Creating A Social Campus

Six steps that lay the groundwork for utilizing social media in higher education


Social media is an ever evolving and changing landscape. Every day new trends, graphics, quotes, and water cooler topics develop. But one thing is constant: social media’s influence on the public. As a result, it is critical for brands to engage on social media — even institutions of higher education.

That said, a plan and strategy must be developed to best engage potential fans and followers. This plan must be flexible enough for the unexpected update to be posted, or deleted, but stable enough to operate seamlessly, without unnecessary last-minute planning. Likewise, a social media plan must work in harmony with the brand’s larger strategic communication goals.

The first major step to an effective content strategy is to post a social media calendar. The calendar is the hub for all the brand’s social media activity and information. Every post, photo, tweet, and blog post is listed on this calendar. Additionally, major holiday and institutional events should be included as a reminder to post information about that holiday. Similarly, the social media calendar should be available to the institution’s key players because it is the catalyst to broadcast each department’s unique voice to the world. A sample university social media plan is outlined below.

The Importance of a Social Media Plan in Higher Education

Having a social media plan is crucial to the advancement of any university’s goals and mission. It allows staff to strategically reach out to the university’s key demographics: prospective and current students, faculty/staff, alumni, parents, and surrounding communities. A social media plan also allows staff to place messaging in key locations and leverage all the university’s social media platforms.

A social media plan is not meant to limit or deter individual groups, such as departments, clubs, divisions, or schools, from generating their own content or creating their own posting. However, it is meant to focus the media platforms to give the target audience a clear origin of communication.

A social media plan is not meant to limit or deter individual groups, such as departments, clubs, divisions, or schools, from generating their own content or creating their own posting. However, it is meant to focus the media platforms to give the target audience a clear origin of communication.

Although the social media calendar serves as the unifier of institutional actions, it is necessary that a point person manage the plan and the calendar. The figure below provides an illustration of the hub and spoke model for a social media plan. As the figure illustrates, individual groups can control their domain but ultimately link to the social media coordinator.

Hub and Spoke Model

Six Steps to Create a Social Media Plan

Adapted from HootSuite’s Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan

Step 1: Create social media objectives and goals

A university’s social media goals should be in line with larger marketing goals and be implemented as part of its content creation strategy. The S.M.A.R.T. model is one tool the university can use to set effective goals and establish clear tasks. It’s a simple tool used by businesses to go beyond vague goal-setting into an actionable plan for results. Smart goal setting can add clarity, focus and purpose to building a brand. S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for the five steps of specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based goals, which are defined as:


  • Well defined
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project


  • Know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is
  • Know when it has been achieved

Achievable/Agreed Upon

  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be


  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time


  • Enough time to achieve the goal
  • Not too much time, which can affect project performance based
SMART GOAL: As a university’s advancement office, we will unify the three major networks and begin to explore new networks to use from May until by the end of the summer.
Tasks based on goal: We will strive to post at least four times per week with Facebook, seven times per week on Twitter, and two times per week on Instagram.

Step 2: Social Media Audit

Step two is to conduct an audit of of your institution on social media. This including finding official pages, student organization pages, alumni groups, and fan pages. It also includes finding popular hashtags used on social media- whether they be positive or negative. When recording notes for each page, it’s important to note when the last update was made on the page and if it can easily be linked to an organization (a university division, office, student group, alumni group, etc), and if they have a contact email or phone number listed.

Once the audit is complete, the next step is reaching out to the administrators of each page to work their goals and messaging into the larger social media conversation. The flip side is to also close out any pages that aren’t active or merge duplicate pages.

While people- students and employees- come and go, the social media platforms created live on. As mentioned above, page administrators for each official or pseudo-official page (student organizations, divisions, etc) and access should be given to the social media or communications office if the group is not a student organization or the student affairs/ student development division if it is a student organization to ensure continuity of operations as students transition between roles frequently.

Step 3: Improve Existing Accounts

Step three is the most time-consuming part of creating a social media plan. This step requires the coordinator to review each existing network, shut down those that are inactive, ensure the quality and accuracy of the information, and empower users to regain control of their accounts by updating the content on their pages. There are several models to have content created on social media, but one model is having content driven by the offices and having them submit to a central social media administrator. Instead of just one central office writing the content for all the social media platforms, each office is asked to submit posts and photos about upcoming events so they too have ownership over the content-creation process.

During this step, the auditors should ensure that each page has at least the minimum amount of information — the about or biography sections on each network, an email to contact the group, and clearly identify as part your institution. This helps potential fans like the page for the correct university and not a similar institution (think: university systems with multiple campuses or schools with like names).

Step 4: Find Inspiration

The fourth step is the most enjoyable — examining peer and aspirant institutions, as well as institutions located near the campus to see how those brands develop their own goals and use various social media. By looking at what inspires the social media group and what the community enjoys, we can better understand how the university’s social media platforms should function.

During this step, the advancement office should look internally at who makes up the university community and find talent to contribute content to social media. This might be a talented faculty member who is researching a relevant topic on the news of the day. It might be a student who wrote a paper about an event on or off campus, or a student with an interesting internship on which we can “day in the life” series.

Step 5: Social Media Calendar

The Social Media Calendar is the great uniter of all of these forces. It unites all the spokes of the university’s social media by displaying organization plans on a single page. The calendar reminds content creators to post on the page and to maintain accuracy. The calendar can help spur ideas for content, and it can help unify group messaging.

Research shows prospective students are not looking at just one page or piece of literature or one profile when they apply to universities. Instead, they look at multiple profiles from official pages as well as student profiles that are public. Consistent messaging across the brand can ensure the messages being posted are representative of the education and experience a student receives at a university, that gives the university’s brand receives a leg up.

Step 6: Try It Out

Social media is changing every day and new platforms and ideas are constantly being discovered and developed. For example, if you were told two months ago that with the click of a button you could broadcast a live event from your phone and gain thousands of followers ( using their phones) instantly, you might not have believed it. But now tools such as Meerkat and Periscope allow users to do this very action. Nobody knows what the next step will be but the framework provided in this plan is flexible enough to adapt to the ever-changing social media world. This plan should be constantly re-evaluated and reshaped based on the needs and plans of the university. A plan is only useful if it relevant.

Closing Thoughts

With any social media publication, this guide is only meant to be a starting point. Specifically, a starting point for a conversation about the uses of social media, the brand of the organization, and leveraging what an organization is known for on social media. The conversations and social media plan that stem from this guide will remind companies and employees that social media can help an organization grow.

If you have anything to add, share it below in the comments!
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