You know the story. It was 2004 when Mark Zuckerberg et al. founded The Facebook, a new social network exclusively for Harvard University students to congregate and connect online. The platform was so successful that eligibility for membership was quickly expanded to other Boston colleges, to the rest of the Ivy League, to anyone with a .edu university email address, to corporations, and finally to anyone claiming to be older than 13. Now, everyone — from your grandmother to the White House to your neighbor’s dog — has a Facebook presence.
The country of China has a population of 1.38 billion. Facebook has a monthly user base of 1.71 billion. That means if Facebook were a country, it would be the most-populated country in the world — by quite a bit. And these “citizens” of Facebook aren’t just casual users: An average of 1.13 billion of them visit the site daily, spending more than 20 minutes per day there — friending, following, sharing and liking (more than 4 million times per minute).
The world’s most ubiquitous social network remains its most-used. Sixty-four percent of all Americans older than 12 have a Facebook account, and use among typical college-aged Americans is even greater. According to Pew Research Center’s internet research, 82 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds and 79 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds use Facebook.
While new and trending social media platforms may capture attention and buzz from younger internet users, Facebook has reached a point where it hardly feels like a social network anymore at all. Instead, it just feels like where you “live” online. Here users can be their most true selves, without pretense and without craft. Their histories and their preferences are ingrained in the user experience. Their relationships can be curated as appropriate and comfortable (if they don’t want their manager or their grandmother to see their political leanings, they can choose to make those activities private, and if they don’t want to see 12 videos of their new nephew every afternoon, they can choose to see less — or none — while preserving the familial relationship). Their activity can range from entertaining to proactive to informational, all in one interface. A student’s entire life is on Facebook … your school better be there, too.
“Having a strong social media presence increasingly seems to fill [a prospective student’s] needs in that it makes it easier for them to experience a friendly and dynamic relationship with what can sometimes seem like a difficult-to-navigate and faceless institution,” said Elise Perachio Daniel, senior e-communications marketing manager at University of Washington at Seattle. “[Social media] gives them an opportunity to interact with us in a forum in which they’re already comfortable.”
You care about your students — here’s how to connect with them on Facebook.
Getting started: Facebook basics
All the way back in 2011, when researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth asked a representative sample of U.S. schools whether they used social media, 100 percent said yes. So it’s a safe assumption that your college or university is familiar enough with the absolute basics of Facebook — likes and shares, friends and groups. But being a business (or an institution of higher education) on the network is slightly trickier. The heart of a successful brand presence on Facebook is easy: Be genuine, show students who you are, provide value and offer an opportunity to engage. But because Facebook is constantly updating what users see in their newsfeeds, how and why, the minutia of brand presence is always in flux.
Facebook Pages: Operating as a college or university on Facebook is different than operating as an individual. Rather than a personal profile, your school will have a Page — but that Page must be administered by a Facebook user with a personal profile. Users interact with Pages by liking and following rather than friending, and their affiliation with your Page will be publicly tied to their profile. To set up a Page for your school, you need a name, two high-quality photos and a call to action. That’s it! You’ll choose your category (institution), customize your offerings, and invite users to connect. Then, according to Facebook, “Sharing photos and updates keeps your Page fresh for visitors and helps you keep in touch with customers. You can extend the reach of your posts beyond your Page followers by boosting your posts and selecting the people you want to connect with.”
The news feed algorithm: What you share will end up in your followers’ news feeds — but how far they have to scroll to see it is highly variable. According to Facebook, the average user has access to more than 1,500 posts every day, but only sees about 300. How this content — made up of text posts, photos, polls, videos and ads — reaches users is up to the news feed algorithm, which curates a list based on what the network learns each user will most want to see. The formula by which this content is curated changes constantly — each time Facebook updates its algorithm, it shares an update to its blog known as News Feed FYI. In 2016, Facebook published nine updates. In 2017, Facebook has already published two updates. Through the years, however, the intent of the algorithm remains the same — to cut through the noise and provide scrollers with entertaining, informative and connective value.
Facebook’s vice president of product management for News Feed Adam Mosseri said, “When we launched News Feed in 2006, it was hard to imagine the challenge we now face: far too much information for any one person to consume. In the decade since, more than a billion people have joined Facebook, and today they share a flood of stories every day. That’s why stories in News Feed are ranked — so that people can see what they care about first and don’t miss important stuff from their friends. If the ranking is off, people don’t engage and leave dissatisfied. So one of our most important jobs is getting this ranking right.”
Originally, the News Feed ranking was based on three elements, according to Hootsuite:
1. Affinity: How close is the relationship between the user and the content or its source?
2. Weight: What type of action was taken on the content?
3. Time decay: How current is the content — how recently was it posted?
Today, those three factors still contribute, but Marketing Land estimates the algorithm takes into account as many as 100,000 individual factors. Wow. To keep up, you can follow the News Feed FYI, but at its core, the network just wants what users want, which is value. Don’t spam your followers, don’t resort to clickbait, and don’t expect to be prioritized above family and friends.
The life of a post: Research by Wiselytics indicates “a whopping 75 percent of [a post’s] potential engagement [happens] in the first five hours. However, the peak of the impressions your post receives happens much sooner than the actual engagement. In fact, your post will have made 75 percent of its lifetime impressions after just two and a half hours.” This seems short, but in fact it’s four times longer than the lifetime of a tweet. A Facebook post also provides more opportunity for depth than a tweet.
When to post: Thursdays and Fridays from 1-3 p.m. are the most effective times to gain attention, but users are more likely to engage with your school in the evenings.
Mastering the platform: Making Facebook work for your college or university
Targeted ads: Ads on Facebook have a huge advantage over many other forms of marketing because they’re incredibly targeted to users based on their location, demographic and profile information in a manner that’s incredibly easy for you. Ads are reasonably priced and almost fully customizable. You can advertise your school’s Page, individual posts on your Page or your website itself. Just choose your business goal (do you want students to enroll?), who you want to reach (women ages 25-34 in your metro area?), a budget for your ad and visuals to accompany it. Facebook takes care of the rest and provides detailed metrics. According to research by Nanigans, the average click-through rate of a Facebook ad is 0.9 percent, and the average cost per click is 64 cents.
Images: Images are responsible for 75 to 90 percent of an ad’s performance on Facebook, according to Consumer Acquisition. Make yours count. Photos that are high-quality, engaging, on-brand and sized to fit will catch a scrolling user’s attention.
Videos: Facebook averages 8 billion video views every day — and 85 percent of those are in silent mode. Since most users will stop scrolling to watch videos on Facebook, but will do so without the sound on, it’s crucial to add captioning. Facebook counts a “view” at three seconds, so make sure you can grab a viewer’s attention — silently — right away. Captions can increase your views by as much as 12 percent.
Craft a Facebook presence worth following
Just like on Twitter, your school’s Facebook feed should follow the 4-1-1 rule. Loosely, it’s advisable to post four pieces of new, valuable, original content for every share of someone else’s post and one self-promotional post.
On Facebook, it’s important to have a posting strategy that includes each stage of the student life cycle. Share content that appeals to prospective students, current students, alumni and anyone else who loves your school (like parents or fans of college athletics). Hootsuite advises that “once you’ve built strategies for those core audiences, you can expand to other segments such as prospective faculty, donors, government stakeholders, industry and community.”
Encourage all your followers to engage with you — after all, real connection is what Facebook is all about — and don’t worry too much about micromanaging the interactions on your Page. Invite students to share their photos of events, provide feedback on university decisions or react to faculty news. Make sure staff is available to answer questions and respond to messages in a timely manner, and you’ll build a community as unique and involved as your students and instructors.
Paul Redfern, communications and marketing team lead at Gettysburg College, pointed out that “Our goal should be to let faculty be faculty and let students be students — and incorporate their viewpoints, styles and voices in the online channels we manage on behalf of the institution.”
Beyond the Basics
If you’re looking to become a Facebook master, you don’t have to go it alone. Facebook has easy-to-follow instructions on getting started with Pages, ads and more, and its blog (featuring the aforementioned News Feed FYI) can keep you up to date on the platform’s latest features and functionality. If you’re ready to take your Facebooking to the next level, an education marketing agency like Keypath Education is the perfect partner to maximize your web presence.