The Ohio State University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the United States. More than 65,000 graduate and undergraduate students attend the public university, either at its main campus in Columbus, Ohio, or at one of its five regional campuses. But when this more than 150-year-old school turns to social media for branding or communication, its social media practitioners need to think beyond reaching the student body.

Ohio State employs thousands of faculty members and staff, and boasts an alumni family that is more than 600,000 strong. Ohio State Buckeyes football, basketball and other athletics programs have a vast legion of followers. And that doesn’t even count the future students and community members across the globe who take an interest in Ohio State’s achievements, activities and research.

X post (formerly Twitter) from Ohio State University's X account reading "The Buckeyes are always number one in our hearts. Winky face emoji Hashtag GoBucks" with images from recent football game.

Engaging effectively with these diverse audiences across seven social media platforms is a tall task that requires exceptional strategic thinking, planning and creativity—plus the right technology. And according to Dani Dean, Associate Director of Social Media, since her team developed their audience-centric social media strategy and started using Sprout Social, they have excelled in their efforts to make Ohio State one of the highest-performing universities on social.

With Sprout, it’s easy to bring data-driven insights into our team and measure the impact of our efforts. Those insights help us shape and optimize our social strategies for Ohio State, contributing to our tremendous growth in engagement and brand awareness.
Dani Dean
Associate Director, Social Media

Measuring the impact of every piece of content with insights from Sprout

Dean said her team adopted Sprout’s social media management platform and other technology tools to help realize their goals to make Ohio State a leader among its peer set and one of the top 10 schools nationwide for social media performance. They needed intuitive systems that would allow them to analyze their audiences with precision and develop a data-driven strategy for social content and engagement.

In FY23, those investments helped Ohio State’s social media team see its most successful and productive year in the history of the university’s presence on social media. Dean and her team published more than 2,000 posts and led multiple paid and organic social campaigns that generated 140 million impressions and 11 million engagements—a 45% increase from the previous year.

During that same period, Ohio State saw a 155% net growth in followers across all platforms, and its social media audience grew to 2.2 million.

Image of Ohio State University's Instagram. Picture features three recent posts on the account and their bio reads, "The highest-ranked public university in Ohio, home to world-class faculty, passionate students & innovative researchers. ⭕️🙌."

Dean said Sprout’s Reports and Listening features have been especially valuable in helping Ohio State’s content hit the mark with various audiences. “Sprout’s reporting tool is personally my favorite feature,” she said. “I’m an analytics nerd, but I also have a creative background. Sprout’s reporting lets me pair data insights with the creative side of my work. I can create a wide variety of customized reports, from Competitor and Tag reports to reports on the performance of video and other content.”

With social listening in Sprout, Ohio State can be more effective at rooting its content and messaging in what audiences are already saying. Dean said Sprout helps Ohio State be more proactive in communicating issues of interest to its audiences and be more responsive in engaging with people reacting to those topics.

Sprout’s features are super customizable. We love that Sprout lets us build so many reporting and tagging structures to support our specific goals, rather than making us fit our goals into a particular structure.
Dani Dean
Associate Director, Social Media

Ohio State’s leadership is often interested in reviewing listening reports following university announcements and other news, which are a snap for Dean’s team to generate. “Sprout has made the whole listening process so much more efficient,” she said. “Before we started using the platform, we had to build old-school queries to pull the data, and it was a painstaking process that took several hours.”

Dean said she also creates quarterly impact reports that she shares with various stakeholders, including Ohio State’s senior leadership and the board of directors. Sprout’s reports are also vital for helping her team track their three core key performance indicators (KPIs)—awareness, engagement and traffic.

“On the surface, these KPIs may seem broad, but we associate at least one of these goals with every piece of content we post,” she explained. Dean added that her team continues developing custom tags in Sprout to test, optimize and track their KPIs.

Hitting on just the right style and tone—with help from Sprout

Listening with Sprout allows Dean and her team to surface trends and themes likely to resonate with Ohio State’s different audiences. The insights they collect from listening help them customize “customer journeys,” according to Dean, with content most relevant to each audience at various points throughout the year.

Ohio State’s social media practitioners also use Sprout’s tagging and reporting features to test-drive new content formats, from writing style to video editing. Two major channels of focus for testing content are TikTok and Instagram, according to Dean, because that’s where her team can “push the boundaries with creativity and have fun.”

On TikTok, for example, communication is focused primarily toward future Ohio State students—a high school-age audience. “They want to feel a connection with our brand, so we have to make sure we don’t get too niche or ‘inside-jokey’ with our content, or it could fall flat,” Dean said.

Sprout has made such a difference in how we use data to drive our decision-making and measure our impact—it has changed our approach to content development. The social team collaborates with the multimedia and content teams and we use these insights to focus on ongoing improvement. When we create content, we think about channel and audience first.
Dani Dean
Associate Director, Social Media

Dean and her team—including a social media senior associate, a social media production associate, a social media manager of enterprise leadership, and a few student interns—create almost all the content Ohio State uses across its primary social media channels. It’s a collaborative environment with no shortage of work to do.

“Everything we create needs to be tailored for each platform and each audience,” said Dean, whose role includes overseeing the creative direction for Ohio State’s social content. “But Sprout helps us make the best use of our time, resources and creativity because we can dig into the data and understand what’s working well and where with our different audiences.”

Picure of Ohio State's Social Media team on the football field at a recent football game

Customization is critical for making a lasting connection with audiences on social—and for Ohio State, that connection can literally last a lifetime. “If we want to continue growing and building upon Ohio State’s brand image and create full-circle moments with our audiences, we have to push ourselves. We need to foster connections, and social is a powerful tool to do that.”

In addition to the 45% increase in social media engagements for Ohio State in FY23, Dean said video views have grown by an impressive 300%. “These results show that our emphasis on the quality of audience-centric content versus the quantity of content we produce is a successful strategy for driving engagement and reach with Ohio State’s audiences,” she said, adding that her team intends to “continue pushing the boundaries of innovation in the social media space” using their refreshed strategy informed by insights from Sprout.

To learn how Sprout Social can help your organization engage more effectively with diverse audiences and increase the impact of your social content on every channel, request your free demo today.