Admissions offices routinely use social media to attract and recruit students to their universities, but financial aid has lagged behind. Financial aid directors (FDAs) may fear that developing and maintaining a social media campaign will take too much time and many aren’t sure how to use the various platforms effectively. I have seen FDA asking each other on the listervs how to effectively use social media to engage students.
The curiosity is there. And it should be. In the financial aid office, an effective social media strategy can yield substantial results for these 5 reasons:
- Social is a great way to disseminate information directly to students.
- It can build a community of financially literate students and families.
- It streamlines operations in the financial aid office, cutting down the need for phone support.
- It boosts credibility and loyalty.
- It allows for greater transparency.
A social campaign not only gives students the information they need in a timely way but also creates connections with students who might not have otherwise been proactive and engaged. Below is a guide to social success.
Plan Your Campaign
What is your mission? Is it simply to let students know about upcoming financial aid deadlines? Is it to promote financial literacy? Is it to demystify the loan process? All three or more?
As the Federal Student Aid Office’s social media outreach page demonstrates, social media is versatile enough to launch any kind of campaign. Knowing exactly what you want to accomplish will help you to choose which platforms to use and the right content to post. I suggest running one campaign at a time across all platforms to ensure students are really digesting the content (perhaps financial literacy is your summer focus and FAFSA preparation campaigns fill the month leading up to the FAFSA deadline).
Linda Peckman, Senior Training Strategist with Lakes Higher Education and Affiliates, points out the University of Rochester’s Financial Aid Office decided to stick with a Twitter account, leaving Facebook to the Admissions Office. One employee posted regular tweets, an activity that only took a half hour each day.
You can always expand your scope later. Starting with one platform, though, prevents you from getting overwhelmed and keeps you focused on the greater mission.
Social media is all about community engagement. You need to reach students by creating shareable content and useful information. Inside jokes, honest self-assessment, and an ability to admit mistakes and problems are all valued by students, according to The Elements of a Great #highered Twitter Account.
Without engagement, the social media campaign goes nowhere. Keeping careful track of comments, likes, shares, clicks and re-tweets will let you know which posts resonate and help you to plan content going forward.
Support with Content
Though a social post is actually content itself, it can also be a vehicle for promoting longer, more resourceful content such as blogs and static pages. If blogging regularly is too great an undertaking for your financial aid office (and, done well, it is a lot of work), create a few resource pages in the financial aid section of your college’s website.
The University of California, Santa Barbara financial aid office, lead by Dr. Michael Miller, launched a video resource called 7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA, which the school uses social media to promote. You don’t even have to create something as interactive as a video. We posted An Open Letter to Students from a Financial Aid Counselor, and though it is a simple blog, financial aid counselors and directors still reach out to me to say how helpful it is and to ask to share it with their students.
I could write an entire blog on how to write engaging content for your students (in fact, I will write one), but the most important tips to keep in mind are these:
- Be resourceful
- Use humor generously and financial aid jargon sparingly
- Keep it simple and short
Social media is constantly evolving, and people come back to sites when the content is refreshed often. Keeping the volume high increases the chances that more viewers will be reading and ensures that students will see your message.
Experts recommend that you refresh social content at least every other day, though four or five times a week is ideal (I recommend posting to Twitter up to four times a day). Using work study students to help post tweets or update a Facebook page is a cost effective way to stay current (plus they inherently know how to talk to kids these days).