and implementation (services) agency for higher education since we began in 2011. Over the past six years, a lot has changed in the online and social media world, but nothing as drastic as the role video plays in attracting, converting, closing, and delighting students AND alumni. For a look into a case study on how we helped a higher ed client with video, tap the button below for our FREE case study: Video Content Marketing for Higher Education. 

video content marketing for higher educationphoto credit: aaronrhawkins Coming Up For Air [Explore] via photopin (license)

Topics: social media marketing, higher ed marketing

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