Dartmouth College’s Social Media Testing Strategies

Erin Supinka, Assistant Director for Digital Engagement at Dartmouth College, recently won the Best of Conference Red Stapler at the High Ed Web Conference.

Given the huge interest in doing social media right in higher education, I couldn’t wait to invite her to join the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about her lessons learned from a year of in-depth social media content, timing, photography and channel testing.

Establishing Social Media Testing Frameworks and Benchmarks

Dartmouth created three separate frameworks that all of its social posts ideally meet. One of them is a basic administrative tag that follows arts, humanities, or another area around campus. The second is themes, and then that third one is a strategic framework.

This gives Erin a path forward.

“Not only can I produce analytics that showcase how many posts we shared that supported arts and humanities in 2018, and here’s the amount of people it reached, the amount of engagements it caused,” Erin said. “It also allows me, at the end of the day, to make sure that our channels are truly representing what we’re doing and what we’re communicating about Dartmouth.”

This model allows Erin to easily streamline Dartmouth’s analytics across all their social platforms as well as align it with the different efforts of the communications office.

“I’m keeping myself honest and saying, ‘Okay, Erin, you totally did not post anything in this category last month. You really need to do a better job of being diverse with the content. Just don’t focus on the easy and high engaging content. Make sure you’re trying to tackle those harder pieces.”

What Dartmouth Learned from Testing Photos and Emojis

When you have a beautiful campus as Dartmouth does, it can be tempting to show off the most polished photos of the grounds and buildings. But that doesn’t build engagement. You have to make it look like people actually go there. Center people in the foreground of your photos so viewers can imagine themselves in the shots.

As for emojis …

“We are still testing emojis across all platforms,” Erin said. So far, even the smallest emoji is increasing engagement. So Erin’s going further and testing purposeful emojis, things like the green pine tree and the green heart that is part of the community, versus utility emojis.

“What we’re finding, at least on Twitter and Instagram,” Erin told us, “is that it is increasing engagement and that we’re tapping into the way the community responds and reacts. When we’re using an emoji on Instagram, it’s a way for us to kind of play into a culture that exists on our campus with different emojis and what they mean.”

From Visual Testing to Copy Testing

The copy and messaging for Twitter look a lot different since the audience there is more engaged and includes alumni and parents as well as students and prospects. That allows Erin to engage in a conversational way; after all, these people are taking that extra energy to follow the school even though they aren’t all students.

“By being able to reach back out to them as another community member of this community,” Erin said, “we’ve been able to tap into a more engaging network on Twitter than we had been previously.”

With Instagram, it came down to identifying how active the current and prospective students were on those platforms, and then by spending time in this space as a personal user as well as studying how the community was engaging with one another.

“Instead of opening up an Instagram post with a very long explanation of what is in the photo,” Erin told us, “we’d open it up with a series of emojis or a catchy quickie sentence about the weather or something like that.”

Benefits of Sharing a Post vs Re-posting Natively?

Facebook tanked Dartmouth’s engagement rate each and every time Erin shared a post. So she set up cross-posting relationships for all the videos on Facebook because it gave her better analytics when people shared, and it presented everyone an opportunity to have higher engagement and reach on those posts.

“On Twitter, we have seen some decent success with retweeting with comments,” Erin said. “One, because the native analytics don’t pull in whenever you just retweet… But two, it also allowed us to add more information and fluff it up a little bit with more hashtags or an additional link or something like that.”  

It’s not easy to share other posts on Instagram, but Erin is sharing posts in the story feed. Dartmouth’s feed is mostly made up of user-generated content, which outperforms anything they upload from a photographer — unless it’s a drone clip because drones always win .


Next Steps Advice for Social Media Testing in Higher Education

Set up a template in Excel and block off however long it takes you to put together a spreadsheet to which you can add in your Facebook posts, Twitter posts, Instagram posts, and whatever other platforms you’re using. Then streamline it so that whenever you want to calculate reach, it can all tabulate into a totals spreadsheet easily. By getting all of that in one place, you can go back and retroactively tag things.

“The other next piece of advice, I guess I can offer up,” Erin said, “is that I tweet out all of the things that I’ve built on Twitter, naturally. And it’s #ErinGoesToWork. The frameworks are built.”

Erin is also willing to share her experience. She has examples of options for frameworks and a walkthrough on how to set it up.

“And I’m always happy to take questions!”

This post is based on a podcast interview with Erin Supinka from Dartmouth College. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.