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Advanced Social Media Strategies for Student Affairs

Advanced social media strategies header
For twelve years my professional home was in the division of student affairs. I still love the intersection of campus life, learning and leadership. So it is no surprise that at least half of my campus and conference speaking and consulting engagements are with divisions of student affairs across the country.

When I first began this work, I found that I needed to document the value-add of these platforms, so student affairs divisions could tell their story. This included a lot of basic tutorials, strategy, and support. However, we are beyond platform adoption. If anything, many departments housed under student affairs desperately need to audit, improve and/or delete their accounts due to little or no activity or interest.

Part of the reason so many student affairs-related social media pages do not last or are able to produce quality is staffing and support. What I find is that, unlike an enrollment management or university marketing office, student affairs divisions or departments may be tacking on social media management in addition to dozens of other major functions of their jobs.

In a future post, I’ll talk about the value of centralizing your marketing efforts in divisions such as student affairs, because the pressures keep coming to be innovated, on more platforms and see higher engagement. For today I am going to share five advanced tactics specifically for those tasked with engaging current students and the larger campus community.

1. Find and Activate your Student Influencers

Influencer marketing isn’t just a tactic in corporate. There are real opportunities in higher education to leverage influencers to help promote your campus, and even your division. Don’t believe me? Campus Sonar has a great blog post detailing how influencers can actually have tangible and strategic impact on your marketing.

One of the hurdles I hear most often is that it’s difficult to find our student influencers. After all, it’s not like every college campus has celebrity attendees sitting in 8 AM lectures. When most people hear influencers they think big names like Lily Singh or Casey Niestat. What most people don’t realize is that micro-influencers (accounts with 30,000 or fewer followers) have 60% more engagement than the big names because they’ve built trust and a much closer relationship with their audiences.

Check out this infographic from Sidney Pierucci for why you should seek micro-influencers:

Infographic source: Sidney Pierucci, Medium.

There are plenty of students on your campus who are well known and active on social media who could be great partners. One quick place to start is with students in university or college related roles, from resident assistants to student-athletes, especially since they should be familiar with how to represent your campus’ brand. Members of Greek life and student organizations are also majorly connected and many are happy to share messages that feel important to them. However, don’t just turn to your students in leadership positions.

I want you to think of yourself as a talent agent and hit the streets (online and on-campus) to discover an up and coming influencer. Search your campus tag location on Instagram, hashtags on Twitter and Instagram and search key terms on YouTube. Heck, even see if you have anyone on your campus with lots of followers on Twitch! Doing this search you will may find quality photographers, videographers, vloggers, bloggers and more.

Some of you may even have bona-fide influencers on your campus with a reach that goes way beyond your campus. On the podcast, I spoke with Sabrina Cruz, a YouTuber and university student who’s partnered with her university to help produce promotional videos.

This advanced tactic doesn’t have to be just handing over social media to students to manage (even though students should totally be part of your strategy), it is about featuring them and activating their campus influence consistently.

ISU has a great example of a campus Influencer program The #YourRedbirdLife Student Digital Influencer team is a group of students who use their own personal networks to increase brand awareness and engagement with the Division of Student Affairs at Illinois State University. Here’s one example of the content they help create:


2. Be Digital Historians

Feeling stuck on what kind of content you should be sharing? I have a challenge for you: think back to last year and make a list of every campus event or activity that your division put on or took part in. Feel free to take a break if your hand starts cramping up writing them out! If you’re anything like most student affairs professionals, that list is probably very long. I have good news: that list of events is also a juicy list of opportunities to capture super shareable content – that should be broken down further into microcontent!

I recently did a benchmarking project as part of a consulting contract with a university that compared 10 centralized division of student affairs accounts. I conducted a deep dive into their accounts and posts, and I found that the most successful student affairs departments are the ones who act as digital historians. They constantly capture video and photo content that brought their events, activities, services, and teams to life. The departments that do so, see engagement rates that are approximately 1.63 times higher on Instagram and see 2.29 times more engagements like retweets, replies, and likes on Twitter.

Weber State’s Student Affairs Division is a fantastic example of how to be a digital historian. Scrolling through their Instagram, you can see snapshots from all kinds of events. Each moment that they share, from a sideline picture of a football game to a great group picture at a freshman welcome event to graduation, shows off student life at Weber State.

The Department of Student Affairs at UTSA’s Twitter account is the perfect example of how to record and share an event before, during, and after the event. Check out these tweets about a recent football game:

Whenever you’re at an event, take a quick moment to snap some pictures or capture some video. Capturing the moments that matter to the people you’re trying to connect with can have a huge impact on your social media.

Digital historians need to come from everywhere, not just the person in charge of marketing or social media. Create a centralized way to share images, videos or even reflections, such as on google drive. Also, seek out User Generated Content (UGC) during and after the event or experience, search for relevant hashtags and tagged locations. Of course, always ask permission and give credit when you re-share. This post from Stony Brook Student Affairs shows how simple and easy it can be to share and give credit where credit is due:

3. Live stream, video production & Instagram stories

One of the surest ways to get your content noticed on social media is to use video content. According to a 2018 HubSpot survey, “54% of consumers wanted to see more video content from a brand or business they support.” Remember that point about being a digital historian from earlier? One of the easiest ways to start incorporating video is to film events as they’re happening, even if they’re short clips.

This quick clip from CSUF Student Affairs is less than 10 seconds long but attracted some serious engagement:

Speaking of quick clips, Instagram Stories are a simple way to share moments that feel organic and not overly produced. In fact, that’s the whole appeal of Instagram stories! Katie Maier’s blog post about using Instagram Stories in higher education is packed with fantastic advice on how to incorporate it into your social strategy. Not sure what kind of content to put on an Instagram story? Check out this Infographic from Brandwatch:

Infographic Source: Brandwatch

Another way to stand out is to look into live streaming opportunities. Telescope did some research into Facebook Live videos vs traditional videos on Facebook and found that “Live videos on Facebook have an engagement rate of 4.3% compared to 2.2% for non-live videos.” One way that I’ve seen universities start out with live streaming is setting up a live stream for graduation or for speakers who visit campus. It’s an incredible way to amplify an event and get people involved with it who may not have otherwise had the chance to do so! Yale’s website has a great example of how to document and promote big events like graduation.

Your live streams also don’t have to be very long to leave an impact. The Division of Student Affairs at the University of Arkansas proves that short live streams can draw plenty of views too! Every year for their annual giving campaign, they do a series of short live streams that get lots of views, likes, and shares. That’s especially impressive considering that many posts about annual giving campaigns typically see little to no engagement!

4. Evaluate & Analyze Pages.

One critical component of a successful social media strategy in Student Affairs is diving into the analytics and seeing what works and what areas you can improve on. When you’re making your social media plans, it’s important to establish what metrics are important to your goals.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what each of these metrics actually are:

    1. Post reach is the volume of people who see your posts. This is typically measured by the number of unique impressions your posts get.
    2. Post Engagements are the likes, comments, shares, retweets, and/or views on a post. Post reach shows you how many people saw your post, but post engagements can tell you how compelling people find your content.
    3. Engagement Rate is a ratio tells you what percentage of people who saw your post went one step further and engaged with it. It can be calculated with the following formula: (# of post engagements ÷ # of impressions) x 100.
    4. Click Through Rate measures what percentage of people who saw your post actually clicked the links you include in your content. It can be calculated with the following formula: clicks ÷ impressions

Sprout Social has a great overview of “all the social media metrics that matter” including the I mentioned above and where to find them in on-platform dashboards like Twitter Analytics or Facebook Insights.
Once you’ve figured out the metrics you want to track, you’ll want to set up some benchmarks based on internal and external data. This can sometimes feel like a daunting task, especially when there are so many tools and platforms out there that can get pretty expensive. I’ve found a few free tools that can help you examine the pages and profiles of both you and your competitors:

  • Meltwater Likealyzer – This tool is built to analyze all parts of your Facebook pages, from the overall look and presentation of the page to the nitty-gritty details about engagement and balance of post types.
  • Twitonomy – One of my favorite things about this tool is that you can search for any account on Twitter and see details on how engaging their posts are, how often they post, and how many of their posts are original vs. retweets.
  • Phlanx Engagement Calculator – This tool gives you a very high-level look at the Instagram engagement on just about any account you search for, including the average number of likes and comments posts on that account gets.
  • Klear – This one has the most limited free version, allowing you to only look at 5 accounts per day, but it does an excellent job of pulling the top performing posts from the accounts you search for. This tool is especially useful for qualitative comparisons between accounts

5. Audit, Reorganize and/or Centralize Your Pages.

Take a minute to think about every social media account in your student affairs division. Most of you will probably be able to list several accounts that are all run by different professionals and students. What I often see happen is that some accounts have really strong performance, while others have low activity, interest or engagement levels.
Here is the equation that I have found:

The reality is that not every department in student affairs, no matter how big your university or department is, needs a full time marketing professional. 9/10 do not do this. I also understand the battle that would be faced when closing down accounts to have one centralized social media presence for the division. 9/10 do not do this.
So what should you do?

  1. Audit all pages in the division. This should include: who runs what account, how much time they spend on social media management weekly, their basic data points such as followers and engagement rate and if they believe the pages are meeting their objectives and goals. Documentation should also include how social media is aligned to the mission and deliverables of that department/area.
  2. Have all social media managers (anyone running an account) set goals for their accounts that should be tracked throughout the year and reported on.
  3. After this audit, goal setting and tracking, it’s time to get real. Are these accounts helping students and your division/department objectives…or are they just busy work?

Identifying the accounts that are struggling through this basic audit process should not happen overnight. Sometimes professional development and resources are required to get accounts improving and re-energized. Here are a few resources to get you started:

In some cases, consolidation may be an alternative to “closing down” accounts. I find that many areas within student affairs fall under certain themes or clusters, such as health and wellness. For example, the counseling center, health center, outdoor recreation, etc. The key here is that these areas must align with mission, tactics and even personality to make one themed page work.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you start to re-organize your pages:

  1. How active are the pages in your division? Do they post consistently or is it more of a “post when you can” situation?
  2. Do the teams running a page have enough resources or time? Would another team have the resources needed to amplify their messages?
  3. How similar is the content across your division’s pages?
  4. Would the posts on one account make sense on another account?
  5. How much strategy is behind the posts on each page? What are the goals for each account and are they accomplishing them?

As far as a centralized Student Affairs Marketing strategy, well, I’ll have to keep you on the edge of your seats. For now, I end with a number of centralized pages in student affairs that I love.

Advanced Strategy Superstars in Student Affairs

Need a little more inspiration? I’ve compiled a list of student affairs divisions that are great examples of what these strategies look like in practice. I highly recommend checking out their pages and following them!


Texas A&M Student Affairs (@TAMUDSA): This department isn’t afraid to experiment with posts in unique video formats and they’ve got an incredibly high engagement rate.

Illinois State University (@StudentAffairsISU): Their use of student influencers and high-quality video productions lead to excellent engagement with their campus community.


UTSA (@UTSAStudents): The Student Affairs Division at UTSA has mastered the art of being digital historians. They capture moments that connect with the students they serve and they do it often.

University of Georgia (@UGAStudent): This Division’s student spotlights highlight student influencers across campus while balancing


Weber State (@weberstatestudentaffairs): The team behind the Weber State student affairs social media have a high engagement rate and their snapshots are high-quality reflections of their campus and their brand.

Virginia Tech (@vtdsa): This one consolidated account covers a wide variety of campus activities and students across campus in candid moments.

Final Thoughts

These advanced strategies are just a few ways to stand out and amplify your existing social media. Ready for even more ways to jumpstart your student affairs social media strategy?
Check out the speaking I offer for administrators, faculty and even students – click here to learn more! Ready for your division or department to get serious about your social media strategy? Contact me at josie@josieahlquist.com to learn about my monthly, semester, and year-long consulting services.

About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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