8 things to think about when creating your university's social media content strategy

8 things to think about when creating your university's social media content strategy

11 minute read

8 things to think about when creating your university's social media content strategy

11 minute read

8 things to think about when creating your university's social media content strategy

Paige Toomes

Copywriter and Digital Marketer

With COVID-19, people are on social media more than ever. Some to cure boredom, others to have their voice heard. It’ feels like everyone is posting, sharing, linking and re-posting at the moment.

For organisations, this is a huge opportunity. But also, the pressure is on to get high-quality content out faster than ever. All content online is part of your digital footprint, and getting your branding right on social media is important. If you’re a large organisation doing content at scale, then you’ve got an even bigger audience and task to manage.

For higher ed, students are classed as consumers today, and they - along with other young people from all walks of life - are creating  ‘user-generated content’. They are ‘prosumers’ now, which means producers and consumers. For other large organisations, COVID-19 and digital transformation are key drivers for a better, more considered, appropriate ad value-led social media presence that is listening to the audience.

All organisations need to have a content strategy and within that, a social media content strategy. Here are eight key considerations when creating your own social media content strategy:

1. Writing well for the web: how to do it


Writing for the web may sound easy, but it’s a specific skill— people consume content and media differently online. We’re usually looking for an answer if on Google, and something inspiring or engaging on social media. For example, we are more likely to skim and scan an article online than we are to fully read it. This is because it’s easier for our eyes. People (young people especially) also often use something called “banner blindness”  where they intentionally block ads out of their field of vision. Check out the HeatMapping tools to show you where your audience is clicking and reading.

A fellow Tweeter pointed out something along the lines of “forget books - we read posts online now” and there’s a lot of truth in this, particularly if your target audience is students or young people. And with Millennials and young people’s mobile use increasing by the day, you need to make sure you’re being mobile friendly too. I don’t know about anyone else but I definitely find it easier to read on my phone than on a computer screen.

There is so much content that it’s hard to cut through the noise and get your voice heard. So focus on quality when writing content. Think about:

  • Who your audience is. You need to be creating content that is geared towards a clear audience, and a specific user need (and also an organisational need), and is providing help and answers or valuable information, and a great user experience.

  • Breaking up text with headings. Not only is using headings in your posts part of standard SEO conventions, as it makes it easy for bots to pick out keywords and themes, it also helps people to skim and scan your content easily and get the information they need quickly.

  • Using bullet points and indenting quotes. Again this is another great way to break up text and make it easy for people to read your content, as well as highlighting key points.

  • Using images. Using images in your content is a great way to increase engagement.  However, be wary of using generic stock photos as these can be a turn off for your audience. We recommend creating your own authentic images if you can, as it adds to your brand. But there are also lots of great websites where you can get Creative Commons images which tend to be nicer and have more diversity. Social media posts with images have also been proven to get more engagement than those without.

  • Writing posts in plain, simple language. This can’t be stressed enough. Business articles shouldn’t be flouncy embellished essays. They should be straight to the point, written in accessible language and again, tied back to a user and organisational need. Writing in short, pithy statements is also more important on social media, to get people engaged and then keep your audience’s attention.

You can get leads and conversions through your social media posts and content online — a lot — if you get the writing done correctly. Check out our articles on writing for the web, we have loads of great advice from people in the content field:

2. Use the right channels, and don’t just shout about yourself

Social media is a great place to share your own articles, and get more views and leads. But, you need to go where your audience is. There’s no point in using Pinterest if that’s not where your audience hangs out. Social media use is growing by the day, and some would even class sites like Quora as social media (which is a great place to look for content ideas). And for higher education, many students are now on SnapChat and TikTok for example. This might seem like a big leap from the safety of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but it’s worth it if your audience is there.

It’s also important to do some curation with your social media posts and share other people’s work. Depending on the size of your organisation, you can do this either through finding the social media handles of the connections you have, and posting their stuff periodically. Or you can retweet and reshare directly through the social media platforms. Or you can use a tool to automatically find posts for you. Remember, it’s social media - it’s not about just shouting about yourself, but growing your business and making connections with other businesses and your customer base.

3. Create a style guide, and make sure it gets used

As part of your content strategy, you need to have a style guide. This is especially important if you’re a large organisation and have lots of internal and external contributors. You need to have a compelling tone of voice and you need to make sure your brand is consistent across all channels and touchpoints.

Your style guide can (and probably will) change over time, and you may have different rules for different channels and that's good. Mailchimp have an excellent style guide and they are always tweaking, building on and improving it. They recently went through a brand voice shift and wrote an article for us on onboarding their content team.

Your social media style guide should come under the umbrella of your overall style guide. Think about strict character counts (especially for Twitter) and have these written in your style guide for content creators to easily refer to. Or maybe you need to use lists, bullets and emojis to make a post easier to read. You might want to add conventions to a Trello board or Google Doc. However, if you’re a larger organisation this can get messy quickly. If this happens, get GatherContent, where you can have the style guide rules embedded in individual template documents to make sure your style guide gets used.

4. Make sure your posts are accessible

In the US, federal, state, and local government websites which must comply with Section 508 regulations, and make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

For public sector sites in the UK, there are new laws and requirements around accessibility that you need to be aware of, such as:

  • In the UK, all public sector websites and apps must be up to scratch with the WCAG 2.1 (level AA) standard and must include people with disabilities in user research and have an accessibility statement on their website. Here are the deadlines:

  • The compliance deadline for websites published on or after 23 September 2018 was 23 September 2019
  • For websites published before 23 September 2018 it's 23 September 2020
  • The deadline for all apps to be compliant is 23 June 2021

Although social media isn’t specifically mentioned, it’s good practice to make your socials accessible too. Emojis and GIFs are fun and useful, but can screen readers understand them? It’s a murky grey area for a lot of us; we want to do the best we can but often we don’t understand how to, or just simply don’t know the way, Or, in some cases, restricted by word counts.

So in order to get up to speed with social media and website accessibility, again, style guides and templates are useful here. You need to be describing your images on blog posts and your website with alt-text (this can be long and that’s okay). And remember to describe GIFS and images as best you can within character count limits on social media.

There are also some general social media etiquette rules to follow which vaguely fall under accessibility, in that you’re making sure people can trace your posts back to the original source and that people are credited fairly. One thing is if you are quoting somebody, to find their account and tag them. Or if you’re sharing an external post, tag the writer or organisation.

5. Get a scheduling and calendar tool

If you are a small company, manually posting to social media could be plausible, whereas most large companies make the most of scheduling tools that are out there, for productivity and organisation of your social media content collection. There’s loads to choose from. CoSchedule and HubSpot are good options, but we like ContentCal right now. It’s got some great features like easy duplication of posts, and a “content hub” (like GatherContent) where you can see all of your previous posts, search keywords and re-use posts. Like with the templates option in GatherContent, it saves loads of time when you have something to go back to, which you rework and reuse.

6. Use writing and productivity tools

Never mind what others say, coming from a writer, writing Tweets all day long is hard work! In a sense, Tweets can be viewed as microcopy - small bits of text that help a user get from A to B. Microcopy is copy that eases concerns, provides information and guides users so that they can successfully complete a task. Your social media posts are aiming to do three things: 1) get clicks back to the pages to your site 2) get engagement such as likes and shares 3) foster and be part of a community online.

When it comes to writing your tweets, you have to summarise a lot in a small space. Microcopy is an art in its own right! Even though there’s not as strict character counts on Facebook and LinkedIn as say, Twitter, you don’t want to be rambling on any channel with excessively long posts, or you won’t grab attention. It’s something that requires a thinking cap, and so getting the writing out of the way can often be a difficult task. Check out our webinar presented by Scott Kubie, Lead Content Strategist at Brain Traffic on how to get the writing done.

There are also plenty of zen/focus distraction free writing tools out there. But, again if you’re a large organisation and need to keep track of work and keep it centralised, you could write in GatherContent  where you can clearly see tasks assigned, workflow, and also create content in a collaborative environment where you can @ people and leave feedback in documents. There’s also a character counter so there’s no need to paste into an external one online.

7. Use social listening tools

So as we’ve established, organisations need social media strategy as part of their branding and overall content strategy. They also need to be on the lookout on social media and need to stay in the loop with what others are saying. If you’re not following and tracking what others are saying about your business, when somebody (and they will!) has something bad to say, you won’t be in a position to remedy the situation or put the record straight. And that’s a scary thought.

To counteract this, there’s social listening. At its most basic, this is manually searching for keywords, handles and hashtags. Most social media platforms have some pretty good features built in for posting, sharing and keeping track of posts. But there are also countless great tools you can use to help, which may be necessary if you’re a large organisation and you want to keep track of your social media channels effectively.

There’s so much that can be gained from social listening tools in terms of content and marketing. You can get ideas for article content, get a true understanding of your customers’ pain points and see what they are sharing and posting on social media. This is particularly useful for Higher Education and we have a webinar on this. Alternatively, you can check out the summary article where we’ve outlined the key points in a digestible format.

8. PR, branding and dealing with crises

But, even with social listening and all the tools to keep an eye on social media, things can sometimes go wrong. So you also need to be wary of and prepared for PR and social media ‘crises’ and how you handle these.

And with students and young people as “prosumers” now, you don’t want your university or organisation to become a laughing stock or even become a meme! It’s important that people are trained in what to do and how to react if there is a crisis on social media, and you should include this in your content style guidelines. We have a fantastic article on how to keep your cool on social media when the unexpected happens.

Stand out on social media to get leads and conversions

Social media is a major hotspot for leads and conversions if you do it right, and there’s huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from getting involved, as well as a necessity to curb any negative feedback online. Hopefully these tips will help you on the way to creating a social media content strategy.

You need to find a way to craft your brand and get your tone of voice right for social media, and share engaging posts. For higher ed institutions, this might mean standing back on social media and letting sharing curated content from students, young people, and graduates. But with the way things are going with user-generated content, we’d recommend all organisations pay attention to what their customers are saying and creating on social media.

To find out how GatherContent can help with your institution's content productivity, compliance and quality, visit our higher education industry page.

With COVID-19, people are on social media more than ever. Some to cure boredom, others to have their voice heard. It’ feels like everyone is posting, sharing, linking and re-posting at the moment.

For organisations, this is a huge opportunity. But also, the pressure is on to get high-quality content out faster than ever. All content online is part of your digital footprint, and getting your branding right on social media is important. If you’re a large organisation doing content at scale, then you’ve got an even bigger audience and task to manage.

For higher ed, students are classed as consumers today, and they - along with other young people from all walks of life - are creating  ‘user-generated content’. They are ‘prosumers’ now, which means producers and consumers. For other large organisations, COVID-19 and digital transformation are key drivers for a better, more considered, appropriate ad value-led social media presence that is listening to the audience.

All organisations need to have a content strategy and within that, a social media content strategy. Here are eight key considerations when creating your own social media content strategy:

1. Writing well for the web: how to do it


Writing for the web may sound easy, but it’s a specific skill— people consume content and media differently online. We’re usually looking for an answer if on Google, and something inspiring or engaging on social media. For example, we are more likely to skim and scan an article online than we are to fully read it. This is because it’s easier for our eyes. People (young people especially) also often use something called “banner blindness”  where they intentionally block ads out of their field of vision. Check out the HeatMapping tools to show you where your audience is clicking and reading.

A fellow Tweeter pointed out something along the lines of “forget books - we read posts online now” and there’s a lot of truth in this, particularly if your target audience is students or young people. And with Millennials and young people’s mobile use increasing by the day, you need to make sure you’re being mobile friendly too. I don’t know about anyone else but I definitely find it easier to read on my phone than on a computer screen.

There is so much content that it’s hard to cut through the noise and get your voice heard. So focus on quality when writing content. Think about:

  • Who your audience is. You need to be creating content that is geared towards a clear audience, and a specific user need (and also an organisational need), and is providing help and answers or valuable information, and a great user experience.

  • Breaking up text with headings. Not only is using headings in your posts part of standard SEO conventions, as it makes it easy for bots to pick out keywords and themes, it also helps people to skim and scan your content easily and get the information they need quickly.

  • Using bullet points and indenting quotes. Again this is another great way to break up text and make it easy for people to read your content, as well as highlighting key points.

  • Using images. Using images in your content is a great way to increase engagement.  However, be wary of using generic stock photos as these can be a turn off for your audience. We recommend creating your own authentic images if you can, as it adds to your brand. But there are also lots of great websites where you can get Creative Commons images which tend to be nicer and have more diversity. Social media posts with images have also been proven to get more engagement than those without.

  • Writing posts in plain, simple language. This can’t be stressed enough. Business articles shouldn’t be flouncy embellished essays. They should be straight to the point, written in accessible language and again, tied back to a user and organisational need. Writing in short, pithy statements is also more important on social media, to get people engaged and then keep your audience’s attention.

You can get leads and conversions through your social media posts and content online — a lot — if you get the writing done correctly. Check out our articles on writing for the web, we have loads of great advice from people in the content field:

2. Use the right channels, and don’t just shout about yourself

Social media is a great place to share your own articles, and get more views and leads. But, you need to go where your audience is. There’s no point in using Pinterest if that’s not where your audience hangs out. Social media use is growing by the day, and some would even class sites like Quora as social media (which is a great place to look for content ideas). And for higher education, many students are now on SnapChat and TikTok for example. This might seem like a big leap from the safety of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but it’s worth it if your audience is there.

It’s also important to do some curation with your social media posts and share other people’s work. Depending on the size of your organisation, you can do this either through finding the social media handles of the connections you have, and posting their stuff periodically. Or you can retweet and reshare directly through the social media platforms. Or you can use a tool to automatically find posts for you. Remember, it’s social media - it’s not about just shouting about yourself, but growing your business and making connections with other businesses and your customer base.

3. Create a style guide, and make sure it gets used

As part of your content strategy, you need to have a style guide. This is especially important if you’re a large organisation and have lots of internal and external contributors. You need to have a compelling tone of voice and you need to make sure your brand is consistent across all channels and touchpoints.

Your style guide can (and probably will) change over time, and you may have different rules for different channels and that's good. Mailchimp have an excellent style guide and they are always tweaking, building on and improving it. They recently went through a brand voice shift and wrote an article for us on onboarding their content team.

Your social media style guide should come under the umbrella of your overall style guide. Think about strict character counts (especially for Twitter) and have these written in your style guide for content creators to easily refer to. Or maybe you need to use lists, bullets and emojis to make a post easier to read. You might want to add conventions to a Trello board or Google Doc. However, if you’re a larger organisation this can get messy quickly. If this happens, get GatherContent, where you can have the style guide rules embedded in individual template documents to make sure your style guide gets used.

4. Make sure your posts are accessible

In the US, federal, state, and local government websites which must comply with Section 508 regulations, and make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

For public sector sites in the UK, there are new laws and requirements around accessibility that you need to be aware of, such as:

  • In the UK, all public sector websites and apps must be up to scratch with the WCAG 2.1 (level AA) standard and must include people with disabilities in user research and have an accessibility statement on their website. Here are the deadlines:

  • The compliance deadline for websites published on or after 23 September 2018 was 23 September 2019
  • For websites published before 23 September 2018 it's 23 September 2020
  • The deadline for all apps to be compliant is 23 June 2021

Although social media isn’t specifically mentioned, it’s good practice to make your socials accessible too. Emojis and GIFs are fun and useful, but can screen readers understand them? It’s a murky grey area for a lot of us; we want to do the best we can but often we don’t understand how to, or just simply don’t know the way, Or, in some cases, restricted by word counts.

So in order to get up to speed with social media and website accessibility, again, style guides and templates are useful here. You need to be describing your images on blog posts and your website with alt-text (this can be long and that’s okay). And remember to describe GIFS and images as best you can within character count limits on social media.

There are also some general social media etiquette rules to follow which vaguely fall under accessibility, in that you’re making sure people can trace your posts back to the original source and that people are credited fairly. One thing is if you are quoting somebody, to find their account and tag them. Or if you’re sharing an external post, tag the writer or organisation.

5. Get a scheduling and calendar tool

If you are a small company, manually posting to social media could be plausible, whereas most large companies make the most of scheduling tools that are out there, for productivity and organisation of your social media content collection. There’s loads to choose from. CoSchedule and HubSpot are good options, but we like ContentCal right now. It’s got some great features like easy duplication of posts, and a “content hub” (like GatherContent) where you can see all of your previous posts, search keywords and re-use posts. Like with the templates option in GatherContent, it saves loads of time when you have something to go back to, which you rework and reuse.

6. Use writing and productivity tools

Never mind what others say, coming from a writer, writing Tweets all day long is hard work! In a sense, Tweets can be viewed as microcopy - small bits of text that help a user get from A to B. Microcopy is copy that eases concerns, provides information and guides users so that they can successfully complete a task. Your social media posts are aiming to do three things: 1) get clicks back to the pages to your site 2) get engagement such as likes and shares 3) foster and be part of a community online.

When it comes to writing your tweets, you have to summarise a lot in a small space. Microcopy is an art in its own right! Even though there’s not as strict character counts on Facebook and LinkedIn as say, Twitter, you don’t want to be rambling on any channel with excessively long posts, or you won’t grab attention. It’s something that requires a thinking cap, and so getting the writing out of the way can often be a difficult task. Check out our webinar presented by Scott Kubie, Lead Content Strategist at Brain Traffic on how to get the writing done.

There are also plenty of zen/focus distraction free writing tools out there. But, again if you’re a large organisation and need to keep track of work and keep it centralised, you could write in GatherContent  where you can clearly see tasks assigned, workflow, and also create content in a collaborative environment where you can @ people and leave feedback in documents. There’s also a character counter so there’s no need to paste into an external one online.

7. Use social listening tools

So as we’ve established, organisations need social media strategy as part of their branding and overall content strategy. They also need to be on the lookout on social media and need to stay in the loop with what others are saying. If you’re not following and tracking what others are saying about your business, when somebody (and they will!) has something bad to say, you won’t be in a position to remedy the situation or put the record straight. And that’s a scary thought.

To counteract this, there’s social listening. At its most basic, this is manually searching for keywords, handles and hashtags. Most social media platforms have some pretty good features built in for posting, sharing and keeping track of posts. But there are also countless great tools you can use to help, which may be necessary if you’re a large organisation and you want to keep track of your social media channels effectively.

There’s so much that can be gained from social listening tools in terms of content and marketing. You can get ideas for article content, get a true understanding of your customers’ pain points and see what they are sharing and posting on social media. This is particularly useful for Higher Education and we have a webinar on this. Alternatively, you can check out the summary article where we’ve outlined the key points in a digestible format.

8. PR, branding and dealing with crises

But, even with social listening and all the tools to keep an eye on social media, things can sometimes go wrong. So you also need to be wary of and prepared for PR and social media ‘crises’ and how you handle these.

And with students and young people as “prosumers” now, you don’t want your university or organisation to become a laughing stock or even become a meme! It’s important that people are trained in what to do and how to react if there is a crisis on social media, and you should include this in your content style guidelines. We have a fantastic article on how to keep your cool on social media when the unexpected happens.

Stand out on social media to get leads and conversions

Social media is a major hotspot for leads and conversions if you do it right, and there’s huge opportunity for organisations to benefit from getting involved, as well as a necessity to curb any negative feedback online. Hopefully these tips will help you on the way to creating a social media content strategy.

You need to find a way to craft your brand and get your tone of voice right for social media, and share engaging posts. For higher ed institutions, this might mean standing back on social media and letting sharing curated content from students, young people, and graduates. But with the way things are going with user-generated content, we’d recommend all organisations pay attention to what their customers are saying and creating on social media.

To find out how GatherContent can help with your institution's content productivity, compliance and quality, visit our higher education industry page.

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Register now

Webinar Recording

How to use social listening to uncover audience insights for effective content marketing

Hear about real-world examples of student social media updates that can influence your content strategy and marketing efforts on campus.

August 15, 2019

4:00 pm

Watch now
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About the author

Paige Toomes

Paige is an English Literature and Media graduate from Newcastle University, and over the last three years has built up a career in SEO-driven copywriting for tech companies. She has written for Microsoft, Symantec and LinkedIn, as well as other SaaS companies and IT consulting firms. With an audience-focused approach to content, Paige handles the lifecycle from creation through to measurement, supporting businesses with their content operations.

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