In the web space, we hear the mantra "Content is king" a lot, urging us to provide our audiences with interesting / entertaining / useful / compelling content. Sure, that can be a useful roadmap to success on the web. Google allows us to type a few words in a text box and get hundreds of results back organized by relevancy (that's definitely useful content). YouTube provides us millions of hours of video to help us entertain ourselves for a few minutes now and then. The New York Times site gives us access to their world-class news coverage and spices it up with eye-catching infographics. That's all great if you're building a destination on the web, but when it comes to promoting your school on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, content is not king, engagement is.
Unless you're already a content producer or aggregator (like the New York Times, YouTube, or the Washington Post), creating consistently great content that your audience wants to read and to share is likely going to be an uphill battle.
Lecture Approach vs. Seminar Approach
Think of your Facebook audience like students in a classroom. If you focus primarily on content with your Facebook page, you're taking what I think is a "Lecture" approach. If you focus on engagement, you're taking a "Seminar" approach.
Let's extend that analogy. Being a professor lecturing 300 students in a classroom is a real challenge. It's typically boring to hear someone lecture, right? To be successful as a lecturer, you need to wow your audience by presenting the material in an interesting way. You need to include real-world examples, impactful imagery, and maybe even a cool demonstration (think, science experiment full of bangs and smoke). It takes a lot of work to keep an audience engaged in a large lecture room. And how do you keep your audience coming back? In a college classroom environment, your audience typically has a grade riding on the class. That's pretty good motivation for them to show up, even if the lectures are dry. You don't have that luxury as a Facebook Page, Group, or Application administrator.
Now, think about a seminar class. What makes for a successful seminar? Participation, debate, interaction... that is, engagement in the classroom material by your audience. In a seminar, the professor is a facilitator. They help frame the conversation, but they encourage students to share their views and analysis. When a topic is exhausted or conversation dies down, the professor may interject a new question or pose a new idea to get things moving forward again. In a really successful seminar, the students do most of the talking.
Why the Seminar Approach Is Better
The Seminar approach is a more sustainable one for most administrators of a Facebook presence, especially at colleges and universities. You don't have to keep churning out high-quality content that your users will appreciate. You just need to provide a little spark to get the dialogue going. Even better, this is a formula that is rewarded by Facebook. The more users like or comment on your content, the more likely they are to see your future posts in their News Feed.
A lecture style approach might have you spending hours and hours producing a rap video with your school's a capella group touting all your school has to offer, in verse. Sure, it could catch fire and go viral, but that's a lot of work and the payoff is definitely not guaranteed (what if the video turns out to be a real dud?). A seminar style approach might have you announcing an upcoming admitted student weekend and asking your Class of 20XX Group "Who's coming?" Coming up with that question doesn't take a ton of effort. If it fails, you can quickly move on and try something else.
Tips for an Engagement-First Approach
1.Put Yourself in Your Audiences' Shoes
Think about why someone is a fan of your Page, a member of your Group, or a user of your Application. What do they want out of the experience? How are they connected to your school? What will get them to participate? If it's not relevant to your audience, they're unlikely to engage.
2. Ask Specific Questions
When possible, add a question to the end of your posts. Don't just say "We beat State 85-81 in basketball!" Provide a spark for participation by asking "Who watched the game?" or "Who do you think was the Player of the Game?" A question gives your audience a little nudge to participate. And make the questions specific. Don't just add "What do you think?" or "Any questions?" to the end of the post. The more specific the question, the easier it is for someone to answer.
3. Make It Easy to Consume Your Post
If you want your audience to engage with your posts, reduce the effort required to do so. It's easier to look at a picture than watch a video, for example. As a result, you're likely to get more likes and comments when you post pictures. Another bonus for pictures: they stand out more in a user's News Feed than a simple status update.
Now you're ready to give this mantra a try... "Engagement is King!"