Being branded a ‘thought leader’ suggests a certain level of brilliance at what you do, and Amy Mollett certainly has plenty. Until recently the social media manager for LSE, she’s now building a freelance portfolio alongside working as Senior Social Media Strategist at the Parliamentary Digital Service. Not only that, she’s co-chair of the 2018 CASE Europe Social Media and Community Conference and has co-authored an excellent book about communicating research.
Like we said; brilliant.
When it comes to social media, how do you think education providers did in 2017? Were there any campaigns or accounts that really caught your eye?
The University of Glasgow’s social media team always wow me with their creativity and passion. Their #TeamUofG campaign was really joined up across the whole university, with content covering the promotion of their student recruitment days and alumni networks, as well as their internal community and teams across campus. LSE also had a great year, with their Instagram account reaching 55,000+ followers – way above the sector benchmark and third in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge.
What do you think was the biggest challenge for those institutions and their social media usage last year?
For Glasgow I imagine it was keeping the momentum and continuing to build their already high levels of engagement. When you have high levels of engagement you want to keep building that month after month, but with possible changes to Facebook’s feed on the horizon that may be a challenge that we’ll all have to grapple with this year.
And for LSE, speaking from my experience as Social Media Manager there until December 2017, the main challenge was managing the many demands on a small team. Being a busy but small team is a great thing because it means there is lots of internal interest for social, but you can’t do everything and so have to prioritise. Putting time and resources into Instagram paid off massively for LSE, but it meant we didn’t try Snapchat. We’ll see what 2018 brings.
Social media is increasingly become a pay-to-play space…are we now at the point where institutions have to stop making excuses for not having a budget or can organic posts still be effective?
Organic posts can still be effective – authentic storytelling and video still almost always perform well across any sector and platform. Campaigns and content strategies using a lot of user-generated content also remain strong and have more value that just click throughs, especially in student recruitment. But all institutions need to be better at pooling resources for paid social campaigns across different business areas to make the most of paid social media.
As ever, there has plenty of talk recently about Facebook being dead – do you think that’s true?
Facebook had an extremely tough 2017 and it can’t afford to have another bad year. Last year, they faced a backlash over not doing enough to tackle fake news, while big advertisers and publishers grew increasingly unhappy over their decreasing organic Facebook engagement. Facebook isn’t dead for publishers and institutions because it’s still so universal for audiences. But anybody who manages a page for their institution needs to be playing close attention to all of Facebook’s updates this year (check out their blog for feed and algorithm explainers). Once you’ve adjusted your strategy, it’s time to measure and experiment.
And what about Snapchat? Does it still look healthy to you or has Instagram’s insistence of copying all their key features dealt Snapchat a fatal blow? Is it space that is worth institutions spending time on?
Snapchat for me is increasingly redundant for meaningful education marketing and recruitment. For the teenage audience on there, so many of them don’t want to interact with big brands or organisations in the way we might want, and instead want to use it for messaging between friends only. Instagram gives publishers a lot more in terms of analytics and allows you to make the case to your Director for more investment on this channel, whereas Snapchat still lacks useful and meaningful analytics for many. Instagram is always my recommended channel because of its versatility and the breadth of communities you can reach there.
What do you think of Stories and Live video? Good, bad or ugly?
Stories I absolutely love for their authenticity, and followers can’t get enough of them because it still feels like ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘secret’ content, across any sector. On live video, all publishers and institutions are expected to do this for events, open days, and talks, but often our audiences just don’t want to watch for more than a few seconds. As a minimum, the live video experience needs to be great quality and have presenters or speakers who can encourage followers to engage with live questions, but it should also sit alongside other content from the event, like blog posts, interviews, podcasts, photos, or the option to watch on demand later. The focus should be on getting the most value out of your event as a whole, rather than getting excited about Live video, which is just one part of it.
Should education providers be thinking about podcasting in 2018?
Absolutely! Podcasting has huge potential for growing awareness and loyalty for your institution, whether you’re involved in communicating research, student recruitment, or alumni engagement. I work for the Houses of Parliament and their Parliament Explained podcast does a fantastic job of de-mystifying the inner workings of the UK Parliament – what Parliament is, how Parliament scrutinises the work of the Government, and how you can get involved. There are plenty of calls to action in each episode and these are essential for making the most of this medium.
To finish, time to make a couple of predictions for the new year. First, what will be the hot social network for education providers in 2018?
LinkedIn. It’s been around for a while but with all the updates from 2017, I’m increasingly impressed with the potential here for thought leadership opportunities for Directors and VCs of institutions, for positive alumni community engagement, for attracting new talent to institutions, and for executive level student recruitment.
Second, which social network might they be able to drop in the year ahead, if any?
Twitter or Snapchat, depending on your audience and depending who has a worse year. If these channels aren’t working for you or your audiences, then instead invest time and resources in the most meaningful communications channels for your institution, which will probably be around building a positive ‘customer service’ experience. For example, that could be through Facebook Messenger Bots that signpost student services, clearing information, or encourage sign ups to your next open day.
And finally, can you pick one word or phrase that you think will define how education providers will use social media in 2018?
Listen. With so many challenges in the education sector – whether that’s Brexit’s threat to international student numbers, TEF rankings, or debates around pay at the top levels – education providers need to create their communication strategies around listening. They need to listen to the needs and questions of potential students, they need to fix the problems for current students, they need to listen to the experiences of alumni and build on those, and not forgetting to listen to what their competitors are up to on social.