Top 5 Mistakes Colleges Make with Social Media Marketing

college marketing


It fascinates me to end that while most colleges offer classes and/or degrees in business, very few of the organizations are actually practicing what they teach. If anything, colleges should provide the very model of how to conduct business online. Unfortunately, due to limited resources and the disconnect between faculty and staff, this is not the case. What I often find is that colleges are behind the curve when it comes to digital marketing, design, and especially social media.


Currently, I’m following approximately 250 higher education institutions on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Linkedin, and Tumblr. I see the same mistakes being made across the board, both by two year schools, universities, for-profit colleges, and those who specialize in MBA programs. Many of these mistakes are also being made by other businesses. Of course, there are many more issues, but these are the 5 most common mistakes that I see colleges making when it comes to social media marketing:

  1. Not Removing or Shortening URL’s in Posts: (Hopefully) you know that writing content for social media is quite a bit different than writing for a print publication. Attention spans are shorter and users want you to get to the point. So, space shouldn’t be wasted with long URL’s, especially on Facebook or Twitter posts. Some sites, like Facebook and Linkedin will up a new separate window when you post a URL. Once that box is up, you can delete the URL from your post but your link box will still be active.

    Take an extra step by using a URL shortening service like, especially when using Twitter. Not only will the link use fewer characters, but the results can be measured too ( tracks the number of clicks). You can also use the service for QR codes as well, allowing you to track the their effectiveness on your print materials.

  2. Not Changing the Headlines or Content Box: When you share a link on Facebook and the box appears, you have the ability to change the headline as well as the body of text that appears below. Often times, the headline is generated based on the page. If it is an event listing or news item, chances are that the title either does not fit within the 100 character limit, or it is exceptionally boring.

    You can actually click on the title to change it and make it more enticing. You can click on the body of text and add something more interesting (such as a quote or unique fact). Remember, there is a 100 character limit so take your time to write something that creates interest. When you do share the link, issue a call to action.

  3. Not Creating Something Worth Liking, Commenting On, or Sharing: Does your social media stream look like a long list of announcements? Are most of your posts about your brand? If so, it’s probably no wonder that your engagement levels are awful.

    Here’s the most basic rule of social media: if you want people to share your content, create something worth sharing. What you think is interesting and important is not as important as what your audience thinks.

    Fans will be more likely to share if it’s compelling and framed to share. If is a Twitter post, leave plenty of space so they can RT, tag other users, or attach a comment. If it is a Facebook post, combine the post with an image.

  4. Failing to Use Integrate New Media with Traditional Marketing: A large, local college recently mailed out its summer schedule with interesting articles, community education classes, and information about the difference they are making in the community. However, they failed to include any mention of their social media channels on any of the pages. There are prime opportunities to elevate the experience of print marketing: invite readers to share their story online, have a QR code or link to a video that offers more information, creating a space that shows the deeper experience offered online. The marketing pieces of an organization should complement one another.

  5. Only Responding During Business Hours: One of the most important things to understand about digital business is that it often demands responses outside of the traditional work week. Sometimes, a PR crisis can brew quickly, over a weekend (especially the weekend before finals week or during periods where college servers might be overrun). Sometimes, it is something as simple as inappropriate content being posted that should be quickly removed. In the age of social media, audiences demand instant responses.

    In addition, studies indicate that the most popular times for users of social media often fall outside of the traditional work week: Saturday mornings, Thursday evenings, etc. If the greatest potential to reach your target audience is outside of office hours, why aren’t the hours adjusted? Even if you preschedule social media posts, you still won’t be able to respond to inquiries.

    There is no justifiable excuse for having social media managers not in an exempt status: these employees are your frontlines when it comes to dealing with angry students or members of the community. If you are using conducting business on a social media channel, you need to abide the arbitrary rules of the medium…and that includes meeting the demand of responses around the clock.

I understand that there is often a disconnect between what colleges teach and what they practice. First, most hire professionals who have direct business experience to teach classes, not to assist with marketing. Unfortunately, most of our higher education institutions have few resources or limiting hiring practices that do not allow them to hire experienced individuals who specialize in this field. Second, digital marketing is a fairly new field and even the business world is struggling to find ways to leverage these new tools to create a profit. There are many unspoken rules to social media. While there are many heavy internet users, there is a difference between being able to manage multiple marketing channels and knowing how to post memes on Facebook. It is a unique skill set that is especially difficult to find in individuals who are familiar with the higher education industry.

That being said, I hope that more colleges invest more resources in this field because there is so much potential. A strong recruitment and retention campaign will pay for itself many times over. Using social media properly will help strengthen relationships with the community, alumni, and prospective students. Besides, no college wants to be accused of being a “newb.”

Some of the other mistakes I see but didn’t cover: knowing the difference between a Facebook page and Facebook place account, handling “rogue” accounts, managing multiple department pages in the same institution, not having a social media policy, and linking to files (like Word docs or pdf’s) instead of landing pages. If you’d like to see more in this area, drop me a line.

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