eduWeb 2017 Recap

The BU social team was fortunate to attend eduWeb Digital Summit this summer, a conference focused on promoting higher education communications excellence. This year, the summit was held right in our backyard, in Boston’s Back Bay. The conference spans everything from websites, to content marketing, UX and mobile design and strategy all the way to (our favorite) social media. Though I primarily attended presentations on the Social Media track, there were some interesting takeaways from keynotes applicable to all of those working in higher ed. Below, I outline some of our favorite presentations and takeaways from this year’s gathering:

Social Listening:

One of the presentations I was most excited to attend was Dr. Liz Gross’ session on social listening. Since our team recently adopted a social listening tool, I was ready to hear about the best practices for using it and implementing a data-driven approach to content marketing. Some of the big uses of social listening, according to Dr. Gross?

  1. Identifying User-Generated Content to engage with and amplify
  2. Identify Content Gaps: Is there a chasm between the topics your audience is discussing and those in your current content library? Social listening can help you identify area for improvement and use data to convince internal stakeholders that specific pieces of content are worth investing in and have a captive and engaged audience.
  3. Create Social Media and Brand Campaigns: Are there certain keywords you constantly see being associated with your brand or institution? Is there a way to capitalize on this volume with a social campaign?

Liz emphasized that because social listening provides vast amounts of information, it’s important to approach the data with specific research questions or goals in mind. Otherwise, information overload may take over and it can be easy to lose focus or insights. . She emphasized, as we’ve come to see here at BU that,“social listening is a strategic investment to get closer to your students, audience and community.”

E-Expectations on Social:

Our Day 2 Lunchtime keynote was the presentation of the 2017 E-Expectation Report results. This annually compiled report identifies the communication behaviors and expectations of prospective students and their parents. While it was chock-full of useful information for enrollment managers and admissions folks, a few points stood out to me from a social media manager perspective:

While Snapchat is the number one platform used among prospective students, it is not thought of as a useful channel to learn about college. I had to ask, is that because we — as #HESM (Higher Ed Social Media) folks — aren’t doing a good job showcasing our schools on that platform, or is it because it’s not a space where students want to hear from us? Interestingly, the data showed that when they do use Snapchat, students are doing so in ways we encourage (viewing our Stories and watching student takeovers). As the report noted, the relative new growth of the platform and time commitment required most likely represent a barrier to entry for many colleges and universities. Instead, students are turning to Facebook as their primary source to gather more information.

I also found it interesting to hear how prospective students and their families are coming to find universities’ social channels. Over 50% of students find social media channels through the university’s website, highlighting the importance of giving social icons a prominent presence on web pages. Perhaps less obvious, 4 in 10 people are connecting with us on social based on links found in emails and 1 in 3 students find college social accounts on college planning sites, by searching the platform directly or via an ad on a social network. It got me wondering if we’re spending enough time and resources ensuring distribution and accuracy of our primary social networks to these channels.

Ultimately, social media is one channel — and not the primary one — which students are using to research colleges. It can act as a supporter but is not the primary decision-making factor. However, when we are reaching prospective students in these spaces, we should make sure the content is tailored to their specific interests. According to the report, this is the content prospective students care most about, in descending order:

  1. Social life at college

2. How to pay for college

3. What will it be like in class

4. What’s it like in the dorms

5. Campus Events

Instagram Stories:

As someone who has been hesitant about Instagram Stories, out of a bizarre sense of brand loyalty to Snapchat, I was particularly intrigued by BYU’s Jon McBride’s presentation on their use of Instagram Stories. If you don’t believe that these stories are proliferating, Jon’s presentation told the tale — Instagram Stories have more daily users than Snapchat and people are spending more time in the Instagram app than ever before. Despite Facebook’s entry into Stories as well, Instagram Stories remain the most viewed Stories across any social media platform. After watching Jon’s presentation, it was easy to see why. The production value on some of BYU’s Stories is unparalleled! Following the presentation, I had a few thoughts about the advantages of Instagram Stories over other platforms:

  1. Discoverability: The ability to tag other people and places and make use of hashtags in Instagram Stories is an obvious bonus. In addition, this content can be found on the ‘Discover’ tab of the app, instantly providing opportunities to expand your reach that simply don’t exist with Snapchat.
  2. Aesthetics: Instagram stories are absolutely beautiful. There’s more editing options, background colors for text, and multiple text boxes can be added to each post.
  3. Upload Pre-Recorded Content: The biggest advantage I see is being able to upload pre-recorded videos or pre-designed and edited photos/graphics from your mobile device to an Instagram story (granted they’re less than 24 hours old). While this is possible with Snapchat, it’s clunky and less visually appealing. Some of the Instagram Stories Jon showed from BYU looked like seamless, full-production value visuals and that’s something we — and many others in higher ed — will aspire to.

We Aren’t Marketing to Millennials Anymore:

Newsflash! The students who are on our campuses now — and who we’re hoping will come — are actually Generation Z, and they’re pretty different from Millennials. How so? According to Drake University’s Jeremy Sievers and Niki Smith, this generation has a shorter attention span and they’re using social media primarily as a community — not as a broadcast platform. This puts them in strict contrast to millennials. The implication for social media managers is that we have to both seek out — and create and nurture — these communities online rather than expecting our audiences to come to us. Interestingly, this generation also has a lot of social media anxiety despite the fact that they’re connected to the internet for an average of 10 hours per day. Ultimately, my takeaways from this presentation echo best practices on social: Be authentic, seek to make meaningful connections with your community, celebrate individuality and build trust.

Social Media Does Matter!

Finally, one feel-good piece for all the social media managers out there. As part of her Master’s degree coursework, Texas Tech alum (and Coordinator of Digital Engagement) Allison Matherly, did some primary source research on the impact of social media on the undergraduate student experience. As marketing and communications folks, we often forget how to connect the metrics that matter to us — engagements, traffic, followers — to University goals like recruitment, retention and student satisfaction. In recognition of this, Allison set out to discover, do social media engagements really matter?

What she found after coding thousands of tweets? The more direct interactions a student had with the school’s Twitter account, the higher their levels of social identification as a student and therefore, overall satisfaction and retention. Mic drop!

The importance of social was also echoed in a keynote from University of Michigan’s Nikki Sunstrum emphasizing the importance of social media knowledge in the digital age and calling on those who possess it to act as teachers and advocates for administrators, students and folks whose understanding is less robust.

Finally, I got my new favorite quote about why social is so darn powerful from #eduweb17.


What were your favorite moments from the conference? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

p.s. I may be warming up to Instagram Stories, but I remain #TeamSnapchat

By: Emily Truax, Assistant Director of Social Media, Boston University