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Thoughts on How to Get the Most Out of Your Social Presence

Spend a few seconds on any social platform and you’ll quickly spot a trend. It’s either tantalizing but superficial or chocked full of value but duller than tax season. In a utopia, we’d all be reading tweets by Plato instead of Instagram posts of bread-faced cats. BBC News’ Facebook post about hyperinflation in Zimbabwe would have more likes than Justin Beiber’s latest act of rich-kid idiocy.

But that’s not the world we live in; for the most part, we’re faced with the choice between content that is interesting but valueless or intellectually stimulating posts full of boring old-man facts. We have to choose between The Daily Mail and The New York Times.

As a place of higher education, it can seem impossible to bridge that gap. You need students to be engaged, but for the most part they won’t be unless there’s something scandalous, titillating, or provocative filling their feeds.

Yet, a stuffy government agency found a way to do just that. Mind you, we’re talking about the same people who put a man on the moon. The hundreds of PhD-level scientists and engineers who work at NASA live and breathe physics, mechanical engineering, and pages upon pages of complex mathematical models. But somehow, they can tweet a picture of an artist’s rendering of Kepler 452B, a planet 1400 light years away, and the internet blows up (source).

(Image source: NASA)

NASA found a way to associate the excitement of exploring space with the heavier subjects of astrophysics, astronomy and all sorts of related college-level subjects.

Pluto was this last stop gas station of a former planet we knew little about. Then, NASA posted a photo of the dwarf planet on Instagram and it’s getting more love than any other celestial body in the sky.

NASA shows that complicated science is interesting and exciting by showing us what the practice of it brings, and it seems to be working. All you need to look at are the thousands upon thousands of retweets, likes and comments across all its social media platforms. In fact, NASA is the 104th most popular Twitter account (source) with ~ 11.6 million followers – not bad for a bunch of science geeks.

Yeah, That Might Be True, but it’s NASA

NASA is an example of note, but one that might not be applicable to most educational institutions. We’re not all NASA, right? NASA has a mandate to educate the public, but it is unfair to expect you to compete with them on equal footing.

So let’s break it down a bit. A basic social media strategy revolves around three main components:

  1. Content
  2. Audience
  3. Engagement

NASA has content, which should be obvious; they have a worldwide audience; and they’re engaged and active. Going back to Pluto, NASA actually published the first photo of the dwarf planet on Instagram (source). Not only does that legitimize Instagram as a competitor in the media landscape, but it also caused an explosion of activity online.

The peak of Pluto-related searches occurred on the 14th of June 2015, the same day the Instagram post was published.

You’re Sitting On A Gold Mine of Content

In case you weren’t aware, you already have content and an attentive audience that wants to see it.

Finding content is easier than you might expect. Think about your day. If someone were to break into your office and demand one interesting thing that happened this week, what would you tell them (before calling the police)? That’s your content. If something gets you excited, there’s a good chance there’s a kernel in there.

As an educational institution, you also have a built-in audience. Prospective, current, and former students are looking for something. It could be information, a sense of commonality with the academic community, or a hit of nostalgia. These are the people you can easily reach.

Finally, engagement: it’s simply the result of willpower.

Engagement Is Simple If You Think Like NASA

NASA’s social media ticks every one of those boxes above. However, the deeper question is how does it help them? Why are these eggheads spending their precious science time with Twitterers, Faceblasts and Instaounce?

NASA is a publicly funded organization that (to some extent) receives funding at the whim of politicians. In theory, those politicians keep their jobs by satisfying their constituencies. If there’s a public push for space exploration then guess whose funding increases? I mean, NASA didn’t go to the moon in the first place because of science.

It’s in NASA’s best interest to promote their work through social media. It gives them social proof that their work is of interest to the wider public.

Opening Your Own Floodgates

The same logic applies to education. Showing off what you and your students are doing and what you’re all achieving pushes the image that you’re an institution worthy of other people’s time, money, and attendance.

Being active on social media doesn’t mean tweeting your lunch or showing how witty you are. It’s about finding a balance between topics of value (science, art, business, etc…) and their flashier side. Finding that spark might be daunting, but think about your audience, how to engage them, what stuff that gets you excited and how you can turn that into valuable, interesting content. Even if you just start thinking like that, you’ll be miles ahead of the pack.

Phew, that was a long one. If you stuck through it all, thanks. For more information on social media marketing check out our social media marketing page or other blog posts on the subject. Other than that, any thoughts on NASA, social media, and education? Feel free to leave them below.