Going viral: promoting the contribution of universities in a digital age

16 December 2016

It’s a recurring question for universities: how to communicate the value of what we do?

In the past decade, traditional media has been disrupted profoundly. A large and growing number of people now skip the ‘old-school’ outlets of newspapers and the nightly TV news – and instead use their social media accounts as news feeds.

So telling the stories of university contributions in social media is more essential than ever before.

While new platforms spring up all the time, the principle of connecting with your audience remains the same: we need to tell compelling stories that surprise, fascinate and inspire. 

Australia’s universities have been steadily building their online communities, with more than half a million followers for some of the biggest individual university Facebook accounts.   

Meanwhile our public awareness campaign on behalf of the entire Australian university sector – Keep It Clever – now has 42,000 supporters across Facebook and Twitter combined.

In recent months, we’ve been honing the content on these sites to make it travel further online – and to amplify the stories being told by campus communications teams through their own channels.

Cracking stories and uplifting images sourced from university newsrooms have been promoted by Keep It Clever – generating additional audiences of more than 70,000 people for that content.

The stories that travelled furthest online had two key features: powerful, tightly-written words and the choice of striking visual images.   

Some of the best performing posts asked questions – and then revealed answers gleaned from recent university research findings.

Ever wondered how Australia’s first inhabitants made their way across this arid continent more than 47,000 years ago? The post below brought the story of James Cook University research to more than 72,444 people.

Australia first inhabitants

Likes: 1.1k Comments: 97 Shares: 338

The striking image below took the story of an RMIT research collaboration to tackle Australia’s growing homelessness rate to an audience of 31,385.

Likes: 1.1k Comments: 71 Shares: 246

Our story on a UTS centre that offers new hope for reversing spinal cord injuries brought this news piece into the social media news feeds of 30,081 people. 

Spinal cord inj
Likes: 1.4k Comments: 42 Shares: 208

Our love of space helped this story about ANU researchers working on a new Milky Way map to help solve the mysteries of the galaxy reach another 23,734 people.

Milky way
Likes: 916 Comments: 31 Shares: 102

An extra reason to eat chocolate was the news hook that helped put this story – about a UniSA project on using cacao to treat infection – in front of another 49,624 people.

Likes: 1.3k Comments: 90 Shares: 363

And this story on a ‘designer rice’ that could help beat diabetes, cancer and obesity – not bad for the staple diet of half the world’s population – took Uni of Tasmania research to an audience of 20,275.

Likes: 599 Comments: 50 Shares: 99

These posts are just a handful of the stories we’ve told this year from all 39 members of Universities Australia.

Sharing stories like these – about researchers working on a cure or new technology that could lead to a new industry – helps more Australians to see how the work of universities touches their lives. 

Through direct channels like social media, we’re also able to target those stories more precisely to people with a direct stake and interest in research on a specific topic.

And the best part?

All of those likes and retweets have now translated into more than 28,000 people pledging their support for Australian universities by joining the Keep It Clever supporter database

Having that supporter base will be even more crucial as we head into another year in which higher education policy is on the agenda.

Now that’s clever.

Follow and like Keep It Clever here:

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