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  • Writer's pictureEllie Moore

Some Findings from the 2021 Brandwatch Report on Social Media Engagement for Higher Education

Last year, Brandwatch released a report titled The State of the Higher Education Social Media Marketing Profession in 2021. [1] Going through the report for a workshop on social media that we were delivering at the time, I discovered some interesting points that I thought might be helpful for all of you out there working in social media in different academic settings. So without further ado, here are the findings...

Target Audiences

The report states that prospective students are understandably the most frequently target group by social media online, however, it's actually the current students that are really driving the conversations being had.

Graduating student discussions declined significantly (something which I wondered might be due to the lack of graduation ceremonies last year) but alumni student discussions have increased! This is something we have seen first hand with the Cornell Alumni Event that we hosted on Forumm, which you can read about here!

Something that really stood out as interesting to us is that despite the targeting, students are not even the most engaged group overall! It turns out, scientists, researchers, teachers, and lecturers outdo the student groups in terms of engagement with social media online!

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Audiences

Despite Brandwatch revealing that academics and researchers are the most vocal audience, fewer than half of social media professionals consider them to be a very important audience to work with.

Before the report was published, 38% of social media professionals said it had been difficult to work with academics and researchers over the previous 12 months. 70% of people did say however that current students were their primary target group, and over 50% of those surveyed reported that parents and guardians are the most frequently targeted secondary audience.

Engagement in 2021

Engagement rates increased for many universities over 2021. Overall, people were posting about higher education less frequently in comparison to the beginning of the year, but research has shown an 11% increase in engagement on social media posts themselves over the 6 months before the report was published.

Most universities said that the most important engagement objective was answering questions quickly.

Social Media Channel Use

All universities agreed that Instagram was given the most time, budget, and resources, closely followed by Twitter.

This is due to the previous point about current students being the target audience, and Instagram is their chosen social media platform these days. Twitter is prioritised due to the presence of stakeholders and certain professionals. Facebook (often considered a slightly outdated platform these days) and LinkedIn saw considerably less engagement across the board.

LinkedIn wasn't without its advantages though - it's still a good place for posts on rankings content, research, and senior role appointments. It's also a great place for alumni and business contacts.

For many last year, TikTok took a back seat due to pandemic restrictions making it tricky to meet up and head outside, often a key part of making successful TikTok content. Those who have stuck with it have seen a positive impact though.

Our partners, Lancaster University have highlighted that TikTok ads work very well for them, giving them more of a return than paid ads on other platforms, and posting TikTok content on Instagram has also really boosted follower numbers.

It's all about the video these days! For more reasons on why universities should be using TikTok, check out our blog post on the topic here!

Overall, engagements rates for higher education on social media are looking pretty positive. It may be that there's a few things that can be tweaked, but hopefully, with our findings from this report, you will be able to adjust your strategy accordingly!

If you have any questions or would like further guidance on social media, our Head of Knowledge and Learning, Dr Hilary Young runs fantastic workshops on everything you'd need to know. Feel free to get in contact here:


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