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Colleges go live on social media

Streaming video over social platforms makes viewers part of the higher ed action
University Business, May 2017

The interest in live videos across social media platforms has accelerated over the past few months with a series of developments that bring high-quality video broadcasting to the masses. Instagram launched live video in Instagram Stories, an upgrade to the ephemeral format it borrowed from Snapchat.

Periscope’s live capabilities have been integrated into the Twitter mobile app, while the recently launched Periscope Producer Live API enables use of professional equipment in livestreaming on Twitter. Facebook has also introduced new options to stream from the desktop as well as the ability to live-stream “Facebook 360” immersive videos.

In higher education, livestreaming isn’t anything new. From commencement ceremonies to sports or lecture series, many institutions have been livestreaming events for some time.

What’s new, however, is the extra push the Facebook algorithm gives live videos in its news feed. The algorithm was updated to make sure Facebook Live videos appear higher in the feed when they are live, resulting in increased reach.

Matt Hames, marketing communications strategist at Colgate University in New York, witnessed the impact of this update when his school streamed former Vice President Joe Biden’s guest lecture on March 24.

The 100-minute live video (UBmag.me/jbcu) reached close to 600,000 people on Facebook and resulted in more than 26,000 views and 3,500 reactions, comments and shares. While the featured speaker definitely played a huge part in the success of this video, the network effect made it a blockbuster.

Just like being there

What makes live social media videos such potential hits is the opportunity they offer for real-time interactions. Whether viewers send hearts and likes—or post comments and questions for the people on camera—a live video lets people feel like they’re part of the action.

“Even if there’s not someone to interact with directly, you can still get some great comments and engagement using livestreaming,” says Tiffany Broadbent, director of digital marketing for university advancement at The College of William & Mary in Virginia.

With the right combination of audience interest and events, live social media videos can get surprising results. At William & Mary, the most successful Facebook live video so far has been of the annual Yule Log Celebration (http://UBmag.me/wmyl).

This 90-minute livestream resulted in close to 19,000  views and more than 1,300 engagement touch points. Livestreaming a campus tradition is a safe bet on social media because it can resonate with different groups of constituents: alums, current students, families and even prospective students.

But beyond the algorithm effect and the increased social interactions, live social media videos can also provide greater reach to remote target audiences. At Cape Breton University in the Canadian Maritime province of Nova Scotia, the admissions office hosted its first Facebook Live for prospective students in February 2017.

“We used it to address a larger problem that was happening at the time—a labor disruption in the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union,” says Paige Westbury, the university’s social media and digital content specialist. Since the usual in-school presentations and recruitment sessions couldn’t take place, the office decided to experiment with Facebook Live.

The 24-minute video (UBmag.me/cbu) featuring two enrollment professionals was viewed more than 1,300 times and addressed admissions questions from the live audience.

Not for everyone

While live social media video holds a lot of potential for higher education, not everyone is a convert. At West Virginia University, which has made brief, well-produced videos key to its social media content strategy, livestreaming hasn’t been used.

“We will almost always lean on an after-event video because we like the idea of a shorter and better-edited video than a livestream,” says Tony Dobies, director of social media.

It may be too early to say live social media videos will make a difference for your school, but it’s definitely the right time to experiment with the format.


Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations and technologies. She is also the founder of www.higheredexperts.com.

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