March 14, 2023
How Social Media Strategy Enhanced Brand Awareness for an Elite Higher Ed Institution
Northwestern University’s chemistry department (NUChem) came to Greentarget looking for ways to better promote its research, scientists, and resources. The goal was simple: Stay competitive for top faculty and students.
The department had more than enough talent, research prowess and pedagogical expertise to compete with the nation’s foremost chemistry departments, including MIT, CalTech, UChicago and Stanford. By fostering collaboration and supporting a diverse community of students and faculty members, the department had been at the forefront of scientific discovery for well over a century.
What NUChem didn’t have was a culture of publicizing that work to the next generation of STEM leaders or thriving businesses. So many of the institution’s breakthroughs were going underreported and uncredited. Academic leaders in the field knew the program was good — they just didn’t know how good.
When a client’s goal is to outperform its rivals, Greentarget starts there first. The initial proposal to NUChem underscored the importance of two types of research: primary research aimed at uncovering how students and faculty members viewed the department; and secondary research comparing NUChem’s reputation and promotional efforts against departments in close competition to be viewed by peers as the top chemistry department.
To help chemistry academics embrace the leading-edge marketing tactics Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management was already known for, Greentarget then developed a comprehensive competitive assessment. Its findings revealed that the department’s aversion to self-promotion wasn’t a sentiment shared by its peers. In fact, many of the institutions NUChem competes with had robust PR and marketing programs in place actively demonstrating their authority.
But the program’s biggest shortcoming was social media. Not only did Northwestern’s five peer universities maintain an active presence across multiple social media platforms, but their individual chemistry departments did as well. This gave NUChem’s competitors the opportunity to solicit success stories from within their departments and share them with a wide audience. And as industry publications and associations covered these stories, NUChem’s competitors were able to amplify them on their own social channels. Their social media presence also enabled other departments to drive engagement among current students, alumni and faculty — a crucial step toward achieving world-class reach and influence.
By showing NUChem how their peers were winning the reputation battle — and crafting a unique social strategy on their behalf — the department was able to counter. In less than two months, NUChem’s LinkedIn audience went from zero to twice that of its closest competitor.
More importantly, chemistry leaders were the ones engaging, with professors and publications mentioning the department more than any other in the competitive set during the first month of the campaign. For academics with an ultimate goal of being the top chemistry program in the country, there was no better proof point than the attention and respect of their peers.