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How to write for the University of Cambridge on social media

The University of Cambridge has over six million followers around the world across TikTok, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTubeX and Threads. Our audiences include prospective students, current students, staff, alumni and those interested in research and higher education. 

Writing for our social media audiences is a fun and creative activity that presents a new challenge every day. It requires a different writing style to writing a press release, internal memo or email. 

Here are ten golden rules for writing for the University of Cambridge on social media:

  1. Write for your audience’s needs
  2. Write in plain English
  3. Start a conversation
  4. Include an inspiring call to action
  5. Create accessible social media posts
  6. Tailor your words and tone for each platform
  7. Try a new copywriting technique if you get stuck
  8. Use data and evidence
  9. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation with the University style guide
  10. Get your work checked by another team member


1. Write for your audience’s needs

Put your audience first in everything you write.

Before writing a word, take a few minutes to consider: Who am I writing for? What are their needs? How can I solve their problem or answer their question? What do I want my audience to think, feel and do when they see my social media post?

Audiences can be large groups like prospective students or current staff. Or they can be much smaller, such as alumni who graduated between 1990 and 2000 and work only in a particular sector.

If your copy feels like a broadcast statement or comes directly from a press release, then it needs to be re-written from the audience’s perspective rather than a university perspective. Focus on benefits for the audience.

Good examples of writing for your audience's needs Bad examples of writing for your audience's needs
Are you an archaeology sixth form student looking for a summer internship? You’ve got three weeks left to apply for the Cambridge internship scheme. The University of Cambridge has announced a new internship scheme for students enrolled between 2020 and 2022.
Cambridge students: if you’re not sure what to do after uni, reach out to the Careers Team for a free 15-minute careers chat. The Careers Team is made up of experts in all industries, with a combined total of 200 years’ worth of experience giving students careers advice.
How can we improve the largest study of cancer patient experience in the UK?

We want to hear from you and make changes to the study based on what cancer patients and family members say.

Take part in a survey and help shape research on cancer.

The co-leads of the Cancer Patient Research Project launch the Cancer Patient Research Project consultation. Information about the consultation and how to get involved is available on the Cancer Patient Research Project website and can be found here.


2. Write in plain English

Writing in plain English means writing without jargon. It’s not about dumbing down – it's about opening up Cambridge to the widest audience possible.

Some of our content is about complex subjects. But that doesn’t mean we need to overwhelm our audiences with technical detail. Research also shows that people with higher literacy prefer plain English because it allows them to understand the information as quickly as possible.

Writing in short sentences and using simple vocabulary will bring all our audiences with us. Try free tools like Grammarly to simplify your writing. Don't use acronyms.

Good examples of writing in plain English Bad examples of writing in plain English
Working four days a week instead of five is better for your mental health, a new study has found. Researchers in PBS have used econometric and qualitative methods to determine that working 4 days a week instead of 5 does not lead to an increase in mental health deterioration.
Sweden has the most generous package of parental leave benefits in the world, but people find it hard to access them, researchers have found. In a longitudinal study running more than three decades using a mix of qualitative and quantitative data, researchers from DPMMS have deduced that Sweden’s maternal policy infrastructure is technically robust but fails to adequately engage users at the application stage.


3. Start a conversation

Build your copy around the social part of social media.

Asking followers about their experiences, ideas and memories will help them feel valued and part of our Cambridge community. We want to encourage our audience to engage through comments, likes and shares.

Use features like quizzes, polls, questions and quotes to hook the audience in.

Tag in students, staff, Colleges, departments and faculties wherever appropriate. Hopefully they’ll share and engage with the content too. The mention should be part of a sentence rather than listed at the end of the content.

The more engagements we get, the more social media platforms push our content out to larger numbers of our followers.

Good examples of starting a conversation Bad examples of starting a conversation
Alumni: how did you make friends when you first moved to Cambridge? Tell us in the comments. Making connections in your first year at uni can be tough. Click to watch our video on sport and friendship.
Would you prefer a four-day working week? Vote in our poll and tap through to see expert recommendations for your organisation. Flexible working and four-day weeks are the new normal, say Cambridge experts.


4. Include an inspiring call to action

A call to action is the part of your copy that tells the audience what to do. If it’s written well, it will tap into their desires and emotions, and make them feel inspired to do the action.

Swap general phrases like ‘click here’, ‘read more’ or ‘find out more’ for more inspiring ones like ‘join the hundreds of alumni already volunteering’, ‘book a place to get a taste of Cambridge’ or ‘find your dream course today’.

Don’t bury your call to action at the very end of your text. Instead, try leading with it in your opening line. Each platform has a different character limit, but the general rule is to make your first sentence count. On many platforms, only the first two or three lines will be visible to followers before an ellipsis cuts off the rest of the text.

Good examples of an inspiring call to action Bad examples of an inspiring call to action
Donations from our proud alumni are helping build the next chapter of our College. Be part of the story. Alumni can donate here.
Our new West Hub is open to all staff and students! Find out how to book a study space or join a tour. The Cambridge West Hub is now open. Read more here.


5. Create accessible social media posts

At least 1 in 5 people have a long-term illness, an impairment or a disability.

Accessible social media content can be more effective because it can be accessed and understood by the widest possible audience – regardless of whether people have a visual, hearing, speech, motor, cognitive or other combination of impairments.

Accessibility best practice for social media copy includes:

  • adding alt text to images and photos to describe what is going on
  • adding subtitles and captions to videos
  • using line breaks to create space in your social posts - spreading out your copy and making it clearer to read
  • limiting emojis to 3 per post and placing them sensitively. Most text-to-speech and screen reader software will read out emoji descriptions. Don’t replace words with emojis.
  • using capital letters at the start of each word in your hashtag, e.g. #UniversityOfCambridge
  • ensuring that any words on a graphic are included in the main copy


6. Tailor your words and tone for each platform

Hashtags should be used on most platforms to improve engagement and SEO. We use #UniversityOfCambridge #CambridgeUniversity #Cambridge as well as campaign hashtags like #ReachOutCambridge or 3-5 topic hashtags like #careers #STEM #nature etc.

Adjust your tone of voice for each platform and purpose. Younger audiences on TikTok and Instagram require a more informal, playful and friendly tone. Professional audiences on LinkedIn require more formality, but also respond well to personal and emotional posts.

The University of Cambridge tone on social media is:

  • authoritative, but not alienating
  • friendly, but not over-familiar
  • informative, but not boring
  • enthusiastic, but not over the top
  • empathetic, but not creepy
  • modern, but not down with the kids
  • intelligent, but not snobby
  • accessible, but not patronising
  • geeky, but not stuffy
  • serious, but not rigid


7. Try a new copywriting technique if you get stuck

Producing scroll-stoppingly good social media posts every day can be hard. Get creative with one of these copywriting techniques:

  • Volume: write 5 versions and pick the best one
  • Movement: move the order of sentences around
  • Inverted pyramid: start with the most important thing at the top, then add details in descending order of importance.
  • Problem positioning: what problem are you solving with this social post?
  • Trim the fat: what words or sentences can you remove?
  • Check the 3 c’s: is your work clear, concise, compelling?
  • Check the 4 u’s: is your work useful, unique, urgent and ultra-specific?
  • Use other people's brains: ask your colleague what they think the most interesting thing about the story is
  • Use search listening tools: explore Answer The Public or Google Trends to see what keywords people are searching for


8. Use data and evidence

Researching what has worked before is one of the best ways to write a successful social post. It’s not cheating – it's using data and evidence to improve your content.

Compare content written in different ways, or with different image choices, or across different channels and see which performed best.

We have benchmarks that show the average performance across each University social media channel. These are a useful measure to compare to. Contact Amy Mollett to receive a copy of the benchmarks. 


9. Check your spelling, grammar and punctuation with the University style guide

Use the University’s style guide to check how to write Cambridge-specific words and phrases, as well how to use common grammar and punctuation.

Use the active voice and avoid the passive voice. For example, 'We opened a new centre', not 'A new centre was opened'.


10. Written by one person, checked by another

Every piece of content published on the University of Cambridge social media channels must be checked by another team member before it’s published. The checker will make sure that the post follows all the above guidance.

Getting someone else to check your work isn’t about hierarchy – it's about everyone having each other's backs, doing the best for our audience and creating strong content.

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