Q&A: University of Manchester shares their advice on Twitter for universities

By Penny Coughlan
University of Manchester

With such a broad collection of audiences to reach and a large team of internal stakeholders involved how do you manage a fully aligned, effective Twitter strategy for a University?

We chatted to Alistair Beech, Senior Social Media Coordinator at @OfficialUoM, to learn more about the approach they take at The University of Manchester.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Alistair, a digital communications specialist with over ten years experience including five years in Higher Education. I work with social media practitioners across campus to encourage coordination and share best practice, maximising engagement with our key audiences and supporting the University’s core goals.

Tell us a bit about The University of Manchester.

Part of the prestigious Russell Group of universities, The University of Manchester is one of the largest universities in the UK, and was the first of England’s civic universities. We have 25 Nobel Prize winners among our current and former staff and students, and our history of brilliant breakthroughs includes the first stored-program computer and discovery of the atomic nucleus.

In short, the university is an incredibly inspiring place to work!

How does Twitter fit into your marketing mix?

We use Twitter to engage with many different audiences, including students (prospective and current), staff, alumni, and wider stakeholders (local, national and international). Twitter allows us to gather feedback on University campaigns, student or staff initiatives, and amplify our world-class research within key audience groups.

In addition to driving engagement with the University's news and research stories, Twitter also helps us connect with our audiences on a one-to-one basis. Followers connect with us on Twitter to share their experiences, offer feedback, and alert us to issues affecting them. Twitter is an invaluable listening tool for an organisation of our size.

What are a few Tweet examples that you think really capture your character?

We’ve started to use threads to draw audiences into a story, rather than tell them everything in one Tweet. For example, we recently announced new funding for a gallery at the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which is part of the University. Through a series of Tweets published over four hours, we were able to share artist’s impressions of the facilities, a live video of the announcement from the Prime Minister Theresa May and links to information about the University’s research beacons. We love how threads can be updated and re-shared, so we added content from a news article produced by our Media Relations Team a few days later to round off the story.

Students and staff are our biggest brand advocates and many produce fantastic content that showcases life at the University. For example, we recently published an online photo album showing proud students with a copy of their dissertation on hand-in day. We used Twitter to gather submissions, gain permission to repurpose content, and congratulate students on their achievements.

How do you plan and create Twitter Ads that will resonate with your target audiences?

On Twitter we’re predominantly targeting academics and researchers at other institutions. We work closely with our academics to identify stories that will resonate with our target audiences, and then we task our design team to bring these stories to life. We normally choose to promote research that has real-world impact because we’ve found this kind of content is much more emotive and engaging.

We’re able to target these adverts by selecting academic influencers with larger follower bases and through the use of specific hashtags relating to academic conferences. Together these two methods have been highly effective in creating strong campaigns. We believe this is mainly down to being able to engage Twitter users with relevant content in a timely fashion.

What results have you seen with Twitter Ads?

Our Twitter Ads campaigns have typically outperformed all of our other digital campaigns and have generally exceeded our expectations. We’ve found video view campaigns particularly effective on Twitter, with average view rates over 50% and a low average cost-per-view. We’ve also found website traffic campaigns effective, driving traffic to key research beacon’s webpages.

What’s something you’ve tested on Twitter to engage with your target audiences that you’re proud of?

Video is an increasingly important part of how the University communicates with key audiences, and this year we’ve implemented a new style of video storytelling through social media. Using a square format (1:1), we have produced a series of 60-second videos to accompany news and research stories. Published natively via Twitter Media Studio, the videos use photography and video content from our research teams and include text descriptions so users can watch without sound.

A recent example focused on research into the movement of predatory spiders, which our scientists believe could help design micro-robots. We combined high-speed, high-resolution camera footage with text descriptions to demonstrate a spider’s movement and behaviour. The video had an average watch time of 15 seconds, which is three times longer than our average standard video format (16:9) watch time.

How do you engage with students around clearing?


During the clearing and adjustment period we use Twitter to help ensure The University of Manchester is front of mind for undergraduate students receiving exam results and considering university choices. We monitor keyword search terms to spot opportunities to engage with prospective students and deliver tailored content, such as blogs from our student content ambassadors and key information like clearing hotline numbers and course availability.

We also manage brand campaigns around clearing which promote the University’s academic expertise and outstanding student experience. Branded content including videos, blog posts and tips and advice are shared to prospective students and other key audiences (such as parents) during the clearing and adjustment period. During clearing itself, our Twitter channels are staffed by dedicated advisers trained to answer questions about life at university and course-specific queries.

What makes Twitter different from other platforms?

It’s the most real-time social media platform out there. It’s likely we’ll be alerted to an issue at the University on Twitter before any other platform. It’s also home to a range of diverse audiences, from local communities to international academic groups.

Any final tips for other universities on Twitter?

Put time into it. Publishing regular content, monitoring keywords and sentiment can be resource intensive, but they can provide a more meaningful connection with your audiences. Diarise regular (daily, if possible) time periods where you listen and engage.

Vary your content. Try out different types of content, such as native video, audio, and GIFs, and see what types of content your audiences respond to best. Work and learn from other social media practitioners across your institution about what works for them on Twitter.

Understand your followers. Don’t be surprised if large numbers of your student population don’t always engage with your content. Lots of users lurk around or only get in touch when they need something. This is the nature of Twitter for many users – they’ll use it to resolve or highlight issues. If you listen and engage, they’re more likely to engage with your content when the time comes.  

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