2022 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report: Division 2

Competitive Analysis Data-Driven Marketing Social Media Best Practices

You asked, we delivered: welcome to the Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report: Division 2 edition!

Our latest report is now available: Get the most recent version of the Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report to discover new strategies for boosting engagement and reaching your audience.

We had such a blast writing the Division 1 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report that we had to debut another deep dive into what colleges and universities are up to on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.

We loved seeing what made top D2 schools stand out from the crowd, and want to congratulate all 305 schools on a spectacular year of social.

From dynamic trends to top campaigns to the very best TikTok dances, this report covers everything D2 colleges and universities need to excel on social for the next school year and beyond.

Spoilers! See the full Higher Education rankings.

Grab your report here

Top Overall Higher Education Institutions on Social

Three cheers to Northern Michigan University for taking the overall gold thanks to top 10 finishes on three out of four channels! Colorado School of Mines and Midwestern State University were hot on NMU’s heels with silver and bronze finishes. Texas A&M University–Kingsville and Grand Valley State University earned top marks thanks to top 10 finishes on individual channels. Angelo State University, Mercyhurst University, and CalPoly Humboldt did well overall, but could increase their scores next year by focusing on one or more channels that pulled down their scores.

Overall University Rank Rank Rank Rank
1 Northern Michigan University 9 5 9 12
2 Colorado School of Mines 22 32 18 3
3 Midwestern State University 57 25 4 16
4 Angelo State University 17 10 6 93
5 Texas A&M University–Kingsville 77 48 20 4
6 Grand Valley State University 24 15 112 9
7 Lincoln Memorial University 18 74 61 20
8 University of Central Missouri 37 72 49 25
9 Mercyhurst University 44 84 40 18
10 CalPoly, Humboldt 14 29 35 111

Let’s get into the strategies and successes that catapulted Northern Michigan University to the head of the class.

Top D2 School: Northern Michigan University

Northern Michigan University dominated on D2 school social media this year, ranking 9th on Instagram, 5th on Facebook, 9th on Twitter, and 12th on TikTok. Prolific posting and high-quality content help explain NMU’s success across the board, but that’s not the whole story.

Two winter Olympics gold medalists raising an American flag on Northern Michigan University's Instagram

Celebrating alumni success is a tried-and-true Higher Education social media strategy, and NMU made hay of Olympian alumni Nick Baumgartner winning gold in the 2022 Winter Olympics. The post earned a 14.8% engagement rate on Instagram, which is about 4.5x the D2 Instagram median. Not every school has an Olympic gold medalist to brag about on social, but every school can celebrate winning alumni and students on their channels.

Sunrise on Northern Michigan University's Ore Dock is an example of great higher education social media

Showing off the best of campus often leads to increased engagement rates and totals, and this stunning shot of NMU’s Ore Dock at sunrise is no exception. The post earned a 12.6% engagement rate on Facebook with more than 6K engagements. How do we know this post is truly remarkable? More than a third of those engagements came from shares, which is one of the most labor-intensive way a fan or follower can show love for your post, meaning a high percentage of shares indicates the content was truly resonant.

Underwater shot of Lake Superior is UGC from Northern Michigan University

NMU pulled off a 5th place finish on Twitter with a little help from a secret weapon: user-generated content, or UGC. Many of NMU’s most engaging tweets were shot by others, like this repost of a beautiful underwater shot of nearby Lake Superior. The post earned a 1.52% engagement rate on Twitter, which is about 8x better than the median D2 college tweet. Partnering with local photographers or content creators who capture the spirit and details of a college community widens your stable of engaging content in exchange for expanding these artists’ reach and platform.

TikTok video from NMU featuring students dancing in front of campus landmarks is some of the best higher education social media of the year

Many D2 schools found success on TikTok this year by turning things over to current students, correctly guessing that Gen Z was their best bet for staying current on this occasionally mystifying social channel. NMU was no exception, and ranked 12th overall thanks to authentic and occasionally silly content, like their top video rating NMU campus spots with students participating in a popular dance trend. The video grabbed an 8.07% engagement rate by view and more than 20K views, helping NMU score big on TikTok.

Top Trend 1: Campus glamour shots

Everybody loves a sunset, especially when it’s seen from a beautiful vantage point at your alma mater. D2 schools won big on social this year with stunning views and colorful shots featuring campuses shining in winter snow or glorious fall foliage.

Facebook post from NMU featuring the sun setting over the trees on campus at golden hour is a great example of higher education social media

This eye-catching Facebook post from overall winner Northern Michigan University earned a 6.49% engagement rate, which is about 18x better than the median D2 Facebook post. Gorgeous fall colors merge seamlessly with a beautiful sunset for a photo anyone on campus or off can appreciate. NMU regularly sources images from this local photography, reminding D2 schools that UGC can lead to highly engaging social content.

Aerial shot of the Lincoln Memorial University campus through the clouds is a great example of higher education social media

Lincoln Memorial University ranked 7th overall and 18th on Instagram thanks in part to stunning shots of campus like this one, which earned a 16.5% engagement rate on Instagram. Posting a nostalgic view like this one looking down on the LMU campus always resonates with Railsplitters of yore on and off campus.

Top Trend 2: Big wins win big

From Olympic alumni to football wins to homecoming royalty, the top D2 schools on social media never missed the chance to celebrate wins large and small on campus. Many of the most engaging posts of the year for top D2 schools celebrated wins, so don’t be shy about taking to social to get your brag on.

Instagram photo from Angelo State University featuring the 2021 homecoming king and queen

Angelo State University scored 4th overall thanks to engaging posts like this one about the 2021 ASU Homecoming winners. The post rocked a 15.7% engagement rate on Instagram and nearly 2,000 engagements with nothing more than an excited caption and a lovely photo featuring happy students. The success of this post is a good reminder to D2 colleges that genuine and celebratory content can often be more engaging than, say, highly-produced and expensive content that doesn’t feel as authentic.

Mercyhurst swag box in front of a popular campus landmark

Hear us out: contests are another type of winning that everyone can get behind. While contests aren’t as ubiquitous in Higher Education social media as in other industries, D2 colleges like Mercyhurst University were especially successful on social this year with contest posts like this one, which rocked a 13% engagement rate on Instagram. Contests are an easy way to engage fans while expanding your reach by asking them to drop a like or tag some friends. Bonus points for contests like this one with a strong swag offering to really get people excited.

Top Trend 3: Investing in TikTok

While only about two thirds of D2 colleges and universities have TikToks, this channel’s relevance is growing exponentially, especially for Gen Z prospective and current students. With the channel’s popularity and usage also on the rise, TikTok is a key place for D2 schools to invest their time and effort in the coming school year. Let’s look at a few of the most engaging TikTok videos of the year.

TikTok video from Midwestern State University featuring the MSU mascot in front of a popular campus landmark

Midwestern State University had some of the most engaging TikTok videos of the year by view, like this one which rocked a 31.3% engagement rate by view. The video unites a trending sound with MSU’s beloved mascot for a lo-fi video that engaged a significant portion of MSU’s TikTok followers and beyond. Success on TikTok is rarely about taking the time to painstakingly script and shoot a professional-quality short film. Sometimes the most engaging videos engage because they hit the FYP at the right time, like MSU managed with this trending sound.

Delta State University TikTok featuring dancing fraternity brothers at graduation

If you know anything about TikTok, it’s that catchy and bombastic dances like this one from Delta State University are surefire ways to catch attention on the FYP. This video helped DSU rank second on TikTok this year by being in the right place at the right time to catch Omega Si Phi fraternity brothers dancing it out at graduation. The video earned more than 17K engagements and a killer 11.2% engagement rate by view, which is more than 3x the median D2 TikTok engagement rate by view. Fans flocked to the comments to compliment the fraternity on its dance moves, and the video had more than 300 shares, suggesting the content resonated enough with fans and followers for them to share it to their own audiences.

Top Higher Education Institutions on Instagram

D2 schools outperform other industries by a wide margin on Instagram with a whopping 3.29% median engagement rate, which is nearly 5x the all-industry Instagram average. These schools were also prolific on Instagram with a post frequency of 3.5/week, or about a post every other day.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 Cedarville University 374,311 5.96%
2 The University of Tampa 523,853 5.49%
3 Saint Anselm College 155,533 6.44%
4 Anderson University (South Carolina) 144,918 7.99%
4 Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 299,980 5.45%
6 CSU, Los Angeles 157,504 6.27%
7 CalPoly, Pomona 199,066 5.73%
8 University of New Haven 190,356 5.71%
9 Northern Michigan University 302,108 4.91%
10 West Chester University of Pennsylvania 224,537 4.96%

Cedarville University, The University of Tampa, and Saint Anselm College filled out the Instagram podium for D2 schools. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and University of New Haven ranked towards the middle of the pack overall but excelled on Instagram, while overall winner Northern Michigan University eked out a top 10 Instagram finish as well.

Featured D2 School: The University of Tampa

The University of Tampa had an engaging year on Instagram thanks to stunning shots of its uniquely Floridian campus and big wins on and off campus. UT also grabbed high marks on TikTok but lagged on Twitter, reminding us that focusing efforts on a few channels is better than spreading yourself too thin. UT earned a 5.49% engagement rate on Instagram, which is nearly twice what the average D2 school saw this year. The Florida school posted about 4 times per week, which is about on par with the average D2 school.

University of Tampa reposted a photo of local river dyed green

Does your college town dye its river bright green just in time for St. Patrick’s Day? Just Tampa? Posts and reposts about the infamous River O’Green Festival in Tampa were a hit on the University of Tampa’s Instagram feed, like this one which earned a whopping 16.6% engagement rate. Fans flocked to the comments to remark upon the bright green hue (and to question whether the dye was environmentally-friendly). Many universities find success on social by posting about campus-specific activities and events, but this post from UT reminds us that tying into the local community can be a successful engagement tactic as well.

Aerial UGC shot from UT featuring the campus under a stunning sunset

Stunning sunsets + a beautiful campus vantage point = Instagram success every time. This UGC post united campus pride and an epic sunset to grab more than 5,000 engagements and an engagement rate of 13.1%, which is about 4x the D2 school Instagram average. Having a talented photographer on staff always helps, but UT capitalizes on UGC regularly to make sure they’re never missing the chance to excite followers with a fantastic shot of campus.

Victory shot from UT featuring their winning lacrosse team is an example of great higher educational social media

Followers love a win, and UT’s national lacrosse title this year certainly helped gin up Instagram engagement to the tune of a 16.3% engagement rate. The carousel post earned nearly 8,000 likes and a universally positive comment section, which is no small feat for any handle in 2022. Fans couldn’t help but get excited thanks to a big win and ebullient photos filled with smiles all around.

See how your school stacks up.

Grab the rankings here

Top Higher Education Institutions on Facebook

Not one but two ties in the D2 Facebook top 10? Unbelievable. Congrats to first place winners Delta State University and Marysville University of Saint Louis, and to the other pair sharing eighth place on Facebook, Elizabeth City State University and University of Nebraska at Kearney. Virginia State University rounds out the podium with the bronze, while overall first place winner Northern Michigan University grabbed fifth place and overall fourth place winner Angelo State University snuck in at 10th place on Facebook.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 Delta State University 166,124 3.10%
1 Maryville University of Saint Louis 167,690 3.07%
3 Virginia State University 151,362 1.44%
4 Albany State University (Georgia) 74,510 1.08%
5 Northern Michigan University 109,295 0.73%
6 Savannah State University 65,852 0.77%
7 Saint Augustine’s University 48,975 1.01%
8 University of Nebraska at Kearney 65,793 0.70%
8 Elizabeth City State University 51,081 0.79%
10 Angelo State University 55,207 0.76%

D2 schools earned a 0.36% median engagement rate on Facebook this year and posted just over six times per week, or about once a day. These schools were more active on Facebook than on any other channel despite these relatively small engagement rates.

Featured D2 School: Delta State University

How did Delta State University grab a 3.1% median engagement rate this year, which is about 10x higher than the engagement rate for the median D2 school on Facebook? Focusing on quality over quantity for a start: the university posted about half as frequently as their other D2 counterparts on Facebook. Telling the stories behind the students also helped, as many of Delta State’s top posts focused on one student or alum instead of on less personal campus glamour shots or team wins.

Facebook video from Delta State University featuring fraternity brothers at graduation

Delta State’s most popular Facebook video by a mile is actually a TikTok in disguise. This repost from the university’s beloved TikTok channel features heart-tugging footage of campus fraternity brothers supporting a fellow member who lost his mother just before graduation. With an engagement rate of 468% and more than 9 million views on Facebook, it’s easy to see this content really resonated with the Delta State community (and beyond). It’s hard to replicate viral success, but Delta State stuck to telling genuine stories of students all year long on their Facebook, which clearly worked for them.

Delta State celebrated a graduate in her 70s in this Facebook photo

Delta State’s second most engaging Facebook post of the year featured a seriously tenacious graduate. Facebook followers flocked to the comments on this post to offer their congratulations, which helped this photo post earn an impressive 5.99% engagement rate, or about 16x the D2 Facebook median this year. Delta State pulled off some serious engagement with nothing more than a simple caption and a joyful photo, reminding us that posts don’t have to be flashy to catch attention.

Faculty spotlight Facebook post from Delta State University featuring a professor in a biology lab

Faculty spotlight posts like this one about a biology professor helped DSU community members on and off campus get to know the faculty and staff. The post earned a 1.52% engagement rate, which is about 4x the D2 Facebook median this year thanks in part to former students sending their love to Dr. Katembe in the comments. The university posted about two faculty spotlights each month last school year to the delight of the Delta State community.

Top Higher Education Institutions on Twitter

Virginia State University knocked it out of the park on Twitter this year but still grabbed 27th overall, while overall top 10 finishers like Midwestern State University, Angelo State University, and Northern Michigan University also placed in the Twitter top 10. University of Nebraska at Kearney and Texas A&M–Commerce rounded out the winner’s podium on Twitter.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 Virginia State University 19,043 1.36%
2 University of Nebraska at Kearney 13,208 0.48%
3 Texas A&M University-Commerce 23,862 0.27%
4 Midwestern State University 8,977 0.34%
4 William Jewell College 7,088 0.55%
6 Angelo State University 10,807 0.43%
7 Northern State University 6,855 0.61%
8 Elizabeth City State University 10,589 0.27%
9 Northern Michigan University 10,259 0.27%
10 Fort Valley State University 5,654 0.43%

D2 colleges earned a median engagement rate of 0.15% on Twitter this year, and tweeted about five times per week.

Featured D2 School: Virginia State University

Virginia State University had a standout year on Twitter and also rocked a bronze finish on Facebook, suggesting these Trojans know what’s up. The school wasn’t quite as successful on Instagram or Twitter, which pulled their overall rank down to 27th, but let’s focus on what made VSU shine on Twitter.

Tweet from Virginia State University congratulating the VSU president on being named to the President's Board of Advisors on HBCUs.

Everybody loves a winner, and the VSU community turned out in droves on Twitter to congratulate Virginia State University’s president Dr. Makola M. Abdullah on his appointment to the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. With a 22.3% engagement rate and 150 retweets, it’s plain to see that the Trojans were stoked on this national recognition of their president’s talents. Big wins like this are often energizing for fans and followers, and this tweet is no exception.

Graph featuring activity and engagement for VSU on Twitter by month

April 2022 brought the highest engagement rates of the school year for VSU thanks to a series of tweets focused on campus improvements. From upgrades to Roger Stadium to a new academic facility to a stunning new street mural, followers smashed the like button on Twitter to show their support for investments in their favorite Virginia university. We love to see engagement rates climbing steadily throughout the year, and VSU is consistently engaging its community more and more as time goes by.

Tweet from VSU featuring a VSU-themed NASCAR racing car is an example of successful higher education social media

Getting your university onto the national stage is always a strong engagement tactic, as seen here in this tweet about VSU’s themed NASCAR race car. The tweet earned a 14.4% engagement rate as current students and alumni retweeted and replied to cheer on one of the only Black NASCAR drivers in the country.

This tweet’s other secret weapon? A strong hashtag that helped expand the tweet’s reach. Tweets featuring branded hashtags like #GreaterAtVSU and #GreaterHappensHere earned about 1.5x the engagement rate of VSU’s average tweet.

Top Higher Education Institutions on TikTok

Congrats to University of West Alabama for taking the TikTok gold this year for D2 schools! Overall top 10 finishers like Colorado School of Mines, Texas A&M University–Kingsville, and Grand Valley State University excelled across multiple channels, which schools like University of West Alabama, Flagler College, and Saginaw Valley State University soared on TikTok but struggled elsewhere.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by View*
1 University of West Alabama 430,504 13.54%
2 Delta State University 239,481 13.25%
3 Colorado School of Mines 46,918 11.96%
4 Elizabeth City State University 35,449 11.85%
4 Texas A&M University–Kingsville 68,024 9.56%
6 Flagler College 42,768 9.80%
7 The University of Tampa 493,655 7.56%
8 Southern Connecticut State University 69,273 8.31%
9 Grand Valley State University 44,756 8.16%
10 Metropolitan State University of Denver 17,681 8.82%
10 Saginaw Valley State University 107,883 6.67%

Sharp-eyed readers will note that we’ve ranked by engagement rate by view instead of by follower for TikTok. Why? Counting the number of times a viewer liked, commented, or shared and dividing it by the overall number of views measures just how compelling your content was. If your video didn’t grab attention, viewers will be less likely to engage with it, and therefore you’ll earn a smaller engagement rate per view. If your video was compelling enough to cause viewers to take the extra step of engagement before swiping to the next video, that’s a good bet that it’s high-quality content.

D2 schools earned a median engagement rate by view of 4.36% this year and posted about 0.44 videos per week. The low video count makes sense, since a TikTok video is so much more work to produce than a tweet or a photo on a more static channel, though we expect this count to rise in the coming school year.

Featured D2 School: Colorado School of Mines

Colorado School of Mines earned the bronze on TikTok and the silver overall. Mines earned a killer 11.9% engagement rate by view and posted way more frequently than the average D2 school at 1.3 videos per week. The school achieved these high engagement rates and (relatively) high post counts by keeping it simple with a few key strategies any D2 college can try on TikTok.

TikTok video from Colorado School of Mines featuring players running for a touchdown

Got some sports footage? How about a trending sound? Bam, you too could have a wildly popular TikTok with a whopping 21.4% engagement rate by view. Fans ate up football and other sports wins this year on Mines’ TikTok channel. Mines makes the most of TikTok’s shortest videos, with many of the school’s top videos of the year clocking in well under 30 seconds. TikTok can be a daunting channel because of the high startup cost to producing professional video, but Mines reminds us that simple, lo-fi ideas can earn top engagement too.

TikTok video from Colorado School of Mines featuring a rocket launch

Everyone loves a rocket launch, which helps explain this video’s 13.1% engagement rate, but Mines had another trick up its sleeve as well: hashtags. Everybody knows that hashtags are helpful on every channel for letting the social platform know what your content is about and how to serve it to non-followers who might be interested in it, and TikTok is no exception. Mines made the most of simple hashtags like #Colorado and #HelluvaEngineer this year to get its content in front of non-Mines students, proving it’s worth the extra step to add a few relevant hashtags to your caption before hitting publish.

TikTok video from Colorado School of Mines featuring Engineering Days cardboard boat race

Mines’ TikTok channel isn’t afraid to show off the quirkier side of campus, like this wacky cardboard boat race that’s part of its annual Engineering Days festival that dates back to 1927. This quick video showcases the internet’s favorite topic (#EpicFails) in this snappy 11-second video, which earned an 8.27% engagement rate by view, which is about 2x the D2 TikTok median. Another way to know if a video performed well on TikTok? Peep the shares. 55 people took the time to recast this video to their own TikTok feeds, which is a sure sign of resonant content.

See how your school stacks up.

Grab the rankings here

How is my D2 school performing on social?

Comparing your school’s social performance has never been easier. Browse our Live Higher Education Social Media Benchmarks for a real-time look at top Higher Education posts, engagement rates, high-performing hashtags, and tons more. You can even add these benchmarks directly into your Rival IQ account for always-on monitoring of these top schools.

Need even more competitive analytics? Go head-to-head with a free report on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter to see how you stack up against your top competition. See what makes your competitors tick with key insights and actionable advice you can start using now to come out on top.

Webinar recording: Join us for a special webinar with #hesm expert Corynn Myers as she shares her top do’s and don’ts in higher education social media.

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We surveyed all 305 D2 colleges and universities on social media between June 1, 2021 and May 31, 2022 on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. Using this data and a weighted formula, we generated an overall engagement ranking for each school. The top-ranked colleges and universities on social media have high engagement rates with average or better audience size and posting volumes.

We define engagement as measurable interaction on social media posts, including likes, comments, favorites, retweets, shares, and reactions. We used engagement rate by follower to measure engagement on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, which is defined as the total engagement divided by the number of followers. We used engagement rate by view to measure engagement on TikTok, which is defined as the total engagement divided by the number of views.

Please note: If you haven’t grabbed your school’s TikTok handle yet, consider doing so now even if you’re not ready to post there yet. There are a ton of imposters on TikTok snapping up handles, and we’d hate to see you struggle for a handle that matches your university’s brand by waiting too long.

The case for benchmarking

Why benchmark instead of just measuring how your school’s individual performance changes over time? Because social success is relative. Benchmarking means figuring out what’s working (and what isn’t) in your industry and measuring your success against that.

It’s crucial to go beyond likes and favorites because audience size is hugely important: 100 likes is great engagement for a college or university with 1,000 followers but is a drop in the bucket to a school with 100,000 followers. Engagement rate helps us take audience size into account to see who’s really reaching the highest percentage of their fans and followers with their social posts, which are the schools you need to beat.

Wrapping it up

We hope you had as much fun as we did digging into what made D2 colleges and universities shine on social this year. Congrats to all the D2 schools for a dynamic year, and we can’t wait to see what happens this school year. What sounds will trend on TikTok? Will there be a new channel in town? Will Gen Z flock back to Facebook? (Probably not.)

Join us in sharing our congratulations over on Twitter!

Blair Feehan

Blair is a content marketer based in Seattle who relishes helping companies large and small do one thing: tell their stories. She specializes in content creation, messaging, branding, and community engagement to get the word out. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading her brains out and then running statistical analysis on what she's been reading.

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