How Forming a Digital Community Can Improve University Retention Rates

A variety of factors contribute to a student’s withdrawal from their university. A student may just not be ready academically or emotionally for the environment. The student’s expectations may not be matching well with their experience. They may be feeling alienated or lack social supports. They may have financial issues or personal circumstances. Or, the biggest predictor of withdrawal, the student has a poor GPA.

            While these factors may play out differently in different students, they are all connected, ironically, with a sense of disconnection. A student may feel disconnected from the university or other students, disconnected from their home if they had to move, or disconnected from the resources that could help them get through financial, academic or personal obstacles.

            It makes sense, then, to meet students where they often are, social media, to help build connection. Thus, social media cannot simply be an advertising platform or a bullhorn for deadlines. It needs to be engaging. As we sited in our post, “Are You Anti-Social,” participants in a research study chose honesty, friendliness and helpfulness as their preferred behaviors from brands on social media. Additionally, 83% stated that brands should use social media to respond to questions and 68% said the brand should join in conversations. Given that about 90% of college students use social media, we should read this as a clear instruction to engage regularly.

Based on these insights and a few from, here are some guidelines for building community on social media for education.

Social Media Management Tips

  1. Focus on engagement. Prompt discussions by polling followers. Respond to all questions and make sure to quickly respond to negative comments in a professional manner. Encourage friendly discussion. Create challenges or contests.
  2. Keep content professional but light and fun. Highlight positive aspects of your school and its stakeholders. Use quality photography when highlighting campus or portraits.
  3. Consider investing in more talent, time and platforms. It is worth hiring talented people to manage social accounts and expanding to multiple platforms. Youtube is a great one for reaching young students who prefer video content.
  4. Develop brand and social media guidelnes. Strike a balance between autonomy between different departments and brand cohesiveness.
  5. Promote on-campus resources and events. Knowing that students are at risk when they are feeling disconnected and/or are struggling academically, we need to leverage the digital world to encourage the use of in-person opportunities. Encourage the use of tutoring and mental health resources as well as the fun stuff.

Your students are looking for connections; let’s do all we can to foster those digital ones so that we can continue “irl.”