Using Twitter for student recruitment to maximum effect

Education Dive, an education sector news aggregator, got it right when they declared, “every university is on Twitter.” The question – as we always note when we write about education marketing on ICEF Monitor – is, “And so?” In other words, they’re on Twitter, but how are they on it? How effectively are they on it?

To engage current students and attract new ones (not to mention earn the respect of peers), education institutions and recruitment-oriented professionals need more than to simply be on Twitter; they need to think of posts as proof of a strong and trustworthy brand.

We’ll look at this in our post today, as well as explore who else in the education sector can benefit from an effective Twitter presence. A follow-up post will explore how to manage a Twitter account for best results and track its performance.

Short is key

140 characters! How do you get what you need to get across – and provoke the actions you want to provoke – in so little space?

The answer is to deliver information concisely and well, eliminating any unnecessary words, and to use short links (Twitter now automatically shortens them) where needed to tell the rest of the story and/or to provoke action.

Localist, an online service that helps businesses promote their events, recently conducted a survey among thousands of people at 40 higher education institutions. Their subsequent report, “What Students Want From Your Online Calendar,” concludes that “breaking news” is the content that students most want to engage with on Twitter.

Localist found that of its survey population…

  • 28% interact with content about events;
  • 22% interact with campus news;
  • 21% interact with photos.

They highlight: “Interestingly, photos were the number one type of content for prospective students visiting a college’s twitter feed.”

Lower down on the list was news about athletics (12%), academics (8%), and videos (6%). Localist notes that Twitter is still about content that takes seconds to read, so “any video that doesn’t fit into the short and quick Twitter mould isn’t going to fare very well with students.”

However, Twitter’s introduction of Vine, a social platform that lets users create tiny, shareable movies that play in a loop, may change this stat very soon.

Localist’s survey underlines three rules of thumb for effective tweeting for education institutions with students as a main target audience:

  • Now (it’s got to be super-current);
  • Fast (tweeters expect to absorb information very quickly);
  • Useful (tweeters follow tweeters for a reason – usually information or entertainment).

But short is not everything

Localist is right in many ways, but there’s more to it than that. Education Dive recently put together a list of the “10 best university accounts – and what they do right.” Of the ones it lists, here are some of the characteristics it praises about them:

  • Of #9 Purdue University’s tweeting: “It both nurtures school spirit and promotes the university’s brand by announcing events, concerts, sports games and enthusiastically retweeting students’ descriptions of life at the school.”
  • Of #8 Texas A&M’s tweeting: “The university’s active and peppy Twitter team play Game of Thrones trivia with followers, announce ticket giveaways, drive social media campaigns and whoop gig’ em, Ags!
  • Of #7 UW-Madison’s tweeting: “It actively cheers on the Badgers’ sports teams, congratulates newly-admitted students, prompts follower interactions with its other social media operations on Pinterest and Instagram, and facilitates the student experience by promoting campus and social media events.”
  • Of #5 Syracuse University: “Perhaps the most active Twitter account on this list, @SyracuseU typically bids followers, or #OrangeNation, both good morning and good night. Syracuse’s handle tweets out campus updates, events and news, cheers on the school’s athletic teams, dishes out pro-tips for students and interacts with zealous followers. Despite its relatively small followership compared with the other schools on this list, @SyracuseU’s efficient and high-quality use of social media sets a standard other university communications teams should take note of.”
  • Of #2 Stanford’s tweeting: “As a brand, Stanford University shines through its tweets, which are essentially little virtual gateways into the school’s incredible universe. Game-changing research reports, conversation-starting video clips and forward-looking analysis all embody the quality of both the institution and its Twitter account. Clicking on one of its links rarely disappoints.”

We’ll leave #1 to Education Dive (and thank you Education Dive for the great list and analysis), but we will draw some further conclusions from their list about what makes for effective higher education tweeting.

Engagement: What we notice about all of the examples from the list above is that the universities are conversing with students. They are not simply broadcasting messages with some assumption that they will automatically get traction. They want feedback from students, and they want students’ energy to infuse their tweets (think of Purdue’s retweeting of its students’ tweets).

Focus: As much as the universities may be student-focused, they are also staying on-brand. Tweets aren’t about anything and everything – they are about the main strengths of the university, and celebrating these (see Stanford in particular).

Linking through: With the short space that Twitter allows, there is sometimes not enough time/space to prompt action/engagement. This is why it is so important to link to other platforms (e.g., Facebook, which allows for more robust content) and the school website. Very key in Education Dive’s analysis of Stanford’s tweeting was its note that “clicking through on one of its links rarely disappoints.”

If you’re going to use a link, make sure it goes to the right place and is not broken, and don’t post it unless it’s going to lead a follower to valuable content. Followers will stop clicking through on your links very quickly if they aren’t a good fit – or even unfollow you.

Twitter beyond the institution itself

Creating and nurturing a Twitter account can be useful for any type of school, association, teacher, or education agent. The questions for all these players is three-fold:

  1. “What do we want to achieve in our tweets?”
  2. “Who do we want to impress/connect with?”
  3. “What value can we provide the followers we want to attract?”

Once the first question is figured out, the next two questions fall into place. For example:

  • Q: “What do we want to achieve in our tweets?”
  • A: “We are an agency specialising in the Southeast Asian region and one of our main markets is US K-12 boarding schools – we want to be seen as an expert on the Southeast Asian market and as a trusted source for our students.”

Here, the answers to the next two questions begin to emerge:

  • Q: “Who do we want to impress/connect with?”
  • A: “We need to impress/connect with all those associated with US K-12 boarding schools, and Southeast Asian students who may be interested in them. Therefore, we do a search for all the educators in this area (here’s an example of a similar search as well as the hashtags associated with them).”
  • Q: “What value can we provide the followers we want to attract?”
  • A: “We know our students, and what they are looking for. So we can post about this, or link to sources we know of (or have written ourselves) about this. We have our successful students as assets, so we can retweet these students’ tweets and showcase their success or celebration at gaining acceptance to our institution. We can provide interesting news on education in the Southeast Asian region. We can show we know the education field by linking to good articles we know our followers will be interested in, and by commenting on them. We can tweet the awards or other recognition we receive, or tweet about our attendance at prestigious and reputation-building events.”

Sometimes the business-to-business goals of an education professional will not be business related, but something else such as knowledge-building. This, too, is easy to do on Twitter by asking versions of the same questions above. And again, always making sure to add value to the followers one is seeking. For more on the B2B angle, see MediaShift’s article illustrating how “Twitter is reinventing collaboration among educators.”

Follow to gain followers – but discriminately

Very important to any Twitter presence is the follower profile. The idea here is to get as many followers related to one’s particular focus and goals as possible (i.e., not hundreds and hundreds without enough selection), and the best way to do that is to follow the people you want to have follow you. One really easy way to find the right kind of followers is Twitter Search, where you can type in your field of interest (e.g.,“language schools”) and Twitter will pop up all those who are tweeting in this area. You can then follow them.

Another way to find out whom to follow, and which hashtags to use, is to discover and collect them at events. Many people are now putting their Twitter handles right on their business cards, and hashtags will often show up in presentations.

Once you have the right kind of followers, remember that it’s not a numbers game.

Too many tweeters get caught up in how many followers they have, and forget that Twitter is really about an exchange. It’s a conversation.

You listen and learn, and you dip in with relevant tweets to add to the quality of the conversation. When someone you follow posts something interesting on Twitter, let them know you found it useful: retweet it (selectively – not all the time or that becomes tedious) or “favourite” it.

Review the basics

If “Twitter handle,” “hashtags”, or “retweets” still seem like a foreign language to you (and they do to many, don’t worry) it’s a great idea to review one of the many excellent and often free guides on the web for a foundation in the basics. We found a great one at Hubspot, Edudemic has a good post explaining dos and don’ts of using Twitter, and Twitter itself has a robust help centre, including this glossary on how to make sense of its terms and language.

Next up: a little more on how to manage a Twitter account and fine-tune the value you can get out of it – including performance tracking. See our follow up post here.



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