How to Create an Effective Organic Social Media Strategy for Your College or University

Four adults of various ages stand in front of a brick wall holding cardboard signs in front of their faces that depict social media activities.

What is organic social media?

Organic social media and organic content are terms we often hear in the world of online marketing. What we don’t always hear is a clear explanation of what these phrases mean.

Organic social is any social media activity that does not use paid promotion. The opposite of this is paid social or any social media content influenced by an advertising budget. There are a variety of reasons why focused, proactive organic social marketing is important for higher education.

  • Establish and represent your brand’s personality and voice
  • Connect with potential students by sharing entertaining, informative, or inspiring content about your University
  • Offer potential or current students great service

Choose the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Target Audience

As colleges and universities have expanded their offerings to a wider range of students, from the traditional first-time student to lifelong learners, it is important to pinpoint which social media platforms will most effectively reach and engage each audience. When choosing the best social platform(s) for your brand, it’s important to know the demographics of each. Here’s a breakdown.


Turn to LinkedIn if you want a social platform that targets working professional adults, with 59% of users worldwide between the ages of 25 to 34. LinkedIn is a great tool for employers to connect with potential employees and vice versa. For universities, it is best utilized for paid advertising, but it is still important to keep an organic social presence. Professionals seeking a bachelor’s completion or master’s program will find informational content useful.


Facebook and Instagram are owned by Facebook, Inc. but offer different functions and have very different audience demographics. Facebook has 1.8 billion daily active users and 2.7 billion monthly active users. According to Statista, 32.4% of Facebook users are 25-34, while the 45+ age group consists of 21.4% of all Facebook users. This provides a great opportunity to target those seeking an online degree program or those who have previous college credits but may be considering going back to finish school.

On the other hand, Instagram has over 1 billion users that log in each month and is considered one of the most popular social media platforms among young teenagers in the U.S. The next largest Instagram demographic is the 25-34 age bracket, comprising one-third of Instagram’s users. Given this, traditional university posts that would appeal to someone seeking a campus experience are more suited for the Instagram platform.


Twitter is popular in the United States, with 68.7 million users. According to Statista, 26% of Twitter users have completed some college, and 33% have a college degree. This platform provides a great opportunity for master’s degree programs.


Snapchat is another platform that appeals to the younger crowd with the largest user base between the ages of 13 to 17. Fully 82% of the platform’s users are under the age of 34. Since Snapchat has a large audience of high school-age students, universities can use Snapchat to offer entertaining content for potential students to follow.

Create a Social Media Content Plan

With this basic understanding of which platforms work best for each demographic or degree program, we can create a targeted monthly or quarterly unique content plan.

Content plans should include the number of times to post each week, the topic, a call to action, and ideas for creative. A good mix of content includes university or campus updates, student spotlights, entertainment pieces, faculty highlights, alumni success stories, and program or university offerings.


You don’t need to be a graphic designer to create eye-catching organic social media posts. There are a variety of inexpensive, easy-to-use sites like PicMonkey or Canva that are perfect for creating quick, catchy designs.

  • Incorporate your brand colors and fonts.
  • Use clear images.
  • Keep social copy simple. Many social media users scroll on their phones so copy should be quick and easy to read. Stick with 1-3 sentences and a clear call to action.

For example, if you are sharing your university’s latest blog article on social media, summarize the article in a few sentences, include a clear call to action statement such as “learn more,” and add the link to your blog article to encourage engagement

Reach Your Audience with Engaging Content

Armed with an understanding of social media platforms, a clear picture of their respective audiences, and a content plan, the next step is to create engaging content.

Interesting, relevant, and engaging content will encourage likes, shares, comments, and followers. These social signals contribute to a page’s organic search ranking in powerful ways that include:

  • Link building: Search engines gauge quality by how often a URL is seen throughout the internet. Social media engagement leads to more links back to your site, increasing visibility and brand awareness.
  • Site stickiness: Guiding prospects to your site through compelling organic social content leads them to spend more time on the page. This encourages repeat visitors and decreases bounce rate, further strengthening search engine position.

Multiple Brands, Consistent Voice, Relevant Message

There are often many brands within a university, each with its own voice and story to tell. For example, an online brand vs. on campus brand would speak to current and potential students differently. Departments within universities use different brand voices as they relate to the type of program, curriculum, and the type of learner.

Each brand should tell its own unique story on social platforms, focusing their specific message and demographic to the appropriate platform.

For instance, plan to entertain high school students with fun and insightful content about campus life on Instagram and Snapchat. For adult professionals, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook works best for online bachelor completion programs or master’s degrees.

Some of the best social media content involves storytelling from current students or alumni that will appeal to prospective students. While personal posts about students, faculty, or alumni tend to see the most engagement, it is still important to keep a healthy mix of content in your plan. Keep the 80/20 rule in mind when creating your content plan. 80% of your social content should be valuable or entertaining, with only 20% promoting your business.

Use Organic Content to Build Stronger Paid Campaigns

Organic social and paid online campaigns work hand-in-hand. Users often land on social platform pages to gather information about a college before filling out a lead form or visiting a landing page.

Social media is where potential students will go to see if they envision themselves attending your college. Fifty-eight percent of teens researching colleges uses social media in their research. That percentage increases once they have decided to apply. Sextant has found that organic social aides in assisted enrollments at a 26% rate but if potential students don’t find consistently engaging organic content, they may bounce off quickly.

Organic social is a great tool in a multi-strategy approach where a prospective student may come in through an organic social post but then end up converting through another method such as direct traffic, paid social, or vice versa. Exciting, relevant, and engaging content paints a picture for prospective students. That picture helps them envision themselves enrolling in the perfect program—yours.