With Instagram filters, those glamorous destinations and all that attention, social media certainly feels like a good place to market your university. And your instincts are right. Social media is one of the most powerful channels you can use to get your message out there.

But never forget, it’s just easy to go viral for all the wrong reasons as it is for the right ones.

The University of Hull came under scrutiny last week for paying Instagram ‘influencer’ Ambar Driscoll to advertise their clearing offering on graduation day. The catch? Ambar went to Exeter, not Hull. Followers responded badly, calling it, “shameful paid advertising”. 

With universities spending upwards of £500,000 on marketing in an average year, and with influencers charging up to $2500 for a single post, strategic missteps can be costly. That’s money that could be going towards predictable, scalable channels like paid media.

Does this mean influencer marketing is a waste of money? Not exactly. But it does mean that…

Reach really isn’t everything

Hull’s faux pas is unlikely to ruin their reputation overnight. However, the world of social media is made up of moments both big and small and all of them contribute to your brand image. Even the tiniest interaction can change the direction of an individual’s life, from piquing their interest in a new course to leaving them feeling like you just don’t care. 

It’s a big mistake to concentrate more on gaining traction and turning heads than about the quality of the message you put out.

People are smart

They know what advertising looks like. And they know when it’s ok and when it’s not. If you put out content with even a hint of misdirection, you will get called out on it. Especially when there are so many eyes on your posts.

Instead of focussing purely on exposure, make sure that your social media strategy actually aligns with your values as an institution. If you claim to be innovative, make sure that your social media posts are on the cutting-edge. If you claim to be disruptive, make sure your content actually disrupts.

And, hopefully, you will learn the crucial lesson that universities with excellent social strategies already know; there’s more to marketing than getting noticed.