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Social Media at Cambridge University

Entered in Education


Cambridge University is over 800 years old but we wanted to show the world that we weren't stuck in the past. We wanted to use our presence on social media to be where our audiences were, and to use photography and video as much as possible to project a modern and relevant institution. That said, we didn't have a marketing budget, so all of our channels needed to be run using a small in-house team. With so many potential channels to choose from and a million stories to tell, we needed to be selective.

We wanted to be able to use social media to attract more diverse applicants to study here. We also wanted to be able to communicate the world-changing research happening at the University to the society that we were trying to help. Finally, we wanted our alumni to be able to re-connect with their University through the stories of today's students.

All of this work saw us wanting to project an institution that was prepared to push against its own historic traditions and get out there and be social.

Strategy and Execution

We tested channels before adopting them 'officially'. This meant trialling Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to experiment with what was possible. Where we found channels that were sustainable for us as a team and engaging for our audiences, we fired them up fully and started shouting about them. We chose to focus on specific audiences and content offerings with each channel.


We decided that @Cambridge_Uni should help amplify all of our staff and students so rather than hand crafting every tweet, we built lists of related accounts from across the University from museums and collections, to individual students. By monitoring these lists we could make sure that our retweets covered and amplified voices from across the University rather than only concentrating on one area. We decided to use Twitter to help demonstrate the work of our academics and connect them to others in their field inside and outside of the University. We also ran courses to help them get the most out of the platform.


Our early Facebook experiments proved to us that we had two distinct audiences, fans (who wanted to see the beauty of Cambridge) and potential students (who wanted to see where they were going to study, and who they were going to study with). We knew we had to pick an audience to focus our efforts towards so based on the benefits of the platform and demographic using it we chose potential students. We decided to reduce the amount of research content going out through Facebook to free up more space for communicating the student experience. We used Facebook Lives to be as 'real' as possible, taking tours of our colleges and other parts of the University's campuses across Cambridge. Core to this approach was a commitment to show students from non-traditional backgrounds to visually demonstrate that Cambridge is for everyone.


There's no denying that Cambridge is a beautiful city, in fact you could say it's built for Instagram. That said there was a lot that we wanted to show people inside and outside of our buildings. On any day our Instagram page could include famous alum like Sir David Attenborough, video messages from our staff and students, footage of maggots being used as living recycling centres or people dancing on punts. We wanted Instagram to tell the many stories of Cambridge one photo at a time.


When we started our YouTube channel we relied on our own films to communicate the experience of studying at the University. However, we soon learned that our students could engage with our audiences in a much more authentic and lively way. We took the decision to support and promote them, even when they were taking approaches that we wouldn't dare of taking centrally (criticising the institution). As such we now support a hybrid approach of original content produced by our office (short films about world changing research like the Future of Medicine) mixed with student generated videos (on their own channels) which we actively promote.


By adopting distinct strategies for each social media channel we have been able to give the University the best chance of reaching more people, and opening up. In particular with the work we've done on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube we have seen young students inspired by what we've created and shared, and then successfully applied to study here. This has brought more diversity to the University, meaning that the stories we tell in the future about our research and students will inspire wider audiences still.

Our commitment to this approach has also attracted interest from major donors resulting in new scholarships being created for under-represented groups.

Through all of this we've grown to understand our students better and helped amplify their voices which in turn has opened the University to more people than ever. We've also connected new audiences with cutting edge research on the channels of their choice resulting in hundreds of thousands of engagements every month.

The positive impact of our work has seen an increased interest from across the University and Colleges into how we've achieved these results, an expansion of the team to help us do even more, and a commitment to always try to contribute to society through everything that we do, even the running of our social media channels.


Video for Social Media at Cambridge University

Entrant Company / Organization Name

The University of Cambridge