Spring 2013 Syllabus: 4 Tips for Universities to Shine on Facebook

Universities have the capacity to be Facebook juggernauts. They are in close contact with many of their stakeholders for years at a time (i.e. prospective students, current students and alumni), many of whom have built a substantial part of their network through association with school. Universities have enormous databases with a wealth of information about their stakeholders and, very often, have the sort of passionate, loyal advocates that major brands can only dream about. In reality, most universities seem to be failing social media class with just a fraction of the Facebook following that they could have. They may think just having a presence is enough, or "if we build it, they will come," and that may be good enough to pass, but it won’t get their Facebook page to the honor roll. So, take out your notebook; it’s time to study up on our top four tips for building university Facebook communities that earn a 4.0. 1) Combine Efforts, Consolidate Pages and Target Posts When you think about what you like about your university, do you think in narrow terms, such as schools, departments, programs or buildings? Probably not. Schools face the risk of diluting their following among several pages. For example, the University of Houston has, like most universities, a number of subpages for the university, including pages for the alumni association, Coogs United, fitness programs, libraries, conference center, book store, housing, campus recreation, etc. The over-proliferation of speciality pages could indicate a lack of an overall strategy or be the result of well-meaning staff taking the initiative to create a page for a specific purpose. This isn’t to say there isn’t room for any other page associated with a university, but when possible, it’s better to bring as many of those “likes” as possible under the same tent. When considering creating a new page or eliminating an old one, be sure that particular group or activity is best served by a separate community. Ask these questions first:

- Can the target audience be reached through an existing page? - Will there be enough content to sustain another community? - Do the benefits of creating a new page outweigh the costs of building an audience and maintaining it?

Facebook has relatively new functionality that gives page administrators the ability to target posts based on gender, age, location, language, interests, relationship status and educational status. Post admissions-related updates to prospective students that “like” your page by targeting age or educational status. Reach young alumni by targeting users who specify that they have graduated from your university between the ages of 22 and 30. Targeting specific posts to a segment of the general audience can achieve the benefits of a specialty page without the pitfalls of having a hundred disparate subpages. By eliminating unnecessary pages and serving more audiences within the same community you will more efficiently grow and communicate with stakeholders. 2) Tell Your Story Through Timeline Although it’s been out for a while, many universities aren’t taking full advantage of Facebook’s Timeline. Timeline can be a beautiful living history of an institution. It’s the legacy and story of a university that inspires many students to attend and alumni to donate. Go back in time to add significant moments  throughout the university’s history, rather than just the happenings A.F. (After Facebook). Take the time to also go through your more recent history and “Highlight” important posts to separate the really good stuff from the rest of the clutter. 3) Grab the Low-Hanging Fruit Many people may like their alma mater but don’t necessarily “like” their alma mater on Facebook. Those alumni may not have consciously decided not to receive updates, but they also haven’t thought to seek out and “like” the university’s page. Facebook advertising gives you the ability to easily identify and acquire this low hanging fruit. For example, just over 66,000 people “like” the University of Houston’s official Facebook page, but more than 183,000 people identify that they either attend or have attended the university. That’s more than three times the number that currently “like” the page! Perhaps even more important, this formula does not even count the friends of those people who are alumni on Facebook but have neglected to fill out that portion of their profile. When you think about the relatively low cost of acquiring and updating stakeholders of the university on a daily basis through Facebook versus the cost of a one-time direct mail campaign, it becomes a no-brainer. 4) Create Branded, Sharable Experiences Creating shareable experiences for the organization’s established community allows your content and messaging to trickle down to their networks, further increasing the university’s footprint. Imagine an app that could show a prospective student a look into what their life would look like if they attended your school. By pulling information, photos, and other elements from a users profile an app could potentially create a custom slideshow starring that person. That’s something we can picture thousands of high school juniors sharing with their friends. Maybe developing an app is skipping ahead to the Facebook AP level. The good news is that creating shareable content can be simple. How about posting the university’s homecoming parade photos to a Facebook album and encouraging students and alumni to visit, tag and share? Or creating a badge or custom profile picture for high school students who apply to a university to share with their friends? Universities are places where many important memories are made, and these organizations should connect with users’ desire to share those moments. The key is creating the type of content that users will want to share with their networks. The Bottom Line Universities have the potential to do great things on Facebook, but they need to think strategically, leverage existing resources and capitalize on the positive relationship between the university and its stakeholders. Facebook's ever-increasing capabilities (and its roots) as a school-focused network make it a platform that has been and will continue to be primed for universities to make a major element in their overall communication strategy.

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