Community and connection through Facebook

In 2018, Facebook announced an algorithm change to address user feedback about business pages and marketing promotions flooding newsfeeds.

This change meant that users would now see more family and friend posts, and their content would show up, or rank, in relation to the posts they interact within a “meaningful” way. Facebook measured this by the length of time a user spends watching a video, leaving a comment, or sharing a post. In short, if a user doesn’t start conversations with content, the user will see that content less.

Individual Business Pages scrambled to figure out if and how the change would affect their marketing efforts and engagement rates. While some pages felt the hit more than others, it caused the page owners to put thought into creating relationships. They had to realize what their valued followers actually want to see.

What does this mean for higher ed?

For college and university social media accounts, managers have many goals to consider at all times, but the focus should go beyond just encouraging engagement with audiences. Social media must prioritize connections with students a top priority, and work to create a dialogue around topics that matter to them.

Up&Up has partnered with Rival IQ for the fourth year in a row to create the 2019 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report. For the past two years, the University of Iowa has topped the Facebook engagement charts. This year, Iowa scored the No. 1 position on the Cross Channel Leaders list, thanks to the focus they put on building community across platforms, like Facebook.

The Iowa social team wants to use the channel as a two-way communication channel, where they not only speak but also listen.

“We’re laser-focused on understanding our audience and providing content they value,” said Michael Benning, Social Media Director for the University of Iowa Office of Strategic Communications. “It’s often less about telling the audience what we want them to hear and more about understanding what they value hearing from us.”

Benning explained that the team provides content in a bite-sized, digestible format. For instance, instead of writing a two-sentence text intro that links to a longer piece of content, they’ll often also include a set of 5-6 photographs that help communicate the information in the post. The team will then add captions to each of the photographs, explaining valuable pieces of the larger story.

Another way they focus on involvement is by providing opportunities to strengthen community. Whether that’s by asking users to share or comment, their audience jumps in to participate with other followers.

“For example, last summer, on July 29, we shared some really cool photos of our students and alumni with Hawkeye flags in different parts of the world,” Benning said. “We simply suggested the audience share their own photos, and we had more than 100 pictures posted in the comments. Our audience then engages with one another in uplifting in positive ways too.”

Since Iowa has built those relationships, they feel comfortable talking with their audience on an emotional level when appropriate. For example, they shared a moving video of their students calling home and showing appreciation for their family members, resulting in followers tagging their friends and family. 

When we put relationships at the front of our social media efforts, the “wins” like retaining students and attracting new ones come naturally.

To learn more tips and tricks to help boost your online presence, download 2019 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report.

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