Calling all universities: Twitter is for more than just student marketing…

A recent study found that universities in the U.S. are failing to use Twitter as little more than a marketing tool, ‘to broadcast information or to highlight positive aspects of their institution’*. Evidence of universities using Twitter to engage in dialogue with the wider community are few and far between.

To help your institution balance its marketing strategy with community engagement, we’ve thought of a few ways in which you can utilise Twitter to demonstrate your value to society, not just prospective students.  

International Student PR

Be international
Most universities claim to have a global reach, but how many are actually making the effort to publicise this on Twitter? The launch of @sheffielduni’s #weareinternational campaign back in 2013 aimed to encourage international students to study in the UK amidst the growing anti-immigration rhetoric and changes to VISA rules. The campaign’s short 3-minute film brings together students, academics, city leaders and the wider community voicing the same message: that students from all over the world are welcome to study in an inclusive and diverse Sheffield. By highlighting the financial and social benefits international students bring to both the city and the UK, @sheffielduni is helping to dilute the dangerous anti-immigration rhetoric so prevalent in post-Brexit Britain. 

Shake off the stereotype
Several universities are still thought of as bastions of the white, middle class - the case being particularly true of the elite. If your university is making a concerted effort to attract talent from minority communities, make sure Twitter knows about it. Anything from access events to targeted admissions schemes help erode damaging misconceptions that could put students off applying to university. Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, does this particularly well, using their Twitter to publicise the work of their Access Officer, who travels far and wide giving talks to schools all over the country and encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply to Cambridge. 

University Events PR

Free events
Universities regularly hold events which are open to the public, so why not make this known by tweeting about it? The London School of Economics host lectures throughout the year which are not only open to the public, but are free. Similarly, this month saw the launch of King’s College annual Arts and Humanities Festival at the Strand. Anyone with a burning interest in the ancient Greeks or Kantian ethics will find solace between the four walls of your lecture hall.   

Just tweet!
Perhaps the most obvious way universities can engage with their followers is by replying, retweeting and ‘favouriting’ their tweets. An example which recently captured the attention of the Twittersphere was a debate between University of Sussex academic, Paul Nightingale, and UKIP MP, Douglas Carswell. When, in response to Nightingale’s tweet, Carswell refused to acknowledge that the moon causes the earth’s tides, Twitter exploded in mass frenzy, mocking the Ukip MP’s lack of basic scientific knowledge. Nightingale pointed out to Carswell that it was “not a controversial point”. The following day saw the Twitter spat printed across national news outlets, in The Huffington Post, The Independent, The Evening Standard, which goes to show that universities, even in the most trivial of ways, can and do use Twitter to demonstrate their value to society. 

* Source: Kimmons, Royce, Woodward, Scott, Veletsianos, George; ‘Institutional Uses of Twitter in U.S. Higher Education’, Innovative Higher Education (2015), 1-15.

Gerard Kelly & Partners (GKP) is a communications consultancy specialising in education PR, social media, marketing and communications management for UK schools, universities and business.