Here’s a fact for you—I have led social media for communications offices in higher education for a decade now and I have never had an ad budget to work with. Thus, I have built my strategies around evidence-based content, content that has proven to be successful with our audiences. I have found that these four content types have consistently garnered a lot of public-facing engagements on the channels I have managed. I’m going to walk you through each type so you can make them work for you.
1. Content that intersects your culture with the current moment
The beauty of this type of content Is that the moment cannot be manufactured, it’s completely organic. It’s when your brand or your organization naturally becomes a part of the current conversation or popular culture. As social media managers, the best we can do is recognize the moment and act quickly to capitalize on it. When executed well and in a timely manner, the result is what I like to call, “social media gold.” I often use a diagram to explain this concept:
For example, in an episode of The Simpsons, Milhouse bet that Professor Bengt Holmström, (the name to the right of the circled name below) would win the Nobel Prize in Economics. And when he actually did win several years later, we scrambled to get an image of Milhouse holding up his betting card.
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) October 10, 2016
Another example involves TikTokker Emily Zugay. Zugay’s TikToks (where she redesigns iconic brand logos from Starbucks, Apple, and Target) started going viral and brands took notice. When brands acted on Zugay’s TikToks with levity and in a timely manner, the results were usually wildly popular. When Zugay redid the Detroit Lions’ team logo, she mistook the mascot to be the Detroit Lines. Without missing a beat, the Lions made T-shirts with Zugay’s version of the logo and shared them with team members. This TikTok garnered more than 747,000 likes for the Detroit Lines err…Lions.
What’s great about this type of content is it doesn’t have to be complex. It can be super simple. The key is that it’s timely and it speaks to your culture. Our audience loves numbers, and on May 21, 2021, we noticed an interesting coincidence about that day and we Tweeted it, super simple:
We hope you enjoyed the 21st day of the month, in this 21st week of the 21st year of the 21st century.
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) May 22, 2021
We even posted it at 9 p.m. ET, the twenty-first hour of the day—and the comments showed that did not go unnoticed.
Pro tip: Create a process where you can work nimbly in these situations. If you have to go through a heavy review process, you will mostly likely miss the optimal time to post this type of content.
2. Content that features your community’s rallying point
I remember catching an interview with Sarah Jessica Parker after the season finale of “Sex and the City,” and she talked about how there was a fifth star of the series—New York City itself. She was always there in the background.
Every brand or organization has a familiar feature that’s always in the background, something the community feels connected with and will rally around. There is usually a nostalgic element to it. It could be a figurehead, a mascot, a logo. At MIT, it’s the Great Dome. I often joke we could post a dome a day in Instagram and it would do well every single time. The most engaging posts place your rallying point in the current context.
The moment there was a blue moon over the Great Dome for example:
Or if there happens to be a group of dogs that stop to take a photo in front of the Great Dome:
Photo: Steven Watson/ThePiedDogWalker on Instagram pic.twitter.com/NaCeMyFuMl
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) August 26, 2021
It could also be a seasonal image of your rallying point. A lot universities do a great job of showing their campuses during the different seasons.
Enjoy some seasonal views preserved by UW photographers as the days grow shorter and the shadows longer. https://t.co/rOg9OmRMSH
— UW–Madison (@UWMadison) November 30, 2021
Pro tip: This is a great way to embrace user-generated content. It’s also a good idea to just set aside time in your schedule to go visit the site regularly, if it’s a physical place. If not, time to play around and get creative with your rally point.
3. Unpolished videos
I think most of us have experienced success with unfiltered, unstylized photos by now. But please don’t ignore the power of unplanned, unpolished, user-generated videos. Sometimes I feel the more random and more authentic it is, the better.
This 30-second video of a robot solving a Rubik’s Cube in 0.38 seconds was our best performing post in terms of engagements that month on both Twitter (with 18,400 views, 403 retweets and 699 likes) and Facebook (with more than 515,000 views and 47,000 reactions, comments and shares). In our experience, videos do not tend to perform well for us on Twitter so this was a bit of an anomaly.
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) March 16, 2018
This 10-second video of a student’s mechanized mortarboard performed really well for us on Instagram. Like Twitter, videos do not generally perform well in our Instagram feed, and feed videos tend to not garner many likes. Again, this video was an outlier for us with more than 56,000 views and 8,000 likes.
Pro tip: Don’t pass up a video because it’s really short or not “professional.”
4. Content that plays on your community’s sense of humor
There is a lot of potential in tapping into your community’s sense of humor in your social content. I think sharing a laugh together really creates a sense of “they get me” among your followers.
We used this photo of a student prank from 1997 and posted it in 2019. With more than 7,100 likes, it was one of our best performing ‘grams that year.
“Cat wizard” was a meme that originated with our students and was being shared in a number of digital spaces. We grabbed it and shared it on our flagship social media channels.
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) May 15, 2020
Pro tip: Humor is a powerful communication tool that brings people together. If people discover you through content that plays on your community’s sense of humor, chances are they will feel a strong connection with your culture.
Crack the organic social code
As social media managers, these are the types of content where we can get really creative, show our unpolished sides, and have fun. In summary, capitalize on the moments when the current conversations intersects your brand or organization. Feature your rallying point often and in the present. Don’t underestimate the power of user-generated videos. And remember, there is nothing that bonds a community more than sharing a laugh.
Looking to perfect your social content mix? Use this tool to determine the best content strategy for your brand and business goals.
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