Making noise: what should universities post on social media?

What should universities post to generate noise and make their institution heard above their competitors? At GKP, we’ve scoured social media to compile a list of the most popular posts by universities, which, should you choose to follow, will certainly get your institution noticed. 

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“A picture is worth a thousand words” – but for universities, the phrase, ‘a picture is worth a thousand likes’ may be more apt. The most popular posts by universities are picturesque, scenic shots of campus buildings and their surroundings – and their appeal isn’t difficult to ascertain. Current students are eager to share anything on social media that depicts their institution as the cream of the crop; equally, past students are captured by a wave of nostalgia, and prospective ones, awe. Your campus doesn’t have to be adorned with grand, gothic architecture, either. The University of Leicester’s post of the recently-renovated David Wilson library gained 670 likes on Facebook, proving that modern architecture has just as much appeal. The important point is, every university has something unique to offer; the sooner you identify what this is, the quicker you can begin exploiting it. 

The second, most effective way to increase your university’s popularity on social media is to share recent league table success with your followers. University league tables are hotly anticipated as it is, but if your institution has topped the tables, be prepared to share on social media and see results. Loughborough University ranked joint fourth in this year’s Guardian league table. The news was shared on Loughborough’s official Facebook account, amassing a total of 3,400 likes and nearly 3,000 shares. Similarly, when the University of Birmingham ranked the third best university producing the most CEOs, the post gained up to 1,000 likes and nearly 200 shares. Whatever rankings your university is climbing, they’re sure to be met with jubilation (and likes!) by your followers.  

Cutting-edge research is also popular on social media, so if your university is leading the way in a particular research field, your findings will be well received. Take the University of Glasgow, which recently posted about its discovery of drugs which effectively target cancer cells. The post received over 2,000 likes and 500 shares on Facebook – and it did more to increase the university’s popularity - it enabled Glasgow to present itself as the lead in cutting-edge medicine and cancer research. What’s more, the research you post doesn’t have to be deemed pioneering and cutting-edge to get people talking. The Open University, whose post investigating Tutankhamun’s meteorite-made dagger gained up to 200 likes and nearly 50 shares, illustrating that there is space for the quirky and unusual. 

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Lastly, it’s worth posting about whatever weird and wonderful things your alumni have gotten up to since leaving university. Earlier this year, the University of Westminster shared a post on Facebook of two alumni, who achieved the highest film industry accolade -  winning big at the Oscars. Publicising notable alumni achievements allows universities to attach the success to the university itself. The post by the University of Westminster gained nearly 2,000 likes and over 400 shares, with users congratulating both the alumni and the university.

An important lesson learned: there’s more to keeping up with your alumni than the hope of securing a generous endowment. 

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