What Higher Ed Marketers Can Learn From the Hillary Clinton Campaign

We’re going to talk politics for a sec — well, sort of. Hear me out: I’ve been blown away by the Hillary for America web presence, Hillary Clinton’s social media team and their efforts to get the millennial vote. Because it’s clear: They’re gunning for it.

As higher ed marketers, we’ve got a pretty similar audience, don’t you think? When we talk up our schools online, who do we really hope sees it and is influenced by it? Young people. Millennials. The people who are on the cusp of making a big decision (for us at the University of Oklahoma, it’s choosing a school; for Clinton, it’s choosing a president).

I was struck by an interview on MSNBC.com in which the digital director for Hillary for America, Katie Dowd, explained the importance of technology in the 2016 election.

Hillary For America has hired several Obama campaign veterans to help build what will be the foundation of the Hillary 2016 digital operation, and the campaign is employing many of the successful strategies that helped President Obama win re-election. How then will your campaign differ from the Obama 2012 campaign?

We must leverage best practices from today and yesterday. That means using the best practices of the 2012 Obama campaign, but also incorporating new approaches and tools to reach people where they are. Hillary Clinton is running a grassroots campaign that’s about the American people, not her … From Twitter, Facebook, Instagram to Snapchat, these are all the kinds of platforms where millions of people are talking, learning, sharing every day, and we’ll be incorporating these to share stories.

“Hillary Clinton’s digital director: Social media is now ‘ubiquitous’”

If you saw my eduWeb Digital Summit presentation, “How to Create Content Students Actually Pay Attention To,” you might remember my nod to Clinton’s digital campaign team and the Spotify playlist they created. That sounds like a great place to kick this off. Today I’ve got seven lessons higher ed marketers can learn from Hill and her web team.

1. Music unifies

Hillary Clinton Spotify Playlist

Music can be magical. We’ve found that out firsthand at the University of Oklahoma. We create music playlists around holidays and special events, like our “Sooner Christmas Crooner” holiday playlist or our “Back in (Jam) Session” playlist that celebrated students’ return to campus. We get great engagement on social media and plenty of website traffic after embedding it in our CMS along with a headline and intro.

Hillary for America is seeing lots of success as well. They’ve actually worked with Spotify to create branded playlists, like the “Team USA” playlist. I love it when marketers do this: They take something everyone is excited about, and they show their audience how they’re excited about it, too. That was basically what we did with our “Sooner (Jurassic) World” video!

2. Snapchat is getting huge, guys

Hillary Clinton Snapchat ghost

Remember that time everyone was all like, “Hey, you gotta get on Vine!” and remember where that went? I go months without seeing Vine posts. I thought that’s what was going to happen to Snapchat, and I refused to pay attention to it until just recently (mark that one under “Morgan’s failed predictions”). It’s safe to say it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

OU’s recruitment office is all over Snapchat (find them at go2ou), and I’ve been seeing so many higher ed institutions using it in the last year. In fact, it was also one of the topics covered this year at the eduWeb Digital Summit in Chicago (see: Lindsay Nyquist’s “OH SNAP! Using Snapchat for fun & engagement“).

Clinton signed up for Snapchat Monday, and I’m eager to see where she takes this often-misunderstood social media platform.

3. Speaking the language is key

Hillary Clinton Joins Snapchat!

Yaaas, Hillary!” Back to that Snap for a sec: Who really thought the U.S. Secretary of State would embrace this affirmative rallying cry of millennials everywhere? I’m talking about the “yaaas.” Hill, look at you speaking the language of the youths and nailing it. She not only debuted her first Snap with it, but look at her campaign T-shirts: “The Loud and Proud Tee.” I’ve read about some people getting their panties in a twist over the shirts because they say Clinton is pandering to her gay supporters. Backstory: The “yas” originally made its way to the Internet when a young man called it out to Lady Gaga after a concert. Anyway, Lady Gaga is clearly cool with Clinton embracing the “yas.” So that’s that.

Scroll through Clinton’s Facebook and Twitter posts and you’ll see they’re delightfully devoid of legalese. No politician-speak here. She’s speaking our language. Basically, that’s the language of real humans and not political robots. Sure, not everything you see from her digital team sounds like it’s geared toward the youth vote, but you can tell she’s really trying to get on the average Joe’s level here.

I see this problem a lot in higher education, where the university higher-ups want to pontificate and postulate pedagogical principles and HEY, ARE YOU STILL WITH ME? The point is, it’s tough for people to relate to smarty-smart language like that, because real humans, in the moment, don’t speak that way.

4. 404 pages are like the layperson’s Easter eggs 

Hillary Clinton 404 Page

We all get butterfingers sometimes and our hands slip on the keyboard, sending us to a webpage that doesn’t exist. It happens. But when it does, isn’t it fun to see a 404 page that’s got some personality to it? Clinton got some good press when she first announced her candidacy and people started discovering her awesome 404 page.

Not only does this show she’s, again, human, but it’s witty and spins the problem in a different direction: one that could get her more volunteers.

5. It pays to be consistent

This digital team is consistent as hell. One mark of a great social media account is if you can take a post out of context and you can immediately tell who posted it. Look at Clinton’s diptych graphics — all these divided right down the middle, using bold colors, emojis with the same placement every time and — I’m squealing with joy here — the same font throughout.

Hillary Clinton tweet

Hillary Clinton tweet

Hillary Clinton tweet


6. GIFs are our lifeblood

Clinton understands. We love GIFs. They make us laugh, break up the monotony of our Twitter timelines and remind us of our favorite pop culture moments. When used at the right time, they have the ability to elevate a tweet or Instagram post to Internet gold.

And if you make your own GIF? Well, #TeamWebComm awards you 1 million bonus points for that. That’s exactly what Clinton’s digital team did on Aug. 7. Click here to see it in its full glory.


7. Gracefully own up to your mistakes

Hillary Clinton tweet

OK, so the whole “describe your feelings about your student debt in three emojis” probably wasn’t the most sensitive way to approach the student debt problem on social media. But hey, at least she’s trying? Clinton got some flak for that question this past week.


Did you see how she bounced back? With the shoulder shrug emoji, of course. Way to admit your wrongs and get back on your feet. As higher ed marketers, there are times where we post something we didn’t know was going to offend people (believe me, it’s happened to us at OU). Sometimes there’s just no guaranteeing how people are going to react to something you post. But, there’s something really special about seeing someone in the limelight own up to a mistake instead of completely ignoring it. Do you agree?

I could go on and on about Clinton’s behind-the-scenes looks at the campaign trail, consistent hashtags, thoughtful retweets and use of interactive, helpful content marketing (Have you seen this college debt quiz that collects users’ info and provides them with a College Compact plan as a result?) …

Hillary Clinton Student Debt Quiz

Hillary Clinton College Compact Quiz


I’ll spare you all, though, and instead I’ll close with this: Have you noticed Hillary Clinton or any other presidential hopefuls employing digital best practices that us higher ed folks can learn from? (See:
Tracking the 2016 Presidential Hopefuls on Social Media” via Newsweek.)


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