Small and Private Institutions: Why Engagement Matters

Higher ed trends empower you to analyze your campus’s online conversation behavior against a comparable sample. And they help you move beyond vanity metrics

We updated our higher ed trends research to help you compare your campus to the rest of the industry. This year’s research analyzed over 4,700,000 mentions from 50 institutions of every type and size to bring you the most relevant and impactful insights. Overall mention volume, 72% earned conversation and 28% owned conversation

When reviewing higher ed’s overall volume of owned vs. earned mentions in our 2022 industry trends data set, one of the most substantial findings is that nearly three-quarters of all mentions are categorized as earned (72%). What audiences say about a campus dwarfs what it may say about itself at almost 3:1! 

While campus pros can control some facets of the narrative surrounding their institution’s brand, far more conversation is constructed outside your sphere of influence. It’s unrealistic to ever expect to “drown out” earned mentions with your owned content.

Instead, there are proactive ways to monitor your earned conversation to guide and strategize your approach to owned content when seeking to construct or shift discourse about your campus. 

The Value of 1:1 Engagement

Public institutions are already well on their way; they emphasize engaging with their audience in two-way communication via retweets/shares (42%) and comments/replies (14%) at a higher proportion than private institutions (retweets/shares: 36%; comments/replies: 12%). Simply, public institutions engage more frequently and more directly with their audiences. Meanwhile, private institutions drive conversation by owning the message through a greater proportion of original posts (50% median), whereas public institutions (42%) let their audiences do a greater proportion of the talking. 

Mention type breakdown for small campuses, 51% original posts, 37% retweets/shares, and 12% comments/replies


Private mention type breakdown, 50% original posts, 36% retweets/shares, and 12% comments/replies

Similarly, Very Small, Small, and Medium campuses (as defined by the Carnegie Classifications) had a greater proportion of original posts (50%, 51%, and 48%, respectively) compared to Large (43%) and Very Large campuses (38%). Large and Very Large schools had more comments/replies (13% and 25%) than Very Small to Medium institutions. 

Mention type breakdown for very small campuses, 50% original posts, 39% retweets/shares, and 12% comments/replies Mention type breakdown for small campuses, 51% original posts, 37% retweets/shares, and 12% comments/replies Mention type breakdown for medium campuses, 48% original posts, 37% retweets/shares, and 15% comments/replies
Mention type breakdown for large campuses, 43% original posts, 44% retweets/shares, and 13% comments/replies Mention type breakdown for very large campuses, 38% original posts, 37% retweets/shares, and 25% comments/replies

This presents an opportunity for smaller and private institutions to join the conversation! Time needs to be allocated as part of campus pros’ job responsibilities to directly engage with audiences online instead of just focusing on producing more original content. Smaller schools may not have the capacity to compete with the larger conversation sizes of larger institutions. Still, they can promote an engaged brand where their audiences come to value the level of individual attention given to them online by a campus.

Why Engage

When you have an established, active community online, join the conversations with them, whether they tag you or not. Engaging with them helps increase visibility, awareness, and affinity and maintains that shared sense of community online. The more your audiences see your campus interacting in this way, the more likely new voices are willing to participate, too. 

Less Is More

With a smaller team, less is more. It’s likely not feasible to focus all your time on the owned portion of the mention type breakdown shown above. Instead, think more strategically about what specific content areas you should emphasize to elevate your brand pillars and plan from there. That should (hopefully) provide more capacity to focus on listening and building community. 

Within your owned content, take time to assess engagement strategies across your core and institutional accounts. Which owned accounts are most engaged with your key audiences? The least? Outside of your central team, what opportunities do the social media managers across campus have to support your engagement strategy? 

Get Our Engagement Guide

Download our free guide for more strategies to increase your engagement and drive your owned content.