Social Strategy: How Student Unions Are Utilizing Social Media

Hashtags, likes, follows, retweets, reels. If you go on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok today, a few or all of the previous words mean something wholly unique to social media platforms. Social media has become an integral part of society globally, namely in higher education. Students use social media to communicate, engage, connect, and even live. So, how can student unions strategically utilize social media to both reach students and build a strong platform?

To help answer this question, The Bulletin interviewed Colin Wylie, assistant director for marketing and assessment for the Reeve Memorial Union at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Read our interview with Wylie below to learn more about the pros and cons of unions using social media, the emerging platform TikTok, the #HigherEdSocial Facebook group, and more.

Do you have plans for using TikTok to promote the Reeve Memorial Union? 

My marketing team has been actively watching how higher ed is breaking into the TikTok world in the last year and a half. You can find several examples of success stories from flagship accounts at large institutions, but I've been hesitant to dive in with limited resources for creating valuable content. TikTok requires a lot of time, creativity, and strategic planning. To test the waters, we started creating short-form videos using the Reels feature on Instagram. Those clips have been well-received, and we want to continue expanding this unique way of communicating to students. Our hope for TikTok is to build a sense of community and closeness with our students, promote union services, and encourage students to get involved. We are late to the game but excited to see where it takes us!

How does union’s social media use align with the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's overall social media use? 

I've always thought of our union accounts as a support to the institution. The same can be said to other major areas like athletics, academic departments, etc. We are an extension of the brand and try to support each other when we can. During university-wide events like Homecoming or graduation, my team will often create messaging or graphics that can be shared by institution accounts, and some examples of digital downloads are here. When I started in my role, I worked with our centralized marketing office to create a campus-wide group of communicators that meet regularly and talk about best practices and how we can support each other. Most higher education professionals managing social media platforms are not full-time communicators or marketers, so it has been great to continue working together and collaborating.

What does the #HigherEdSocial Facebook group offer for student union/center professionals? 

#HigherEdSocial is a fast-growing organization of social media professionals that predominantly work in higher education. This is only one group of many trying to help each other to grow. There are also more specific Student Affairs groups and some for other niche topics like marketing, videography, etc. I'm also a part of a growing community of higher education professionals chatting on Clubhouse, which is a relatively new, audio-only app.

What are the pros and cons of using social media platforms to promote the union? Which platforms have you had the most success with? 

Social media is where our students are, so unions should put it as a central focus in their strategic messaging plan. In my opinion, every union should have a communications professional on their staff. I am fortunate because I also oversee a talented team of student workers who help me create content and further our messages. A few pieces of advice I would give to unions that want to up their social game:

  • Create a strategic plan that includes a content calendar
  • Don't feel the need to be on every platform; quality > quantity
  • Follow best practices for each platform
  • Be consistent
Each campus, and each segmented campus community, has a different culture, so platforms may vary. We've found great success on Instagram when reaching students. Facebook has been a great tool to connect with parents and university staff. The other most common platforms to consider using for higher education are Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube. While it's not considered a social media platform, it's critical your website is up-to-date, easy to use, and appealing to students. Your social platforms should point back to your website in any way you can. 
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