2022 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report

Competitive Analysis Social Media Best Practices

#HESMers, we know you’ve been waiting: the 2022 Higher Education Social Media Engagement Report is here!

Your favorite survey of D1 schools on social media is back and bigger than ever with the addition of TikTok metrics. See how your favorite school or alma mater stacks up on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok this year.

This report features tons of analysis and examples for your 2022-2023 school year #inspo. Of course we’ve got the full rankings available for download as well so you can boast about your win over your school rival (we’re looking at you, Army vs. Navy) or brag to your boss about how your school moved up a few spots this year thanks to your epic content creation.

Without further ado, let’s get into the winners.

Spoilers! See the full Higher Education rankings.

Grab your report here

Top Overall Higher Education Institutions on Social

Higher education social media earned top engagement marks across all four channels we studied this year as usual, beating out nearly all the other industries we study in our Social Media Industry Benchmark Report. Dynamic content, engaged audiences, and a boatload of Gen Z running university TikTok handles helps explain soaring engagement for colleges and universities.

University Overall Rank Rank Rank Rank Rank
University of Iowa 1 3 1 8 41
James Madison University 2 1 4 9 44
Utah State University 3 20 22 12 24
Georgia Tech 4 5 2 58 17
Ohio University 5 48 21 6 37
University of South Carolina 6 65 19 14 22
University of Georgia 7 9 59 38 15
Baylor University 8 63 45 16 3
Tarleton State University 8 21 13 19 74
Clemson University 10 86 30 23 16

Those keeping a close eye on #hesm won’t be surprised to see University of Iowa topping the charts for the fourth year in a row. James Madison University and Utah State University elbowed their way to the podium for another year, and Georgia Tech and Ohio University kept their spots in the top 10 again as well. We loved seeing top 10 newcomers University of South Carolina, University of Georgia, Baylor University, Tarleton State University, and Clemson University shake things up and remind the reigning champs that consistently high engagement matters more than a few viral posts.

There’s no one secret to Higher Education social media success, but many of the top colleges and universities employed a few key trends on Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter this year.

Top Trend 1: Showing off eye-catching campuses

We see colleges and universities finding success on Higher Education social media year after year by showing off mouthwatering snaps of sunsets, college towns, and campuses, but a new player has entered the campus glamour shot chat this year: videos. From Reels to TikToks, schools are going beyond the static shot to induce nostalgia and FOMO for alumni and parents to maximize social engagement.

Campus glamour shot from Utah State University trended big on higher education social media this year

This Reel from Utah State University helped the school snag third place overall with its dynamic stitch of iconic campus landmarks paired with a trending music track. The post earned a 13.1% engagement rate, which is more than 4x the Higher Education Instagram average this year. USU consistently makes the most of its stunning campus surrounded by mountains, which never fails to grab likes and comments about what a special place it was to go to college.

Sunset campus glamour shot from James Madison University

James Madison University grabbed the gold on Instagram and the silver overall with tons of gorgeous shots of campus, like this Instagram carousel which rocked a 22.2% engagement rate. Stringing a few different photos together into a carousel helps schools earn even more engagement, since Instagram re-serves carousels to users that didn’t interact with them the first time. If schools are looking for #inspo for their own campus glamour shots, JMU is the GOAT in this genre.

Top Trend 2: #Winning

Posts featuring current students, sports teams, alumni, or community members winning big led to an engagement lift on all four channels we studied this year. What does this mean for colleges and universities? If you’ve got a win, flaunt it.

A woman holding her baby up at a Texas A&M game

Texas A&M University earned second place on Instagram this year thanks in part to Reels like this one earning epic engagement. This short Reel combines a cute kid with a big Aggie win for an unbelievable 97% engagement rate and more than 300K engagements, with fans running to the comments to congratulate Texas A&M on their big win and compliment this mom on raising the next generation of Aggie. Colleges and universities should never miss a chance to celebrate a campus milestone, especially when they can pair it with something adorable and a post type Instagram is trying to invest more heavily in.

Winning photo from Georgia Tech alum on Dancing with the Stars

Georgia Tech earned 4th place overall thanks to lots of exciting wins on and off campus, including this big victory from Georgia Tech men’s basketball alum Iman Shumpert. This carousel of Shumpert’s winning night racked up nearly 10K engagements and an engagement rate of 10.3%, proving that winning isn’t just for football teams anymore.

Top Trend 3: Jumping on the TikTok bandwagon

More colleges and universities than ever are producing quality content on TikTok this year. We’ve seen a huge rise in content and engagement as colleges and universities invest more in this trendy but tricky channel. Many schools are seeing double or more engagement rates on TikTok as on other channels, so this is a platform worth paying attention to.

It’s worth noting that about half the schools in this study don’t have active (or in some cases, even registered) TikTok handles yet. Get on it, Higher Ed, if only to boot the crafty punks who are sitting on your handles hoping to trade access for a full-ride scholarship.

TikTok from Belmont University featuring a cheering resident life staff and new students

Belmont University had one of the most engaging Higher Ed TikToks of the year with this quick snapshot of move-in day featuring a bewildered freshman and the world’s most enthusiastic resident life staff. This fun slice of life on campus earned more than 1.5 million views by being genuine and fun, reminding colleges and universities that videos don’t have to be highly produced to go viral. Schools earned tons of likes, comments, and shares on TikTok this year by handing the phone over to those actually living life on campus, who helped keep things young, fresh, and on-trend.

Tiktok from Binghamton featuring the campus cheese club

Speaking of young, fresh, and on-trend, meet the…Binghamton University Cheese Club? This not-so-niche club on campus earned the university a 16.9% engagement rate by view and more than 200K views by showing off a night in the life of these cheeseheads, proving not every strategy is right for every college and university in this study. The casual nature of TikTok means you can show off a wide variety of slices of campus life (especially if it involves slices of cheese).

More TikTok trends are sure to emerge on the world’s most downloaded social media app this year as more and more colleges and universities pivot their social strategy to include TikTok.

Top University on Social Media: University of Iowa

Anyone who’s anyone in Higher Education social media knows the Hawkeyes are *the* school to beat on social. University of Iowa has dominated the overall rankings in this report for the last four years in a row and pulled off another big win this year. Iowa finished first on Facebook, third on Instagram, eighth on Twitter, and 41st on TikTok, reminding us that even the strongest champions still have room for growth.

U of Iowa Facebook post featuring a big football win is an example of great higher education social media

Part of Iowa’s secret recipe for social media engagement has to do with the university’s uncanny ability to dominate in the world of sports. Iowa’s top Facebook post of the year earned a 10% engagement rate and nearly 20K engagements with a simple caption and a photo featuring a sea of Hawkeyes cheering on a big football win. Posts that give off-campus Hawkeyes and their families a chance to celebrate consistently perform well on social, with fans rushing to the comments to offer their congratulations to the university.

Iowa's famous Hawkeye Wave always trends big on higher education social media

Are you even on Hawkeye social media without a Hawkeye Wave post? This lovely campus tradition started back in 2017 gives fans and players a chance to wave at children and their families receiving treatment at the children’s hospital that overlooks the stadium. The Wave is practically guaranteed to bring a tear to your eye and epic engagement to your post, like this top-performing Instagram post which garnered a killer 19.8% engagement rate and more than 20K engagements.

A University of Iowa parade celebrating Iowa as one of America's best college towns

Iowa saw particular success on Twitter this year with video posts, like this one celebrating Hawkeye Pride in downtown Iowa City. This top-performing video grabbed more than 20K views and an engagement rate of 1.17%. Video tweets earned about 30% higher engagement rates than the average tweet for University of Iowa this year, and even though the university was 10x more likely to tweet a photo instead of a video, these video tweets definitely helped boost Iowa’s overall Twitter engagement.

Sunset from a U of Iowa residence hall

University of Iowa saw some of the highest engagement totals of the year on TikTok thanks to student-led UGC, the use of trending sounds, and relentless positivity. This video earned a 21.6% engagement rate by view, or about 3x the Higher Ed median, by showing off the particular beauty of the Iowa City campus. University of Iowa has clearly figured out that handing their TikTok account over to current students yields killer engagement by showing off the best of the university while staying atop fun trends and the TikTok music of the moment.

Top Higher Education Institutions on Instagram

Instagram is a key area of focus for many colleges and universities because so many of their current and prospective students are active there, which means the battle for engagement here is fierce. James Madison University managed to nab the gold for the second year in a row, while Higher Education social media arch rival University of Iowa gained six spots and wound up with the bronze. Texas A&M University, College Station bumped up a few places to grab the silver.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 James Madison University 1,005,719 7.59%
2 Texas A&M University, College Station 3,884,003 5.07%
3 University of Iowa 1,223,717 4.63%
4 North Carolina State University 980,559 4.82%
5 Georgia Institute of Technology 1,134,580 4.44%
6 Northern Arizona University 1,135,012 4.40%
7 University of Cincinnati 987,932 4.46%
8 University of Pittsburgh 724,355 5.07%
9 University of Georgia 1,324,272 4.12%
10 Virginia Military Institute 422,147 7.21%

A hearty welcome to North Carolina State University, Georgia Tech, University of Cincinnati, University of Georgia, and Virginia Military Institute who are all newcomers in the Instagram top 10 this year. Way to shake it up and beat out some stalwarts.

Colleges and universities earned a median engagement rate per follower of 3.37% this year and posted about 4x per week, but obviously these top-ranking universities captured the hearts and likes of their followers by going the extra mile.

Featured university on Instagram: James Madison University

Virginia-based James Madison University is a force to be reckoned with year after year in this report, especially on Instagram. JMU managed to increase its ranking on every other channel we study too for an overall silver medal finish just behind too-hot-to-catch University of Iowa. How does JMU outrank its competitors on Instagram year after year and grab an average engagement rate of 7.59% (more than 2x the median)? Let’s dig in.

Instagram carousel from JMU featuring a big women's softball win trended well on higher education social media

Sure, Instagram is all about Reels these days, but JMU knows that carousels are a tried and true way to increase engagement because Instagram re-serves carousels to users who don’t interact with them the first time, giving the poster more bites at the engagement apple. This carousel bragging about a big women’s softball milestone achieved JMU’s most engaging Instagram post of the year by rate thanks to school spirit and inspirational photos. Duke fans turned out in droves to congratulate the team on a great season to the tune of a 27.5% engagement rate, or about 8x the average Higher Ed Instagram post this year.

Cute puppy on the JMU campus in honor of National Dog Day is an example of strong higher education social media

JMU used hashtags to increase post reach and stay current with trends like this post about #NationalDogDay. This cute pup in front of an iconic campus building earned a 10.9% engagement rate, or about 3x the Higher Ed median in this report. JMU also created high-engagement posts for #VeteransDay, #WorldDiabetesDay, #StPatricksDay, and more. Holiday-themed content is a reliable strategy in any industry, but JMU really makes the most of this trend by including a hashtag to make sure the post can be found even by non-Dukes. (Higher Education social media pros know an adorable dog doesn’t hurt either.)

Sunset campus glamour shot from James Madison University trended well on higher education social media

Many of JMU’s most engaging Instagram posts this year were static, i.e. didn’t include video content, but the university is clearly dipping its toes in the Reels water. This Reel featuring a short sunset video on campus earned 3x the median Higher Ed engagement rate by reminding current students and alumni about how breathtaking campus can be.

The university was about 4x as likely to post a photo or carousel as it was a Reel, but we’ll bet Reels become a lot more frequent in the JMU feed in the 2022-2023 school year.

See how your school stacks up.

Grab the rankings here

Top Higher Education Institutions on Facebook

Facebook is still an important channel for colleges and universities, especially those hoping to reach parents, grandparents, and, uh, less-recent graduates. D1 schools averaged an engagement rate of 0.22% and posted about 7 times a week, or once per day.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 University of Iowa 785,153 1.09%
2 Georgia Institute of Technology 323,496 0.84%
3 Jackson State University 549,897 0.68%
4 James Madison University 241,563 0.72%
5 University of Texas at San Antonio 314,077 0.62%
6 Michigan State University 588,562 0.53%
7 Virginia Military Institute 184,610 1.06%
7 South Carolina State University 166,654 1.90%
9 U.S. Military Academy 870,123 0.45%
10 Southern University, Baton Rouge 358,642 0.50%

University of Iowa continues to dominate with a first place finish for the second year in a row on this channel. Georgia Tech elbowed the U.S. Military Academy out of the way for the silver, causing West Point to fall to 9th on Facebook. Jackson State University, Michigan State University, and Virginia Military Institute held onto their spots in the top 10 again this year. James Madison University, University of Texas at San Antonio, South Carolina State University, and Southern University, Baton Rouge were all newcomers in the Facebook top 10 this year.

Featured university on Facebook: Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Tech grabbed the silver on Facebook and 4th place overall with a simple strategy that every university should try to emulate: quality over quantity. The university earned 4x the median Higher Ed Facebook engagement rate with about half as many posts per week as the average university, reminding us that more isn’t always more.

Facebook video from Georgia Tech featuring a mascot graduating trended on higher education social media this year

All things mascot energized the Georgia Tech Facebook community this year, and this hilarious video post about a particular graduation tradition earned tons of engagement and a killer 39.7% engagement rate. The short video reveals the top-secret identity of one of Georgia Tech’s mascots on graduation day, and fans flocked to engage with the post to wish him well and compliment the school on such a fun tradition. Boosting the post helped Georgia Tech take engagement from good to great.

Facebook photo from Georgia Tech featuring an incredible shot of the moon on campus is an example of strong higher education social media

Once-in-a-lifetime campus glamour shots are a surefire path to engagement, and this stunning snap by a student of an almost total lunar eclipse on campus won big across all channels for Georgia Tech, including Facebook. The photo post earned a 12.1% engagement rate, or about 55x the median Higher Ed engagement rate on this channel. But its most remarkable engagement feat is having just over half its total engagements come from shares, which is a surefire indicator that content resonated so much with your followers that they had to share it with their own friends and family.

Facebook photo from Georgia Tech featuring a campus plaque is an example of strong higher education social media

Everybody loves a win, and Georgia Tech’s Facebook fanbase is no exception. When the university posted about earning some serious accolades, including ranking the #1 public university in America, fans turned out to the tune of a 2.17% engagement rate. Alumni and parents jumped into the comments to congratulate the school on these wins and share their own pride for the school, catapulting the post to more than 10x the median for Higher Ed on Facebook.

Top Higher Education Institutions on Twitter

Twitter presents a unique challenge (and opportunity!) for colleges and universities, as evidenced by the fact that just three of the overall winners landed in the Twitter top 10: University of Iowa, James Madison University, and Ohio University. Schools like Virginia Commonwealth University and Alabama A&M University struggled on other channels while earning top engagement on Twitter, while schools like Grambling State University, Texas Southern University, and Prairie View A&M University excelled on Twitter and one or two other channels.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by Follower
1 Texas Southern University 140,394 1.29%
2 Prairie View A&M University 73,284 0.31%
3 Virginia Commonwealth University 122,252 0.23%
4 Brigham Young University 64,920 0.28%
5 Alabama A&M University 62,564 0.52%
6 Ohio University 84,649 0.22%
7 University of Tennessee, Knoxville 143,725 0.16%
8 University of Iowa 253,515 0.16%
9 James Madison University 51,748 0.23%
10 Grambling State University 55,156 0.36%

Colleges and universities earned a median engagement rate of 0.096% and tweeted about 9 times a week, which includes retweets and replies.

Featured university on Twitter: Ohio University

Ohio University was a consistent performer across all four channels we studied this year with an overall rank of 5th, with standout performance on Twitter. The Bobcats earned an average engagement rate of 0.22%, which is more than 2x the Higher Ed median, and tweeted about 10 times a week, which is just a little higher than the average college or university.

Tweet from Ohio University that reads "Joey Super Bowl"

Sometimes, the tweet with the highest engagement features a lovingly crafted video or a world-class photo. Other times, it features three words and zero explanations while grabbing an engagement rate of 5.88%, which is more than 5x the Higher Ed median. If you’re not a fan of the NFL or Ohio University, you might not realize this tweet is celebrating the Bengals snagging a spot in the Superbowl this year, but this wasn’t a problem for the nearly 5,000 fans who came out to cheer on Bengals quarterback and Ohio local Joe Burrow. Since Joe Burrow’s dad was an old Ohio U coach, many of Ohio U’s top tweets this year were in support of the Burrow family and the Bengals. This tweet is a good reminder that not everything you have to post on social media has to work for everyone to be successful.

Twitter photo from Ohio University of a snowy street trended on higher education social media

The only thing more beautiful than the corner of Court + State streets in this top tweet from Ohio U is the university’s deft combination of UGC + campus glamour shots, which are two tried-and-true Higher Ed strategies that are always top engagement earners. This tweet rocked a 2.29% engagement rate and nearly 2,000 engagements, with Bobcats retweeting and replying to celebrate this lovely shot of life on campus. Ohio U is clearly keeping an eye out for opportunities to repost great photos from students and others on campus, with UGC tweets earning a 1.23x higher engagement rate than the average Ohio U tweet.

Twitter photo from Ohio University featuring a shot of their downtown

Ohio U jumped on the #WallpaperWednesday trend on Twitter, posting gorgeous campus shots for followers to set as their phone wallpaper each week. Tweets tagged with the #WallpaperWednesday hashtag averaged an engagement rate lift of 2.57%. Some tweets in this camp saw even higher engagement rates, like this one celebrating Joe Burrow and the Bengals, which grabbed a whopping 4.49% engagement rate. (Staying on the Burrow bandwagon was clearly a successful strategy for Ohio U this year.)

Giving followers a freebie and something consistent to look forward to is always a good idea on social, especially when you can combine it with beautiful campus shots to inspire additional nostalgia in the replies.

Top Higher Education Institutions on Tiktok

Congrats to all the top schools who were active on TikTok this year. It’s not easy to break into a new channel–especially one that’s so video-heavy. Central Michigan University, University of South Dakota, and Baylor University rounded out the podium. Baylor was the only university that ranked in the overall top 10, reminding us that not every school can be good at everything.

Rank University Total Engagement Eng. Rate by View*
1 Central Michigan University 873,849 16.85%
2 University of South Dakota 1,496,467 14.91%
3 Baylor University 320,759 16.86%
4 University of Missouri, Columbia 634,975 13.03%
4 Louisiana State University 1,376,070 12.15%
6 Binghamton University 329,031 14.09%
7 Tulane University 208,309 14.76%
7 Georgia State University 180,026 16.48%
9 Auburn University 557,726 10.70%
9 Belmont University 288,912 11.57%

Eagle-eyed readers will note the * in the table above denoting engagement rate by *view* instead of by *follower*. Why are we emphasizing engagement rate by view on TikTok? 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 wasn’t high-quality, thought-provoking, or even controversial, viewers will be less likely to engage with it, and therefore you’ll earn a smaller engagement rate per view. If your video grabbed attention, viewers will be more likely to take the extra step of engagement before swiping to the next video.

Schools earned a median engagement rate by view of 6.7%, which is obviously way higher than the engagement rates by follower we’re seeing on other channels. Colleges and universities posted about one TikTok a week on average, but we expect that posting frequency to grow as TikTok becomes even more of a battleground for Higher Ed.

Featured university on TikTok: Baylor University

Not every school in this study has jumped on the TikTok bandwagon yet, but when they do, they should take a page out of Baylor University’s book. This Texas university grabbed the bronze on TikTok and eighth place overall with simple yet effective strategies done right. Baylor earned more than twice the average engagement rate per view on TikTok for Higher Ed this year. Combine that with 2.5x the posting of the average college or university and you’ve got yourself a winner.

TikTok from Baylor about free time on campus was a popular example of higher education social media this year

Trending sounds helped Baylor earn killer engagement on TikTok this year, like this short video featuring the “I would like to see the baby” sound from popular Disney TV show The Mandalorian. This fun video combined a trend with campus staple the real live Baylor Bears for nearly a million views and more than 200K engagements, and was by far Baylor’s most engaging video of the year by view. Jumping into trends is never easier than when you have a campus full of college students to help you stay hip.

TikTok from Baylor tracing its mascot costumes through the years

Campus nostalgia is a surefire way to engage alumni and parents, and this video featuring Baylor’s mascot through the ages grabbed engagement left and right by tapping into campus memories. The video earned nearly 10K engagements and a 16.2% engagement rate, which is more than 2x the Higher Ed average for the year. Oh, and a trending sound didn’t hurt this video’s reach either.

TikTok from Baylor featuring excited fans reacting to Baylor's Big 12 win is an example of strong higher education social media

Everyone loves a winner, and this video celebrating Baylor’s Big 12 championship win is no exception. The celebratory TikTok earned a 13.8% engagement rate by view, with Bears flocking to the comments to share their excitement and rival Big 12 schools dropping in to trash talk. This simple video stitches together Bears fans in slo mo, reminding universities that a) videos don’t have to be highly produced to earn engagement and b) UGC is a university’s best friend.

Live Higher Education Social Media Benchmarks

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 brands.

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.

If you’re hungry for even more stats, start a free 14-day trial with Rival IQ.

Methodology

We surveyed all 358 D1 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.

Start analyzing your school’s social with a free Rival IQ trial.

Get my free trial

The case for benchmarking in Higher Education social media

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 this report hits just in time for a new school year filled with engaging content and connecting with students, parents, and alumni on social in meaningful ways. It’s always exciting to see colleges and universities duke it out for the best in higher education social media, and this school year delivered. As always, we want to hear your thoughts on this report on Twitter, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

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.

Ready to start analyzing?

Start measuring the impact of your social media campaigns with our 14-day free trial.

Start Your Free Trial