Survey Says: Outlook on 2016 Social Media Landscape

We spoke with Jennifer Mack, senior managing researcher at Huron Consulting Group, about the CASE/Huron/mStoner social media survey. She offered her thoughts on both the 2015 results and what is coming in 2016. This year’s survey results will be presented at the CASE Social Media and Community conference in Chicago, March 30-April 1. 

From your perspective, what were the most interesting findings from the 2015 survey? Why is it important to measure what institutions do each year?

CASE members’ social media postings have grown increasingly visual over the past three years. Textual posts, once the majority, are a shrinking part of the overall mix. This is a broader trend in social media marketing, and I suspect the finding is a good sign that institutions are learning what is most appealing to their audiences and acting on what they’ve learned. We saw support for that idea in the 2015 survey because institutions that are enjoying greater success in their social media use overall have a higher percentage of images in their posting mix.

I also find it interesting that independent schools, on average, use more images than higher education institutions. I suspect this difference reflects the schools’ successes in responding to the appetites of their (younger) constituents and may be a sign of what’s to come. On that note, I am curious to see whether Snapchat will have gone up in usage this year.

What do you think some of the key themes from the 2016 survey results will be? What do you think is the most exciting part of the 2016 survey and how is it different than the 2015 survey?

We are seeing more of a “pay to play” landscape in social media, so we designed several new questions this year to help us understand how CASE members are approaching the options for boosting posts, promoting content or advertising on social media. I am looking forward to learning how CASE members decide whether and what to promote, and what is has been like to gain approval for this new expense. When a new investment is needed, the need to demonstrate return-on-investment just gets sharper.  So we think these questions will both provide tactical guidance (what are my peers doing in this area) and raise strategic questions (how are they justifying the change)?

We also have a couple new questions this year designed to capture what members see as the unique value of social media for advancement. One addresses collaboration with development staff and another will help us quantify the types of evidence CASE members use to convince their institutional leaders of the value of social media.

Crowdfunding was a hot topic at last year’s CASE Social Media and Community conference. What do you think this year’s survey results will show?

I am curious to see if crowdfunding takes off or if concerns about decentralization limit its appeal. We have seen examples of crowdfunding being used to spur ideas and new giving among high-level donors as well as to grow broad-based support. At many institutions, the concern is that the donor experience will then feel more fragmented, something we try to avoid in donor stewardship. Even if members don’t have an answer for this particular challenge, I expect them to be increasingly dipping into the technique of crowdfunding–and days of giving, another hot topic last year.

What do you think will happen in social media in the next five years? How will this impact CASE member institutions?

I’m not a big fan of prognostication, but I’ll point to a couple things. I expect the cost of marketing on social media to continue to rise, as the platforms mature and their monetization expectations go up. Just as we’ve seen images overtake text, I expect video postings to start becoming more common among member institutions. I also hear a lot of excitement around live video (Meerkat and Periscope) and look forward to learning more about how CASE member institutions tap into these tools.

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