Content Marketing for Universities Using Hashtags

User generated content – it’s the holy grail of content marketing. But as many who have tried can tell you, it’s not as simple as asking your audience to “submit your favorite photos of (fill in the blank).” LogoFirst, it needs to be easy on the user. I mean, REALLY easy …like including a simple hashtag in a post is all they should need to do. Which is the case for students, alumni, and supporters of the University of San Francisco, thanks to the institution’s use of – an online application that builds audiences through publishing by curation. helps the University of San Francisco’s e-communications team track content tagged with the #USFCA hashtag on leading social networks such as Instagram, Twitter, and blogs. After a post using the #usfca hashtag is discovered, that content is then reviewed. If it passes muster, the USF e-comm team features that content on the website. The result is a conglomeration of photos, videos, and stories about life at and around the University of San Francisco.

The University of San Francisco's content marketing hub,

The University of San Francisco’s content marketing hub,

“ fits perfectly into how we work towards the strategic goals,” said Thomas Listerman, Director of E-Communications at USF. “We curate content as a part of our regular monitoring – morning, noon, and afternoon.”

And it’s working. The project has led to a spike in visitors to USF’s web presence.

“We launched in March 2013 and after 9 months, we have now reached 130,000 views and 960 unique contributing sources,” said Listerman.

The page has also led to extensive use of the #usfca hashtag.

“We also measure (through radian6) the social media footprint in terms of social media conversations that mention the university name, and specifically conversations that include #USFCA,” said Listerman. “Compared to the same month last year, we have seen an average 168% increase in USF-relevant conversations overall and a 573% increase for the use of #USFCA.”

Like most universities, the University of San Francisco has few staff resources assigned to social media.

“Three full-time staff manage both email marketing and social media for the university, so we have to use our time efficiently,” said Listerman. “The monitoring and review process of #USFCA has been a way for us to generate more social media content, and more engagement with our content, with much less effort compared to creating the social media content ourselves.”

The site is authentic while also remaining on brand, thanks to the review process. Since it’s easy to use, there’s no shortage of user-generated submissions. And, because it’s user-generated, it’s helping USF understand what matters to its constituents, which shapes overall content marketing.

“The data from is playing an increasingly important role for our content marketing strategy,” said Listerman. “We use metrics from and our other social media venues as a live ‘Litmus test’ for which stories to develop further through other channels.”

Interested in conducting your own content marketing campaign similar to what the University of San Francisco has done using Listerman has the following list of tips to offer:

  • Consistently monitor your content – Look at what your community is already talking about and how your curation can make a difference. Respond daily to questions and comments that deserve response.
  • Get students involved with developing the concept for the project, either as student workers or as a focus group.
  • Give the community one common hashtag to identify themselves when they refer to the university in their social media conversations.
  • Use your brand messaging platform to create curation standards for your team.
  • Make sure that your platform of choice…
    • Links back each curated piece to the original item.
    • Gives each curated content item a URL of its own.
    • Allows for sharing through other social media channels.
    • Allows for metrics both on a site-wide and item-specific level.
  • Implement a procedure for circling back with every contributor you curate and publish, to let them know you’ve published their content.
  • Swag doesn’t hurt. USF used postcards and stickers for the back of laptops or smart phones to create extra attention in the student population.
  • Re-launch your project every semester with a focus on incoming students, in order to get them into the habit of using the right hashtag when they discover the university and throughout their student experience.

Justin Ware helps higher ed institutions, healthcare organizations, environmental organizations, and other nonprofits develop content marketing strategies. To connect with Justin to learn more, click here.


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