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Social Media’s role in higher education evolved significantly over a relatively short period of time. It moved from being the subject of once-common, facepalm-inducing requests like “Make me a Facebook.” or “Can I get a Twitter?” to becoming an essential component of successful marketing and communications. While the number of platforms, tools, case studies and buzzwords continues to grow exponentially, effective social media remains rooted in a simple concept — storytelling.

This year’s CASE Social Media and Community conference focused on this idea, highlighting how much user expectations and attitudes toward content and social media have changed and how creating and telling great social stories keep higher education relevant across media and channels.

Here are four takeaways from this year’s conference to help your institution more effectively share social stories. (And you can learn more and participate on Twitter by following #casesmc.)

1. Start with goals

No exceptions. Always identify what you’re trying to accomplish and why before flooding social channels with “junk drawer” content. Outline your users’ journey and relationship with your institution, then develop stories and content to support, inform, help, engage, motivate and delight users at each and every stage of their relationship with your institution. Use the channels that best meet your users where they are. Social media should clearly and directly support strategic and business goals, so post with purpose.

2. Great content is great social media 

Quality matters when it comes to social media storytelling and content. Put the focus on the kinds of things your users want to see, read and watch, not just what you want them to see, read or watch. Find the stories that bridge what your audience wants with your strategic goals. The team at the University of California Office of the President does an amazing job taking complex research and turning it in to entertaining, beautiful, accessible stories that resonate well beyond the academic and research communities, both on YouTube and on Tumblr.

3. You can’t fake authenticity

As attention shifts to using social to engage Generation Z (or Plurals, Post-Millennials, Centennials, or people born after the Millennials) authenticity is an absolute must for any brand to be taken seriously and not ridiculed. Expectations for technology and communication are higher, so tolerance for self-serving, overly-promotional, highly moderated content is exceptionally low. Empowering students to tell their stories on through your social channels works if the students’ voices come through. The good and the not-so- good are all part of the story. Embrace the risk, trust students, and let them sell your institution, warts and all.

4. Even great content needs a boost

Every corner of social media is rapidly becoming pay to play, and that reality will only become more pronounced in the future. As algorithms change to give preference to sponsored content, and content producers put more and more and more money into promoting their content, you’ll have to get used to paying to boost your best social content.

Social media will continue to mature in ways that demand new approaches and innovative ideas from higher ed marketers. While the mechanics may change, the substance of great social media will always be the story.

Tim Jones is associate vice president of marketing at Clarkson University, in New York.

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