The aim of this presentation is to showcase how we’ve been using the new university pages on LinkedIn. I’ll start by outlining our overall approach to social media at Hallam, before moving on to our own university page. I’ll finish by looking at some good things about the new pages, some less good things, and some thoughts on how universities might better use LinkedIn.
This section is a quick snapshot of our approach to social at Hallam. We’re using the same key channels as most UK universities, and there are no big surprises there.
First, there’s only one member of the social media team: me. My daughter Florence doesn’t actually do any social media yet. In terms of people with the words ‘social media’ in their job title, I’m the only one at Hallam. But…
There are a few people who have social media in their job description. So I get things done by collaborating. A lot. With students, academics, marketing, alumni relations, and student support.
There is a lot of focus on Facebook, Twitter, IG (and sometimes Snapchat). This is because student recruitment is 95% of our income, and that’s where the priority is for marketing resource.
There are secondary objectives for social media around student retention and brand affinity, celebrating the community and sense of belonging. One thing we don’t prioritise those channels for is news publishing (at least, not in the traditional sense), but we’re in the process of creating content for those channels that makes Hallam’s new relevant and engaging for those audiences.
This is Varsity 2017, and it’s what social at Hallam looks like. We do a lot of stories about the student experience. Lots of promotion of student journey and milestone events like Varsity, and open days, welcome week and graduation. Our social media channels feature lots of real humans, student (or academic) takeovers, and we try to lift the lid on life at Hallam. Our storytelling supports that key objective of generating brand affinity and a sense of belonging.
There’s also a big push for Sheffield content. People don’t always know that Sheffield’s a nice place. So skylines, shots of Sheffield and the surrounding area, lifestyle shots. They get the most engagement (and form the bulk of our content) on Instagram. Again, it’s often about student recruitment, but it’s also about nurturing that sense of pride and belonging.
For about a year, we’ve had a huge shift towards social ads. Ad-blockers mean digital ad placement is less effective, and we’re moving towards content marketing. Especially when it comes to publishing our big ticket research stories. Our research narrative is around transforming lives and addressing difficult issues in society.
But we’re also trying to move away from simple content publishing, and develop more conversational approaches on social. We’re dabbling with influencer marketing and some employer advocacy. LinkedIn is emerging for us as a really good way of doing those things, and I have some examples for you later on.
We’re also developing platform-specific strategies, to guide our use of each channel, and improve our understanding of how different content performs on each channel.
On LinkedIn, the objectives are very different for us than they are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’ve said that student recruitment is our number one objective on those channels. But it isn’t really a thing on LinkedIn. At all.
These are the objectives we’re working to on LinkedIn.
This is the big. It’s mainly about awareness of products and services. In particular, we’re working on awareness of our move into higher and degree apprenticeships. In terms of social media goals, this is purely about reaching the right people with our messages. It involves some paid-for promotion, along with strong organic content.
One great thing about LinkedIn is that it works really well for for reputational stories and new developments that have an impact on the region, or on society in general. So we use LinkedIn to generate awareness of the more ‘newsy’ stories at the University.
Higher and degree apprenticeships are new for us. We’re going big on them at Hallam, and there’s a responsibility for us to inform employers about legislation, and about how they can access support for HDAs. There’s also a need for us to reach them directly, and start speaking to them one to one. LinkedIn is helping us do that in a number of ways. Publishing informative content is just the starting point.
You can’t talk about HDAs at Hallam without talking about Conor Moss. He leads the HDA team, knows the legislation inside-out, and he’s done a lot of work on LinkedIn to reach out to employers in a very personal way. Conor blogs about our HDA offer, the legislation, and about events and services businesses can access. We share Conor’s posts on our company page, helping him expand his network and raise his profile, as well as that of HDAs at Hallam.
And he uses InMail and our apprenticeships discussion group on LinkedIn to engage directly with employers.
That thought leadership is a really valuable and engaging way to reach employers. We recently asked Chris Husbands, the Vice-Chancellor of the University to blog about HDAs on his LinkedIn profile. He took some persuading, but it paid off. His blog post continues to reach people, and has had some good engagement.
Occasionally, engagement on LinkedIn can be different to what you want or expect. I like that people are starting to let their hair down on LinkedIn. People used to be so guarded, but now we regularly get expressive, amusing or thought-provoking comments on our posts. This one was directly on Chris Husbands’ article.
A lot of our research centres and institutes are starting to recognise the value of LinkedIn as the platform to reach out to small businesses and employers. It can be a great way to raise their profile, and start to develop relationships for knowledge transfer. And, for our placement support team, and our careers team, it’s a way of finding opportunities for students.
Our goals on social media (for this particular objective) are about consumption, leads, and engagement. We want those business leaders and employers to be reading our thought leadership pieces, clicking links to further info, signing up for our events, engaging with academics, and having two-way conversations with us about what they want from us.
One way of doing that is through LinkedIn groups. The degree apprenticeships group is a way for us to directly reach out to employers and offer them help and advice in real time. We also have a group for the placements team to engage with employers, and find opportunities for students. Like a lot of people, however, I’m undecided on LinkedIn Groups. They often descend into just another publishing platform for the admins, rather than organic, genuine conversation among community members, with one person repeatedly posting the same news they posted elsewhere.
It’s been said before that groups need watering. And sometimes people forget to water them.
Here’s another way we’re trying engage businesses. We’re working with academic thought leaders like Alan Smith of the Materials Engineering Research Institute, to develop their profiles, helping them to develop new knowledge transfer opportunities. Alan has also written this up as an article for his LinkedIn profile, which we can share and use to encourage business leaders to engage with him directly.
The video we did with Alan generated some engagement, and it’s important we use those moments to continue the conversation. Even when they’re not exactly the response we’re looking for.
Our approach with alumni at the moment is to keep them warm. A lot of our alumni engagement is happening through existing channels like mailing lists – the alumni newsletter is a priority channel, but we share some of the stories on social. Facebook targeted ads are also useful, using email databases to target them. We find guest speakers for careers events at the University through LinkedIn, then cross-check through our own databases, and approach them with an InMail. These are very specific, targeted audiences in alumni, and InMail allows us to have a personalised approach.
What opportunities to we approach alumni with? Mentoring, guest lectures, speaking at events. And, of course, fundraising.
This is the second year of the Hallam Fund campaign. We’re finding our way with fundraising. But one thing we’re clear on is that we need to make the impact obvious and real, and make the communication about people. Our students are great ambassadors for the University, and for the Hallam Fund, and this year we profiled them with a series of videos and photos on LinkedIn. The messaging is simple, and all we say about the Hallam Fund initially is that it transforms lives. I’ll show you some more insights into the campaign later in the presentation.
Our primary audience on our LinkedIn page is definitely alumni. Businesses and employers are a secondary audience. What we know about alumni is that they are a very diverse group of individuals, who don’t necessarily identify themselves as ‘Hallam Alumni’. They think of themselves as ‘a art graduate’ or a ‘Sheffield Business School alumni’. Ideally, we should take a personalised approach with engaging alumni. But we need more resources in order to do that.
This data is incredible. We have over 100,000 alumni connected to our company page. We can see that the majority of them are UK-based. There are a lot of business and management graduates, and a lot of them are in business development, engineering and IT. But this data also suggests a gap: only 420 are listed as employed by the NHS, but we know that we train hundreds of radiotherapy, nursing and midwifery students every year. So those alumni are not using LinkedIn, which means we can’t reach them through LinkedIn.
We’ve been running a big reputational campaign on LinkedIn. It’s led by our corporate marketing team. It has a focus on our life-changing research, and the content is made for social. Again, the narrative is about transforming lives, looking at some tough societal issues like healthcare, sustainability and crime.
This is a blog post by one of our food sustainability experts. He originally wrote this piece for The Conversation, then I asked him to repurpose it for LinkedIn. This coincided with the reputational campaign, so the finished article was partly shaped by the content team in marketing, with some advice from me. It’s a good example of a collaborative bit of corporate thought leadership, and we want to connect our audience with the academic behind the research. We’re dabbling with advertising on LinkedIn, and this was a sponsored post.
We’ve had a huge push this year to fundraise for the Hallam Fund. It’s a resource we use to give opportunities to current students through bursaries, give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds access to university, and fund research. We have no budget to promote the Fund, because it’s about fundraising, and we’re uncomfortable using a budget for that. So everything we do is in-house and organic.
We’re not Bob Geldof. With this being a fundraising campaign, and fundraising being a new thing for us, we don’t want to go out with a strong sales message. So we’re doing it differently.
We created a series of video profiles of our Hallam Fund ambassadors. Like we do with a lot of our social content, we’re working with the University community to tell stories about transforming people’s lives. So we did a series of profiles, both photographic and video, of our students – the Hallam Fund ambassadors.
Here’s the thank you video I put together for the campaign.
It was inevitable that we’d get the odd tricky question or difficult comment about the Fund, but it’s good that our alumni are engaging and talking to us about it. With campaigns like this, you always plan for this kind of response, and we were mainly glad that James had made a donation to the Fund, despite his misgivings.
This is the last piece of the content mix I want to talk about. Nostalgia is huge on our LinkedIn page, and old photos always generate a lot of discussion. This is a photo of the football team of the Sheffield Teaching College, 1941. We can trace our roots back through the College, all the way back to 1843, so we have a lot of heritage to draw on. I posted this on our page to coincide with Varsity, and it got some good engagement.
By far my favourite example of nostalgia content on our page is this incredible photo of creative writing lecturer John Turner in Sheffield General Cemetary in 1980. I didn’t know it was John when I posted it, but our alumni identified him in the comments section, so I let him know we’d posted it (he still lectures at Hallam). It brought back some good memories for him.
I’ve been researching people’s feelings towards the new LinkedIn admin experience, and a lot of people seem to have a love / hate relationship with it. I certainly don’t think it’s perfect, but there are some great things about LinkedIn for universities.
(If you’re wondering, this is a photo of the late great Robert Mitchum in the film Night of the Hunter)
Here are some things I think LinkedIn is amazing at.
No-one has more qualitative data on you as a professional than LinkedIn. They know what you’re good at, what people think you’re good at, and what kid of things you make and do. Just wait until they start to make sense of all that data.
The analytics are now pretty good on LinkedIn pages. The alumni tool is still amazing. Free targeted posts are nice. Advertising can be very precise, and you can reach some very niche professional audiences.
The learning platform is incredible. LinkedIn is the platform for learning and development, no question. It has blogging, tutorials and influencers. The portal is huge, and it’s now personalised.
It feels newsy and reputational. Look at the about us section of our company page. It’s pretty much lifted straight off our University strategy, which we wouldn’t do any other platform. We can publish news on our page in a way that we wouldn’t do on Facebook, and increasingly on Twitter.
LinkedIn is also a very good platform for reputational publishing. In a very traditional PR sense. Here’s an example of a reputational campaign led by the News and PR team at Hallam. We did some work on Twitter as well, but this content really wouldn’t work on our Facebook page or IG timeline. The engagement here was really good, and the comments (in typical LI fashion) are mainly from alumni, expressing their pride in being part of the University, and saying how fond they are of their time at Hallam.
This is another example. The number of likes, the positivity of the comments – and the sheer size of the organic reach – are all really good measures of performance. You can only really get that level of reach and engagement with newsy stuff (as a university) on LinkedIn.
Yes, there are areas for improvement.
This picture’s harsh, but the admin interface sometimes feels a bit buggy and inconsistent. There’s no native video, which can hamper things like click-through campaigns. There’s no message inbox (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for us, but it might be for our followers). Notifications could be better.
Advertising is incredibly expensive. We’ve even recorded £2 per click, which is a lot more than Facebook.
And it has an image problem. Partly because it was, for a long time, just an online CV depository. But it’s down to communicators, like me, to educate and inform our stakeholders on why LinkedIn’s relevant and important, how it’s changed, and how we can use it.
I’m going to finish with some thoughts on the future, and how universities can make the most of their LinkedIn presence.
We should be creating influencers, leading debate through LinkedIn’s blogging platform. Our Vice-Chancellor has written one article so far, and he took some persuading to do it. There’s a job for communicators like me to help academics and university leaders understand the platform, and the benefits of using it. I’d love to see a UK academic on a LinkedIn list of influencers in the next year.
The learning portal provides a huge opportunity for universities. It’s actually Lynda.com, but personalised and tailored to your LinkedIn profile. Are there opportunities for universities to develop how-to videos and other resources? If LinkedIn is the platform for learning and professional development, universities can offer a lot in terms of contributors and content. But there needs to be a business case for us to do it. How do we connect the learning platform to our own courses, for example?
We need to get personal with alumni. They’re on LinkedIn, and they’re ready to engage with us. Through InMail, more targeted use of LinkedIn Groups, and targeted page updates, we can reach out to alumni for very specific cases. But we need to resource it, and we can’t do that until we can justify the investment.
Thanks for listening to me. I’m keen to hear from people who are using LinkedIn to support their objectives, or are doing new and interesting things with it. You can find more case studies from Hallam’s social media work on the Social Media @ Hallam blog, linked to above.