Please say hello to Kelly Bennett, social media manager at The University of Cincinnati. We caught up with Kelly last week and talked about many things, including her new role leading the social media strategy for the Bearcats and how video, including Instagram takeovers and TikTok — and working with students — has taken her strategy and the university’s social media presence up a level.
How has the University of Cincinnati handled COVID-19 and what was the pandemic’s effect on campus and the student body? Was social media used to amplify messaging and was that campaign a success?
Kelly Bennett: I came into my role at the University of Cincinnati in May 2020. Yes, I was one of those people who switched jobs during the midst of the pandemic. By the time I arrived, the university had gone fully virtual in the spring/summer and offered about 25% of classes in-person in the fall.
At a time when there were a lot of questions and few answers, our MarCom team worked together to develop a video series coupled with written pieces called #UCAnswers. The goal of this series was to proactively provide answers and resources to our Bearcat community. Topic experts spanned from the VP of Enrollment Management sharing updates on “What will Fall 2020 look like?” to the Student Government President sharing “How do I stay safe when I return to campus?” This series of 100+ content pieces was shared widely on UC social media channels and while the more specific topics received somewhat low engagement, topics that were COVID-related or addressed broader audiences received over 1,500 clicks!
One interesting take away from this campaign was that when a #UCAnswers topic was shared on social media and led with a video, the number of clicks from that post to our website were low. When we shared the written piece without the video, the clicks increased. This leads me to believe that if you overwhelm a follower with more than one action, they will either watch the video OR click the link, not both, so choose your CTA wisely.
What are your most engaging social media platforms for students? Do you use Tik Tok, if not, why?
Kelly Bennett: Although LinkedIn has UC’s largest following, Instagram is definitely our most engaging platform for students. Since I’ve come on board, we’ve increased our engagement by 486% (no, that’s not a typo). With a passionate student and alumni base, we’ve utilized some of the Instagram story features (like questions sticker and quizzes) to reel in our audience. During Women’s History Month, we celebrated 100 years of Women in Coop at UC and quizzed our followers about cooperative education. By the way, did you know the University of Cincinnati invited co-op in 1906? In addition to the Instagram quiz, a female engineering student hosted an Instagram Takeover to show her experience first hand. By experimenting, we find out what our followers are reacting to most. Our Bernie meme (6,458 likes) is still our most liked post to date, and we’re also finding success with Instagram reels.
As for TikTok, I recently read that TikTok has become the first non-Facebook mobile app to reach 3 billion downloads globally. We launched the University of Cincinnati’s TikTok account during convocation in August 2020 with a video that featured UC’s President Pinto and a trending song doing a transition. Our most successful video was actually a repost of a student turning her tassel from right to left during our spring in-person graduation ceremony. It captures a beautiful, long awaited moment from a first person perspective, which is likely why it garnered nearly 25K views! We have a couple other videos that are ready to launch and recently hired a media production student who will help create more TikToks this fall!
Everyone wants authentic content, but for some it’s difficult to hire students, or resources can be limited. At the University of Cincinnati, do you have student workers, or interns that can help deliver your social media messaging to students? If so, what is the process for getting students involved and do you have a training program?
Kelly Bennett: Great segue! I am a huge advocate for both authentic content and working with students. In my 10+ years of higher-ed experience, some of the greatest successes I’ve seen have been from current students telling their university’s story. From Instagram Takeovers to user-generated recap videos, followers want to see real life experiences. Working with students is also extremely valuable. They can offer incredible insights when it comes to gut-checking an idea, staying relevant with quickly changing social media trends, and helping with on-campus social media coverage.
I’m grateful that my team supports hands-on learning for our students, which allowed me to hire a super talented sophomore majoring in media production. She clocks about 15 hours per week at a rate of $10/hour, and starting this fall her position will transition to a paid co-op which will count as class credit.
Another valuable (and free) resource has been building a relationship with UC’s Student Government President. She is a trusted and powerful voice and has access to influential student leaders. She’s always willing to rally people together for a video shoot or campaign to help share important updates across campus. I’ve also had a lot of success working with our ROAR Tour Guides. With a student body of 46K+ students, we have over 100 passionate students employed by our Admissions team who are experts in all things UC. They’re reliable and very willing to help.
What role does video play in your social media strategy towards students? How does UC use YouTube? Do you ever use YouTube Live?
Kelly Bennett: Video has become increasingly important to our social media strategy when it comes to reaching students. Because of this, we’ve dialed up the amount of videos we produce and are looking at ways we can repurpose existing content for platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Three video tools I can’t live without are Inshot for editing on my phone, Canva for creating templated Instagram stories, and Kapwing for burning captions into videos.
When it comes to UC’s YouTube, we have been transitioning our channel from a place where we house all our videos to a curated video hub with themed playlists and SEO-rich video descriptions. Something else you’ll notice is that we incorporate user-generated videos into our playlists (some have 12K+ views!) This reinforces our support for authenticity and putting desired content front and center for our followers.
Although we have yet to experiment with YouTube Live, we have found a lot of success using Facebook Live and plan to create lots of live content this year, now that we will be back to full capacity.
It seems that engagement on social media is getting harder and harder to increase. What advice do you have for others that work in Higher Ed social media that could help them focus and maintain a steady engagement rate, or increase results?
Kelly Bennett: Ask questions. If a social media post can turn into an interaction, do it! Often people want to engage on social media, but they need the opportunity to respond. Try reframing content to be more naturally engaging, for example a caption could be “Tag the friend you want to bring to our first home game.” or “What was the best class you’ve ever taken?” I would also say use each social media platform how your audience wants it to be used. Reply with GIFs on Twitter, use polls and quizzes on Instagram, create events on Facebook.
Another way I’ve improved engagement for big campaigns and announcements has been creating “social media toolkits” with graphics and suggested copy that are distributed to campus partners in advance. They share or retweet on their social channels, which not only increases our reach, and keeps our brand and messaging consistent, but it also avoids duplicated efforts and builds relationships across campus..
Do you work with admissions on social campaigns to reach high school students and those newly accepted?
Kelly Bennett: Yes! My MarCom team works extremely closely with Enrollment Management and the Admission team on recruitment social campaigns. A pivotal moment for our coordination efforts happened on February 5th 2021 (Decision Day). The University of Cincinnati surprised 3 lucky students with hand-delivered admission letters (grab a tissue and watch the reaction videos here). In what had been a challenging year unlike any other, our hope was to celebrate this big moment with dialed up excitement and positivity. When discussing where to house the content, we realized quickly our admissions social media accounts and our primary university social media accounts shared a huge overlap with our content goals: to recruit new students. We made the decision to sunset the admissions channels over the summer and work together on content strategies throughout the year to house the content in one place: @UofCincy.
Lastly, what social media trends, if any, do see the University of Cincinnati pursuing or engaging in as you prepare for the fall semester? Any new social channels or back to school campaigns?
Kelly Bennett: Social media has evolved from a place to connect with friends and family to a place to be educated and entertained by strangers. Just earlier today I opened Snapchat’s Discover page and couldn’t resist watching the entire episode of “I was today years old when I learned…”. I believe this trend of sharing “life hacks” on social media has longevity because it’s adding value, not noise. At UC, we’re actually planning on launching a video series this fall that will feature our professors sharing “hacks” and bite-sized knowledge in the format of one minute lectures. Stay tuned!
About Kelly Bennett:
Kelly Bennett scored a dream job right out of college when she created a position to launch the social media strategy at her alma mater, Miami University, in 2011. Building social media from the ground up, she has found great success by staying on top of trends in an ever-changing digital world. With 10+ years of experience, Kelly has spoken at numerous conferences as a thought leader in higher education and her work has been recognized by multiple organizations including Huffington Post, Mashable, and CASE.
In May of 2020, amidst the pandemic, she became a Bearcat and started a new role as social media manager at the University of Cincinnati. When she’s not engaging with passionate fans and planning creative campaigns, she enjoys mentoring students and exploring UC’s breathtaking campus.
Outside of work, Kelly sits on the Board for Together Digital, a national organization that helps women in digital marketing grow professionally and personally. Kelly earned her bachelor’s degree from Miami University where she studied Communications and Marketing, completed a graduate certificate in Interactive Media, and recently finished the miniMBA program. She loves the energy of working at a university, and is grateful for the amazing community of higher ed peers she’s met over the years.
Feel free to connect with Kelly on social media: