Using social media to prevent “melt” in the virtual era

While enrollment numbers at the School of Public Affairs at American University stayed steady in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, it soon became apparent that students would not be able to return to campus in the academic year 2020-2021. With this news, new challenges emerged for SPA’s in-house communications team. How do we build excitement about upcoming classes that may exist only on Zoom? How do we tease the excitement of college life without a campus tour? Finally, how can we ensure that these students show up for a class in a virtual world?

Relatively quickly, we realized that our normal strategies of paid social ads and organic content would fall short of the deeper student connection we sought and that an overtly salesy approach would seem insensitive to the times. So, with direction from our dean, we rolled up our sleeves and designed an innovative social media campaign that doubled our video views across all platforms and saw the strongest engagement rate ever. This campaign helped us connect effectively with current and prospective students and compelled them to “show up” for that first day of the virtual class.

As we define the new normal for higher education marketing after COVID-19, it is essential that we build innovative opportunities for virtual connection on social media. We’ll share our tried-and-tested strategies to tackle the communications and branding challenges for a virtual/hybrid education system post-COVID-19.


  • Sabiha Afrin — American University
  • Chay Rao — American University

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