Lessons Learned: Best Practices in Higher Ed Social Media

On the latest Higher Voltage podcast we dive into all things social media strategy and execution in higher ed.

By: Higher Voltage
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What do skeleton calendars, dessert videos, and student ambassadors have in common? They’re all vital to social media strategy in higher ed.

On the latest Higher Voltage, we discuss best practices with three experts who live this every day. Liz Gross, the CEO of social listening agency Campus Sonar, has compiled answers to all the questions she gets online and at conferences and that she has ruminated on for years, and turned it into a free ebook titled “Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy: A Guide for College Campuses.” Joining her are Anice Barbosa, Digital Marketing Specialist of Wheaton College, and AJ Lopez III, Assistant Director for Digital Marketing and Social Media of Midwestern State University, who share their best practices, their common challenges, and solutions.

And we did not know it at the time of recording, but this is the final episode that Heather Dotchel will lead as host of Higher Voltage, as she heads off to exciting new opportunities. We bid her adieu and good luck, and the podcast will return soon with a new host!

Read the full transcript

Heather:
Hello and welcome to Higher Voltage. Our podcast explores the ins and outs of higher education marketing and touches on all aspects of the business of higher education. My name is Heather Dotchel. I’m a Philadelphia based marketing and communication professional who most recently led the [inaudible 00:00:21] divisions two area colleges. Higher Voltage is brought to you by Sales Force.

Heather:
Today’s higher ed marketers are faced with new challenges and must expand beyond their traditional tactics to engage with constituents. Learn how Sales Force empowers institutions of all sizes to unify first party data, build and measure targeted campaigns and deliver personalized messaging across channels. Visit SalesForce.org to learn more about how Sales Force can help your institution meet its goals.

Heather:
Today we are speaking with three professionals from across the country. First up is Dr. Liz Gross, CEO of Campus Sonar. Joining her are Anise Barbosa, digital marketing specialist of Wheaton College, and AJ Lopez III, assistant director for digital marketing and social media of Midwestern State University. Welcome all.

Liz:
Excited to be here.

Heather:
We are here because Liz has released an amazing free resource for higher education ostensibly, but also one that reverberates beyond our corner of marketing and communications. Fundamentals of Social Media Strategy, a guide for college campuses is exactly that, an A to Z nuts and bolts explanation of everything you need to get your social media on track. You can use it to bring into fruition a new and shiny strategy or to evaluate and retool your existing efforts.

Heather:
Liz, tell us about yourself and about the journey and motivation for this book please.

Liz:
I’ll keep the bit about myself nice and short. I am a … Well, we’ll see. I am a lifetime higher education professional. I’m one of those folks who realized when they were in college, that college could be a job and have since always worked in higher education. But I found a lot of different ways to do it. For the last three and a half years, that has been at Campus Sonar.

Liz:
The journey for this book is really fascinating and it started long before Campus Sonar ever existed. If you ever read through to the acknowledgements at the end, which have become my favorite part of other author’s books to read lately, I mention that this book came from failure. I actually was asked probably seven years ago now, when I was supposed to be writing my dissertation, I accepted an offer to write a book chapter for a soon to be published book about education and social media. I was asked to write really a guide for marketing communication and social media.

Liz:
I put off working on my dissertation and I wrote this book chapter instead, and worked my butt off to meet the deadline. Turned it in and, within a week, was told that they had changed their mind and they weren’t going to publish the chapter as part of the book. About six months later, after feeling a little bit defeated and over it, I realized I had all these words that could still have a use and I published it as an eBook. I think that would have been about 2015.

Liz:
I went personal website. It was 20 pages. It was a really quick $10 download, and just let it stay there. Then after a couple of years, I made it free. People would trickle in, download it here and there. At the end of 2019, downloads started spiking and I was intrigued, but also slightly embarrassed because what I had written five years prior was not what I wanted people to be reading in 2019.

Liz:
So I made the decision that it needed an update. I talked it over with my marketing manager and we decided that Campus Sonar should use this as a project. My quick little update of my 20 page eBook became 20 chapters and over 300 pages. I had told Bree, my marketing manager, that I’d write it real quick in maybe a month or two. It took nine months I think, so it’s basically a baby.

Heather:
Famous last writing words.

Liz:
Yeah. It’s how the book came to be. When I sat down, it started to write itself. I had been giving workshops. I had different case conferences, and I just wrote down everything we would go through in the workshops. I actually had a publisher talk to me at a conference a little bit before this who told me that he really wanted me to publish a book, a “real book” from a publisher on higher ed social media.

Liz:
When I was ready to write this, I reached out to him and he ghosted me. So I was like, screw it, we’ll just publish it ourselves and we’ll give it away. So that’s where we’re at.

Heather:
Can you just give us a little overview of the scope of the book?

Liz:
Yeah. So it is intended to be literally a training manual for anything a higher ed social media manager or someone who supervises one could need. It’s got four sections. It starts with strategy and goals and audiences. Goes through a lot of tactical stuff and, at the end, focuses on professional development and mental health and things about you as a human. So I really wanted it to be the be all and end all of higher ed social media. So far, I think we’re okay at getting to that point.

Liz:
So you might not want to read the whole book. There might only be three chapters that really speak to what you need, and that’s fine because your investment is zero dollars.

Heather:
Well, I would recommend for everybody to read the whole book, having read it more than once at this point. The scope of this book is too far reaching to cover completely in one episode of Higher Voltage, so we’re going to focus on a particular chapter today, building sustainable structures for content creation.

Heather:
AJ and Anise are two of the experts who weighed in with their insight for this chapter, which is why they are here today, and we are so happy to have them. AJ, can you introduce yourself to our audience?

AJ:
Good afternoon, I’m AJ. I manage social media for MSC Texas in Wichita Falls, Texas. Some of the things I do, create social campaigns, manage our videos and photos. I also sit on a number of committees on campus. Ironically now I’m on their QEP committee, so I’ll actually have a lot of say on our accreditation which is going to be kind of cool to bring that social media aspect to our university.

AJ:
It’s already been a busy semester here in Wichita Falls with the Texas storms and everything going on, so we never sleep.

Heather:
That sounds about right. Anise, could you tell us more about yourself please.

Anise:
Hello and thank you for having me, Heather. I’m really happy to be joining Liz and AJ as part of this. I am an integrated marketing specialist for Wheaton College in Massachusets. I do manage our flagship social account and the strategy for those accounts, both paid and organic.

Heather:
All right, well thank you. Liz, let’s go back to you. When you chose chapter topics, what was your evaluative process? In other words, other than logical step by step instruction, how did you define your goals for each chapter and how did you get there? Then specifically, what was the criteria for inclusion in this chapter?

Liz:
When I saw you wanted to ask me this question, I pulled up my calendar to figure out what did I actually do, where was I, what happened. I can remember it, which is really great. Basically, we took the old 20 version book, found a few headings that made sense, but then I said I wanted to take some time and really think through if I were starting from scratch and teaching folks everything I wanted to teach them, what would it be.

Liz:
So I sat down at a coffee shop. Remember when we could work in a coffee shop all day. It was lovely. It was January 16th in Madison, Wisconsin. It was freezing and this was before Taylor Swift started dropping us albums every couple of months, so I was still listening to Lover. Just stuck my noise canceling headphones on and really thought through what would this be. I started with breaking the outline of what became a three day workshop into chapters, and that gave me about 60% of the book.

Liz:
Then from there, it was really what are the questions that people have asked me or have heard them ask other people at social media events, over and over and over again. I’m sure many folks listening to this are probably also in the higher ed social Facebook group. I’m also thinking what do I see there asked over and over and over again, and use that to build out the outline. Then for each chapter, I just wrote a sentence of what I wanted it to be and actually found the outline and pulled it up.

Liz:
So for example, there is a chapter, chapter two called know your audience. The sentence that really grounded that chapter was the general public is not the target audience. I wanted the grounding sentence to be tweetable for every chapter. There’s a chapter called what does strategy mean, which people have told me has been really helpful in helping them get their mind around that really nebulous topic. My comment in the outline there was what the hell is strategy anyway.

Liz:
I hope you don’t … hell doesn’t have to mean you have to put an explicit on a podcast, I assume.

Heather:
No, we’re all grown ups here.

Liz:
So that was … In one day, I wrote what I think ended up being a seven page annotated outline of the whole thing. When I think specifically about this chapter on sustainable content creation, there’s bits of it that come straight from that social media strategy workshop that I had been teaching. There were exercises actually from the workshop that I put into the outline.

Liz:
There’s some pet peeves that I really wanted to make sure the world heard and had documented in a reliable source, like don’t post fliers on social media. That went into the outline. I needed that to be here. I was thinking about a talk that I know AJ probably saw at a prior case social media conference that my colleague Susan App gave about content repurposing. I pulled up his slides and just started throwing his content in there, which he got full credit for.

Liz:
But then, when I think about those questions that happen all the time, everyone probably once a week are seeing questions in the higher ed social Facebook group of how do you plan your content, how do you do things. There’s no one way to do that. So I wanted to make sure there were a bunch of different perspectives to how people did that, and AJ and Anise are two of five professionals that I focused on in there that did it.

Liz:
But the ultimate goal of this whole chapter was for someone to be able to work through their content creation process and document it to show someone everything that goes into it, but also be able to provide some continuity to their program, heaven forbid they ever want to get another job and pass it on to somebody else.

Heather:
Anise, your perspective in the chapter is told through the lens of being a team of one. What are the main challenges of managing all of the college social media yourself? How do you meet them? I can do followup questions after we hit those first two.

Anise:
Sure. I’d say that the biggest challenge is, online, Wheaton is on par overall with any other large institution. So from the prospective or our prospective audiences, when they’re weighing our school next to another liberal arts college, they’re not going in with a mindset of, well they only have one person managing their social. So they’re looking at our Instagram next to whoever our competitor is, so that is the biggest challenge, meeting our competitors, making sure our message is getting out with the same quality or somewhat of the same quality.

Anise:
So I say the resource to maintain a professional presence that is equitable to that of our competitors and represent the institution in a competitive lens is the biggest challenge for a team of one. So we want to be in all the places our competitors are, where our students are. So it does become quite a bit. For a team of one, the challenge is prioritizing messages and channels.

Anise:
So that transcends into my work in a lot of valuable relationships, with partners across college, with students, with our community. So I would say that is the biggest challenge for us.

Heather:
Yeah, I can imagine. I think there’s probably more schools than not that face that kind of challenge. So what are your favorite tools, tips, tricks, that kind of thing that help get you through the day to day of having just this onslaught? I like that lens that you’re putting it through, that nobody’s looking at the accounts of Wheaton and your competitors and saying, well they have three people on their social team versus … that’s absolutely the truth. So how do you deal?

Anise:
Yeah. For me, it has always been about showing what makes Wheaton unique. We are a small community and a small school. So leaning in the members in our community to help me tell that story, because if you ever ask anybody, staff, student, faculty, they will tell you one of the best parts of being at Wheaton is the community. So I, over the last three to four years that I have been managing our social accounts, I have created this community that is excited about creating content for us, whether it be on Instagram with photos, takeovers while they’re abroad, or parent testimonials. So it is always about bringing in that part of the Wheaton experience online.

Anise:
I do that with the help of the community. So our students work for us during the academic year. I do have three student social media ambassadors that help me with content creation and capturing student life through the lens of a student in a way that I’m not able to or our photographer might not be able to. We do have a process for our community to submit content to us to be shared. We do have a process for seeking out recommendations from parents, alumni, and using that to push our message forward.

Anise:
So again, in leaning in to the thing that makes Wheaton special, the community, and using those strengths to help with the marketing message.

Heather:
That’s great. So can you share what those processes actually are?

Anise:
Yeah. So we have a paid student work position. We hire three students each year and they are responsible for content creation for Instagram stories, SnapChat and, depending on also their interests and their skill level, we will allow them to take part in content creation such as writing and blogging. So that is one way we use students in our community. For our parent outreach program, we do have a parents group that is managed within a different department on campus. So we do have … the marketing office has strong relationship with this particular office, and they’re always on the lookout for positive feedback from our community that we are able to use in recruiting or even in yielding parents and families to Wheaton.

Anise:
It is also a great community for pulse check on the things that we’re doing. So I do monitor it during times of crisis or even if there are any particular changes happening within the college. That is a group that I also lean on for crafting messages to address issues, so that is another tactic that I use. Again, we also encourage folks to always share back with us. I would say the way that essentially the larger Wheaton community, such as staff, faculty, visitors, friends, take part in our social strategy is if they’re on campus and they take a photo, and they tag their location, I always go in and comment and say, “Wow, great photo. Would it be okay if we reposted it?”

Anise:
So I do a lot of back and forth with all members of our community and making sure that those channels remain open, not just for serving our purposes, but also in times when they might need something from us, that that channel is open.

Heather:
That’s great. I saw Liz nodding along with that. That engagement bit is huge and it’s something I know that Campus Sonar’s research has shown, that colleges and universities aren’t necessarily spectacular at. So it’s really good to hear that, to keep beating that drum of something … I don’t want to say simple, because it certainly isn’t. Resource consuming and all of that, but is a very actionable immediate course that we can take to improve those channels.

Heather:
AJ, so as I was reading through the chapter, I realized you were a man after my own heart in that you use Google Docs instead of software content management. I have tried a million different kinds of software for that and I always return to the simplicity of my own Google Documents and my own design. So I think we’re kindred spirits that way. Tell us about your content mapping please.

AJ:
Yeah, I’m with you. I’ve been through a lot of different software and I just can’t find any that work as better than Google. They figured it out. Some of the … for content mapping, I remember talking about this. Liz asked a random question on Twitter, so I just broke down what we did. So we create something called a skeleton, which is a calendar for the semester and it breaks down important things like deadlines, scholarship deadlines, graduation deadlines, when graduation is, any of our spring traditions. It goes through all of that.

AJ:
Then from there, we start putting things that we want to work on. I know in January, squirrel appreciation day. So we have to keep that one in on the 21st. Then we usually do something around Valentines Day, and then in March when have spring break. This year, we don’t have it, but we’ve replaced it with something else. So we’ve already had that all in our calendar. Then from there, with my student team, they start picking and choosing what they want to work on for longterm projects.

AJ:
I know one of the big projects they work on this year that we’re hoping to get out this week is, around Valentines Day, they wanted to do a dessert video. I think they just wanted to eat for work, but we created the dessert video with our local shops around Wichita Falls, which is perfect because we just got a crumble and a Nothing Bundt Cake, which are amazing, but it’s nice that we can actually feature our local ones.

AJ:
So it almost looks like, hey that’s cool we got those, but look at what we’ve always had. So it’s just one of the things we’re just trying to show off our city a little bit more, so that’s one of the things that we have right now with us. So with the skeleton, whenever something kind of goes off the rails, which is this last week it’s been a lot of things. We can always go back. It always keeps us in check to where we know, okay, this deadline.

AJ:
We had the Texas storm, so we had to go back in and actually move some of those deadlines because they were supposed to be that week of the Texas winter storm. So we just moved them to the following week, but we already knew to ask. We started asking those questions during that week so that we could be ready the week before. Also, one thing we learned is that, when we start asking these questions, administrators aren’t necessarily thinking about that half the time, that they have a deadline coming up. So when we start asking them, they actually start thinking about it and so we can get ahead of this, especially before the students are asking these questions.

AJ:
So having something like that also helps the campus overall. At the beginning of the semester, I’ll go around and I’ll get everyone’s input on the skeleton. I’ll visit friends at other departments, see what they’re doing. We’ll put it all into the skeleton and it becomes our social media bible. So it’s always great to come back to it and be able to know where we are in the year. I can’t wait to get to May.

Heather:
How many are on your team, AJ?

AJ:
So staff wise it’s just me, but I have four students that I work with. They all have different kind of roles. My first one, she’s our talent as well as our producer. She does all the leg work for our video production as well as runs our TikTok. She gets a lot of that. Lately, she’s been trying to outsource it to show more of our diversity, so she’s trying to get more students to submit content rather than her just do it herself. So that’s something we’re experimenting with right now.

AJ:
Had a little bit of luck. I think it’s going to just take a while to get that comfortable, especially as more students transition. But we do know there’s a lot of freshmen on there, so it’s kind of nice. I think right now we’re at the perfect time. We’re already established. So with those new freshmen coming in, it’ll just be perfect to start getting that rolling.

AJ:
I have another one. All she does is video. That’s it. She just does anything with video, and video is already time consuming, so she fills those hours up pretty quick. Then I have one that does just photography. We send her out. One thing I’ve learned is that I still do photography as well, but I can send her out on little assignments. We had a new building, so I sent her out to get a picture of the new building. It takes me like an hour to do all that. For her, it’s going to take her about an hour too, but it’s an hour I don’t have to give up. So I can just send her out to do that kind of stuff.

AJ:
It’s a little bit more challenging to her than for me, but we’ll get the same results. So that’s one of the things, like I’ve been able to outsource our students that way. They’re also getting marketing experience as well. Then I have my last one, who’s my graduate assistant. She’s right now working on an account that we set up that’s a student account, and she’s been working on that. She’s been doing some outsourcing with students as well as she does monitoring for me whenever I need a break or vacation. So she kind of fills those roles as well.

AJ:
Overall, they do a lot, way a lot. So it’s always fun. Lately, they’ve been picking projects where they get to eat. We even have a new video series on Instagram that’s called Meals with the Mustangs that they picked because they could eat. I told them, you have to create a concept, and they figured out, okay midnight snacks. So this actually premiers at 10:00 at night, which has been so much fun. We’ve gotten some good engagement off of it, so that’s been fun seeing how the students work.

Heather:
I love it. Very, very smart on their part. It’s only fair. If you’re going to be doing this, snacks are a necessity. For another perspective, Liz, non campus one, how does Campus Sonar manage its social media and content?

Liz:
Yeah, so it’s important to think of how different we are from a campus. Business wise, there’s a total of 12 of us in the entire company. There are three people on the marketing team, and our social audience in total across all platform is just about 2500 people. So we’re a small company with a fairly intimate social media community. There are plenty of individuals listening to this podcast that have more followers than Campus Sonar does, but we found the right ones, so we want to make sure that we are serving up content that essentially does three things.

Liz:
One, it makes us look smart because we want to be seen as experts in the industry. Two, is engaging. It prompts someone to either share or interact with us because social media, particularly 2020 and beyond, has been how we have a lot of our conversations with our clients and our prospects. Then third, we want to do anything that promotes being strategic. Sitting in the social media space, there’s a lot of fluff and a lot of new shiny, and we want to really focus on the strategy.

Liz:
So from a content perspective, I’m not sure everybody knows this, but I don’t touch our social media and I haven’t for years. The content calendar for our social media has always been done by Michelle [inaudible 00:26:00] who is now our current content strategist. She does a variety of things to put her content together. She really pays attention to what sonarians are sharing on social media and, if we are sharing something on our personal account that resonated with our personal audiences, she’ll put that on our corporate account.

Liz:
She’s of course making sure to sprinkle in some things that drive leads for our business or also promote some services. Then she spends a decent amount of time curating content. So we focus a lot on sharing smart stuff from our community. She’s the type of person who will see a tweet on Tuesday and know that she wants to share it, but she’s already a week ahead in her content calendar, so she’s going to save that and “retweet it” 10 days from now. That’s pretty common with us.

Liz:
All of that, I’m sure there’s a Google Doc somewhere AJ, but when it comes time to actually plan the next week’s content, we only plan one week in advance ever, and she builds that calendar on Thursday or Friday, and it’ll get approved at the end of the day on Friday for what’s going to go out next week. If we want to dive into the tech and scheduling and stuff later, we can. We focus on Twitter a ton, and then there’s a couple other platforms we use for different reasons. But the higher ed community that wants to talk to us is largely on Twitter and that’s where we’re spending our time.

Heather:
So that’s a great segway because I’d like to talk a little bit about how we’re differentiating between channels and how we’re repurposing content differently for the channels. Anise, would you like to start with that?

Anise:
Sure, yes. So we do a ton of this. I’m a big fan of doing it once and repurposing it as many times and in as many places as you can. So we do that in a variety of ways. A story that might be written for our website does end up being shared across our newsletters, social and sometimes even tip off a takeover or something of that nature for us. Conversely, stuff that we do on social media also ends up trickling down to these other channels.

Anise:
For example, our study abroad takeovers, I started that about three years ago and they became such a huge hit within the campus community as students explored destination for their study abroad. I want to say something like three fourths of the Wheaton student body does go abroad, so it resonated a lot with the internal student body. But we also do talk about studying abroad as part of our admission communication. So, in addition of having it on Instagram stories and SnapChat for our current students, I repackaged some of these videos and made them permanent fixtures of our YouTube channel and also in that way we’re able to re share it and package it for admission communications in emails.

Anise:
So that is one way communication and content goes back and forth in between social and other digital channels.

Heather:
Okay. So AJ, same question for you. Can you tell us a little bit about your channel differentiation and your content repurposing?

AJ:
So we have six of our main channels, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and YouTube. Those are the six ones we focus on. Facebook, of course has so many problems just to start off with, but that’s pretty much become more geared towards alumni parents, but also that’s a central area that students trust, at least when we issue any statements or anything that’s important that they need to know about or whenever they’re getting a snow day.

AJ:
We kind of keep it on there. Same with Twitter. We keep a lot of that information between Facebook and Twitter. Then Twitter is also more event based. We create some of the events that are going on. More of our campus traditions within Twitter. Then we break it down. Instagram is kind of like our hub. It has everything we need right now. We just started with reels, so we’re having a little bit of fun with that. That’s kind of the over. It kind of encompasses alums, current students especially, future students, and the community in general.

AJ:
Then we have LinkedIn, which is mostly for our alums and seniors, as well as we have YouTube which is kind of for more of newer students, but we’ve noticed that with YouTube, it has a two year … It almost has a two year lifespan. So any videos, they’re going to be on for a least a couple of years, whatever is on there. So we’ve noticed that, when creating videos, it needs to be something that’s longterm that will still be relevant in two years.

AJ:
Then we have TikTok that is our newest one, and we’re still experimenting with it. What we’ve learned is that it’s the inside joke of your university. So anything that’s kind of like an inside joke that creates community, that’s how TikTok works. People go there to kind of be entertained and also be informed, which is what we’ve learned. As repurposing content, the fun thing with those ones … like today on LinkedIn, I reposted something that I posted on Facebook five years ago.

AJ:
The imagery hasn’t changed. It was just pictures of our bells and they make a very distinctive sound. Anyone who is an alum knows that sound. So basically we put it on LinkedIn for our alums. Be like, hey, if you can hear this picture make a sound, you probably went here. We did something like that and it was something we used on Facebook five years ago just showing off our bells. Something we used on Instagram two years ago, just similar post. So we’ve been able to repurpose content like that depending on what has changed.

AJ:
So two years ago, our skyline changed, so I’ve just been updating photos now with that, and I’ve been archiving others that don’t have the same skyline anymore. So you have to keep that up. I have photos labeled and video labeled with time of the year and seasons, so we make sure whatever we repurpose is going to look exactly like what the campus currently looks like. That’s a big thing because they’ll call you out.

AJ:
So we do a lot of that. We just label things and we repurpose as needed. Instagram is usually our first one and everything goes on Instagram first and then it kind of repurposes out within all the other socials, and it can be two or three years later before it goes to another social. But we just kind of keep that so that we have enough content going that we can fill in when there’s not anything major.

AJ:
As well as, since we’ve been shooting social first, a lot of this content also in reach is our view books, our marketing material as well. So it can be seen something on Instagram or Facebook, but then it’s also going to be seen a few months later on one of the marketing things. So that creates a tie in to our social as well. So everything, at least on the visual side, is social first, which really resonates with … especially if they’re seeing a view book, it’s going to be something you’re going to be used to seeing on Instagram, so it’s going to really have that same effect that the current students that we’re recruiting are used to.

Heather:
So I like that idea of having, in your case, Instagram or one particular vehicle that best suites your institution as the hub from which all the others flow. That’s a really interesting way to look at it. Anise, did you want to add anything here?

Anise:
As far as tools, we do internally have a project management system that we use to collaborate with partners on any particular social endeavor that they’re taking on, and that’s how I manage my work. As for the students who help us, we do a weekly check in to just outline the priorities for the coming week. I either schedule them at the end of the week or at the beginning of the week just so we can review what happened the prior week and plan content for the week ahead.

Anise:
That is the same way I approach the content that I manage myself. So I always schedule things out about a week in advance or allow flexibility. Also, we don’t typically create a ton of content beforehand. So I use Hootsuite personally, but there are a bazillion tools out there similar to Hootsuite. For our interns, I have a mobile phone that is paid by Wheaton and that is what they use to create their content. I don’t rely on our students having a data plan to support all of our work, so I do have a phone that they take on, especially for the semester, and that’s how they do photography and video.

Anise:
We pay for things like apps to add closed captioning to videos or if they want a preset or something of that nature. We do have a small budget allocated for things like that. Content creation for writing and for Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, that does happen within our communications team, but I do have access to their planning calender, and they use Google products for creating that content calender. I usually peek in before moving on with any content plans for social.

Heather:
So Anise mentioned that she uses Hootsuite for scheduling. AJ, do you have a scheduler that you tend to use, and what is the reasoning behind using a scheduler or not, for that matter?

AJ:
So any of our schedulers that we have, we usually just use the native ones, Tweet Deck. Now Twitter has scheduling within it. Creator Studio for Facebook and Instagram. TikTok even has a scheduler now. We don’t use theirs, but they do have one. Then YouTube’s especially. We use YouTube’s a lot. We’ll schedule for certain times. I think the only one that doesn’t have a schedule is Linked In. We just use the native ones mostly because I’ve seen these companies go down before.

AJ:
At least Creator Studio, those things go down. I know Facebook is probably going to go down next, so it’s not going to matter. Not only that, but they always come out with these tools first immediately. I know Instagram has been going through tons of updates and we use Iconosquare for analytics. They’ve had trouble with API, and I know a lot of companies have had trouble with that API. So something like that, it’s easier to just use the tools they already have developed for the apps.

Heather:
So as you look over the past year, which admittedly was a bizarre one for all of us, what was your favorite or most effective content? AJ, you want to start?

AJ:
That’s a good question. I’ll say this. So we has a whole big push about the mask thing. So a big thing that we made sure that trickled down was everyone in pictures needs to be wearing masks. No picture would go out without a mask on. A lot of the … Right now, our students, we are at zero right now with COVID cases for students. It’s the first time since July that we’ve had zero cases.

AJ:
A lot of what we’ve done to kind of … We’ve been showing the students that our culture right now is masks on, so any of the pictures, any of the … To us, that’s a success, being able to keep those cases down, especially being able to do a campaign like this where everything has to have mask on. That’s probably what we’ve been most successful about. We learned a lot of things, especially my students. We kept talking about, to take a good photo, focus on the eyes. We don’t have a smile or teeth anymore because they have a mask on. So we were like, focus on the eyes. The eyes will still tell a story of a photo anyway.

AJ:
We had to kind of restructure the way we did stuff like that. Also, just the way we approach how we set up these things. We got a lot of microphone covers. We got a lot of them so we could just throw them away right afterwards. Things like that, to me those were more of our successes, being able to manage this during the pandemic.

Anise:
For me, my favorite part of last year is seeing our community step up and share content with us. So right when we went remote about a year ago, actually, I put out a call for any member of our community to share their photos of campus with us since we were not going to be on campus. For the majority of last year, our photographer didn’t have to go on campus. I didn’t have to go on campus because our community was able to sustain our Instagram.

Anise:
We post three times a week throughout the year. For me, it’s a huge thing that we didn’t have to go in and do any of the photography for it. So it was a moment of pride for me personally to see our community be responsive to such a ask and students actually wanting to engage with our account in that way. So, that had to be my favorite moment.

Heather:
Liz, how about Campus Sonar? What was your favorite or most effective content this year?

Liz:
I have to pick two for very different reasons. Clearly, I love this book as content. It’s 60,000 words and dozens of graphics, and we will be using it as content for at least a year, if not two or more. I might have to check in with AJ in five years and see if I’ve got something I can repurpose from them. But it’s a perfect example of content repurposing. We can take a sentence from it and use it on Twitter. We can take part of a chapter and use it as a blog post, which we’ve done many, many times.

Liz:
I’ll take a few paragraphs and put it on LinkedIn, and it is going to become webinars, potentially webinars or podcasts, something like that. It is going to live on for a long time, and that makes the marketing team feel so great because they spent so much time on this large piece of content, and now they can just pick and pull what comes from it. So that’s my happy content that was my favorite.

Liz:
Also, when I think about the last year, concent and Campus Sonar, I have to talk about our coronavirus industry briefings. Those came out of nowhere, frankly. It was an idea that we threw together within a couple of days and then decided to throw resources at for two months. But they also were the content that folks needed at the right time. They turned into webinars. That was a really good example of just listening to our community, knowing what our strategy was, and mixing those together.

Liz:
At a time when I sent everybody home and we were all working from our homes, we didn’t have to think about whatever sort of fun, cool content we needed to put out. We could actually just talk about what everyone wanted to talk about, and that was the gap that the briefings filled. But I was very happy to stop doing them in May.

Heather:
Yeah, those briefings were amazing and they were a huge service to higher ed. I read every single one of them as they came out because they were just so integral to understanding what was going on and how the community had to react at that time.

Liz:
They would not have been my favorite content if people hadn’t been willing to tell us that on a regular basis. We kept doing it because people were telling us what it meant and we could see the analytics. It wouldn’t have been fun to put out for the sake of putting out.

Heather:
All right, a slight pivot here out of curiosity sake more than anything. What is your favorite platform to create content for? I can stop. I’m an old gen X here, so I can Facebook face off without even thinking. I’m pretty good at Twitter. I do Instagram, but not well, and I have yet to heed the siren call of TikTok, despite my children asking me to. You really don’t want to see me dance. So Anise, you’re right below me on the Brady Bunch block of video chat here. What’s your platform of choice for content?

Anise:
I’d say personally I love Twitter and it’s a new love. I think my Twitter was dormant for about 10 years, but I do love engaging with other higher ed and marketing folks on it. For work, I would say Instagram is my favorite. I love the ability to tell stories visually and then micro blogs through the caption. So for work, I’d definitely pick Instagram and personally Twitter.

Heather:
AJ?

AJ:
I’m with Anise. Instagram is my favorite, especially stories. It’s just so easy now. I just love Instagram. Watching content, that’d probably be TikTok, but I am not good at creating content on TikTok. But I can go down that rabbit hole. I was on Bean Talk the other day. That’s a weird place to be. Go check that out some time. It’s interesting.

Liz:
Cleaning TikTok is a whole other thing. I follow this housekeeper in Texas, who is phenomenal. My husband is like, “What would it take to get her to come up here just to help us keep the place clean?”

Heather:
Oh that’s funny. My personal TikTok wormhole is all the Native Americans who are using it to preserve language. That is a really, really fun … I can’t even call it a wormhole because it’s just so important too, but if you’re looking for something very interesting to look into, I’d recommend that.

Liz:
So Heather, if you think you’re an old, I have two platforms tied for my favorite personally and one of them is LinkedIn. I watch people trash LinkedIn constantly. I love it. Anise is point out, yes I hate LinkedIn. I love it. I make an effort. I literally write in my planner, post this on LinkedIn today, because back in the day when I would see people in person at conferences, I can’t tell you how many basically strangers would come and say hi and talk about something I posted on LinkedIn that they never interacted with, that they never commented with, but that’s how they knew what I was working on because I was talking about it on LinkedIn. So I think people are sleeping on LinkedIn and there’s just a lot of lurkers, and you’ve just got to put in the time and be okay with it.

Liz:
But if worse came to worse and I could only pick one way to communicate on social media, it would be the Twitter thread. I love me a Twitter thread.

AJ:
I actually agree with Liz on the LinkedIn thing. That’s the fun thing about LinkedIn. We learned that we actually use our Facebook strategy now for LinkedIn because it’s a nicer place than Facebook. The other thing we found out is LinkedIn has a two or three week lifeline whereas Facebook has only one to two days. So the content lives a whole lot longer on LinkedIn. For most universities, also LinkedIn might be their biggest social media and they may not even know it.

Anise:
Yeah, that is absolutely true for me and that is our largest by followers, our largest social media platform. We do use it as part of our strategy, but personally I have not had a lot of success with it in its intended purpose.

Heather:
Yeah, LinkedIn has been the largest at the institutions I’ve been at too. So this brings me to another question, as we’re just kind of rambling now at the end of this. YouTube for content strategy. Not just a video depository. How are you accounting for that in your day to day?

AJ:
We actually have a strategy for it. So we are a town about 100,000 two hours north of Dallas, two hours south of Oklahoma City, smack dab in the middle on the boarder of the United States and Oklahoma, the United States and Texas. What we started to do is we’ve kind of shown off what the city looks like. So we’ve done a lot of things that have kind of shown off, and we’ve done it from a student perspective. We’re trying right now to get more of that student perspective in. The problem we’re seeing is that it’s just video is very time consuming, so we’re trying to find more and more people who understand that part of video and create a strategy around that. Right now, we’ve got about one to two videos a month, but we’ve stopped making it as a depository just because we know we’re being searched and we do weekly searches to find out what’s on other accounts.

AJ:
Some of the ones we’ve been able to repurpose and bring them onto our account with our branding and stuff like that. I think that’s the one we’re going to be using a lot to really show what the campus is also like. We know our number one search term in YouTube is dorms, so we’re really going to try and put a little more effort this semester before the summer starts to get more dorm video on a student perspective.

Heather:
Are you going to call it a dorm? Are you going to use the D word?

AJ:
I use the D word and ironically I’m in Legacy Hall, which is a resident’s hall where my office is located. Yeah, there’s so many things I’ve read about it. It’s just dorm.

Heather:
You have the data to prove that that’s what people want. I’m looking forward to your dorm videos, AJ.

AJ:
Yeah. So if people start using resident’s hall, I won’t start using it. It’s the same reason I don’t call our Mesquite Dining Hall, I still call it the Caf. That’s what they call it.

Anise:
I’d say similar to AJ, we have also shifted from using YouTube as a hosting solution to more of a marketing channel. That became even more important as everything switched to virtual. I had started an audit of our 500 videos and started archiving process with our digital archives to kind of remove some of these outdated pieces of content that no longer fit our marketing strategy and having them put away and design our channel to be more marketing. I will tell you that it was one of those things. Once I began working on it, it just became all consuming. But there’s a lot of opportunity for content creation and even dissemination for YouTube.

Anise:
I will tell you that one of the areas that Wheaton struggles with is we share a name with another institution in Illinois that couldn’t be more different from ours. This is one territory where we’ve been able to make some gains in SEO when you search for Wheaton College campus tour. For example, our video is probably a year old, but it is the video that pops up first. So it is a very important part of our strategy as video becomes more important in search for prospective students.

Heather:
Okay, so now is the time in Higher Voltage where we poke into your personal lives. A little fun something about yourselves as we are exiting the doldrums of winter and starting to see the glimmer of spring coming up. What are you watching, doing? What are your hobbies? What do you want to share?

Liz:
I want to share what I’m doing and I’m watching. I’m just waiting for people to troll me on Twitter because I live a very high tech life in my day job and a very low tech free time and hobbies. So my hobby that I’m doing a lot of right now because it’s spring, is I’m starting seeds and I’m getting ready to plant my garden, and I’m tripling the size of my garden this year. I think it’s going to be like 2500 square feet of garden growing space, so I am counting on staying home all summer to take care of that. That’s going to be wild.

Liz:
What I’m watching, everyone’s favorite 70s sitcom, Little House on the Prairie, which I never watched before. I am currently working through on Amazon Prime and I’m in season three, and I will watch anything with Ma and Pa in it.

Heather:
I am so going to mock you for that on Twitter. Also, I am distantly related to Laura.

Liz:
Nooo. That’s mind blowing.

Heather:
I have the genealogical trees to show it. Anise, what are you watching, seeing, doing and looking forward to in spring?

Anise:
I think this will also welcome some Twitter mockery, but I never learned to ride a bike as a kid, so I am making it my goal for 2021 to learn how to ride a bike. That is what I’m going to be doing with the help of a coworker and friend soon, as soon as the weather allows for it. So watch out for my TikToks and reels, trolling myself because that will be part of my strategy.

Heather:
I love it.

Liz:
Are you going to be like David on Schitt’s Creek, learning to ride a bike? Oh, that was Alexis learning to ride a bike.

Anise:
Alexis, yeah. I think I’m a little worse than Alexis. I think the content will prove that for you, so stay tuned.

Heather:
Awesome. AJ, what are you up to?

AJ:
Watching-wise, it’s all Wandavision right now. So I’m actually trying to figure out if we can tie that into social for Friday somehow because it’s going to be the final episode. So I’m trying to figure that out right now. That’s all I’m working on this week, just one tweet.

Heather:
What [inaudible 00:53:18].

AJ:
Then of course they’ll continue with the falcon and the winter soldier after that. Then low key after that, and then I got to wait. Other than that, I’m kind of just ready for spring. I’m tired of the cold, so I’m just ready for spring. Spending time with the boys. My oldest wants to learn how to skateboard, so we’re going to work on that. He’s like … you know how when you get a new puppy and their legs just grow like crazy? He’s like that right now and he’s falling over everything because he’s just got really long legs and he’s tripping over everything. He gets a bump on the head every day. I get calls from the nurse twice a week.

AJ:
So yeah, I’m going to be spending time with them a lot in the spring and we’ll be working on boy stuff.

Heather:
All right, sounds like we all have a plan. So we’re looking forward to more great conversations with higher ed thought leaders in the weeks and months to come, but I’d like to know where we can find each of you online should our listeners like to reach out. Liz, where are you?

Liz:
I’m probably on Twitter. My username is LizGross144 because 144 is a dozen dozen, which is a gross. I’m the same thing on Instagram, but you’re going to find Low Tech Liz on Instagram. It’s all cooking and gardening and homesteading type stuff. You can find me on LinkedIn where I love to be.

Heather:
Anise, where can we find you?

Anise:
Likely on Twitter. I am @AniseBarbosa everywhere. I’ve done a really nice job of owning that username since my name is so unique.

Heather:
And AJ?

AJ:
Mostly on Instagram, @AJL3photo. I’m on Twitter, but I’m mostly responding or sending GIFs to other people. Unless you’re looking at my replies, there’s not going to be a lot going on.

Heather:
To our listeners, if you’d like to explore our topic further, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter also at H Stochell.

Higher Voltage

Higher Voltage

Higher Voltage is a periodic podcast covering all aspects of higher education, with a focus on higher education marketing. We talk to professionals in the higher education space across admissions, marketing, career services, alumni relations, and more.

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