These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a university or higher education institution without a presence on social media. Regardless of which platform universities choose, social media enables universities to cultivate a sense of community for students and to engage with their alumni base.

And though some may view social as little more than an awareness play, the reality is social can support higher education institutions at all stages of their marketing funnel. With a robust social strategy, universities can strengthen their international profile, influence prospective students’ decisions and turn graduates, employees and industry partners into staunch advocates.

In this article, we’ll break down what the university marketing funnel looks like and how your social strategy supports each stage of the funnel. We’ll hear from expert social marketer, Rob Brooks, who will show us how his team puts this strategy into practice for The University of Newcastle, Australia.

Social supports all stages of the marketing funnel

When it comes to aligning your social strategy with your marketing funnel, Rob recommends identifying what you hope to achieve at each stage of the funnel and how social can support those goals.

At the awareness stage, one primary goal for The University of Newcastle centers around recruitment. Here, Rob’s team is focused on getting their university’s name in front of as many prospective students as possible and strengthening their brand on social. Consider what social platforms are most popular among high school students and what content will resonate strongest with students starting to think about university.

As students move into the consideration stage, how might marketers use social media to serve up content that encourages prospects to ask for more information? Sharing content like a glimpse at the different types of learning opportunities available to students can entice prospects to learn more about your offerings.

Once you have your audience’s attention, using social to highlight your university’s unique selling points can help lead students through to the decision stage of the funnel. Rob’s team, for example, uses social to showcase what makes the University of Newcastle different from other universities, like the values of the institution and the location of the campuses.

Moving into the adoption stage, this is where universities can leverage social to support students as they enroll and settle into university life. Universities, for example, can use social to educate students on important dates for class registration or highlight lesser known certificates across a range of disciplines.

Finally, consider the role of social media in supporting advocacy. The University of Newcastle has an alumni network of over 148,000 former students and has more than 9,000 staff. As another way of engaging their audience, Rob’s team features current students, staff and alumni to highlight the lifestyle and career opportunities which come from being part of the university community.

Social data is the key to success

In order for your full-funnel marketing strategy to be successful, every social team needs to lean on their data.

For Rob, social data is what enables his team to connect their work to a specific business outcome and to act as strategic advisors to stakeholders across the university. And to ensure there’s a clear tie between social performance and business outcomes, there are several social metrics Rob’s team uses to measure performance at various stages of the marketing funnel. In the awareness stage, they are looking at metrics like impressions and follower growth. For the consideration stage, metrics like link clicks matter most while conversion metrics support the university’s goals at the decision stage.

With Sprout Social’s analytics offerings, social teams are empowered to quickly aggregate social data and create reports filled with insights like historical performance data and campaign analysis. In addition to maintaining the big picture of all the university’s social platforms, Rob is also able to measure his team’s performance and gather data around things like task completion and customer care response times.

Above all, data helps social teams provide context around why something works and where adjustments need to be made to achieve goals at each stage of the marketing funnel. Marketers can help educate their executives on what social awareness means, what efforts are successful and why going viral isn’t always the answer. Social data also equips marketers with the proof they need when making the case for additional resources when crafting a social strategy.

Tag and track everything

One can never have too much social data to work with, especially when it comes to building a full-funnel social strategy. To further slice and dice social data, Rob employs Sprout Message Tagging to keep track of every post sent from their university’s account. It’s not unusual for Rob’s team to tag a piece of outgoing content with 10 different tags, from who publishes a specific piece of content to the key stakeholder to the content pillar.

Tags make it possible for the University of Newcastle’s social team to report back on that piece of content’s performance and whether or not it is effective for their goals at its intended stage of the funnel. Rob is able to see, for example, that user-generated content has an engagement rate more than double the university’s created content. With this information, the social team can then double down on giving students the content that resonates strongest with them.

Consider how tagging further helps empower social teams like Rob’s to align their strategies to two specific stages of the funnel:

  • Awareness. With tags, marketers can dive deep into their data to allow their content strategy to evolve the way it should: based on the immediate needs of their audience. High school students might be interested in webinars or photos showing campus life, while content featuring professors may be less likely to catch a prospect’s eye. With this data, social teams can pour their resources into the content that is proven to raise awareness amongst potential applicants.
  • Decision. Tagging also enables social teams to attribute conversion metrics like application button clicks to specific pieces of content. Using Sprout’s URL Tracking feature, Rob’s team can report on post-click actions on the university’s website and which social post drove that action. Tagging data can help marketers determine which channels are most effective in driving conversions, and allows social teams to report on more than just vanity metrics.

Do more with your university’s social strategy

With social data, marketers can do more than support their university’s awareness goals. In addition to getting their university’s name in front of prospective students, social marketers can move prospects through the marketing funnel to the decision-making stage.

But to create a full-funnel marketing strategy, social teams need to embrace their social data. At the University of Newcastle, data fuels the social team’s strategy—and they have meaningful results to show for it. With Sprout, marketers can easily measure social performance across the entire marketing funnel and simplify reporting so they can invest more time in strengthening their social campaigns.

For social marketers in higher education looking to implement a full-funnel social strategy that drives results, try Sprout Social with a free 30-day trial today.