More than 20 million people now view Hillsdale College’s social media accounts each month, according to recent data from the college’s marketing department. That’s about the size of Florida’s population.
The college’s social media growth has exploded in recent years. Since 2014, its total follower count across all accounts increased from 122,000 to more than 1.4 million.
Hillsdale’s YouTube channel has seen the most rapid growth. The channel has garnered more than 60 million views in the last decade, according to the college’s internal metrics. Most of those views have come in the past three years.
The college’s channel is fourth in views among universities nationwide, behind only three universities with major international recognition: Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hillsdale consistently outpaces other universities with much larger endowments and much greater name recognition, like Yale University and The University of Notre Dame.
Ric Tombelli, the college’s director of digital marketing, said his office’s success can be attributed to Hillsdale’s reputation as an institution, one of not only solid academics but also conservatism and independence. According to Tombelli, Hillsdale’s brand reaches beyond the confines of the classroom and appeals to more than just the traditional targets of alumni and donors.
“There are so many people engaged with the college outside of the college itself,” Tombelli said.
Hillsdale’s “arena of ideas,” as Tombelli calls it, is something people are hungry for. The college’s link to a common desire for truth and knowledge is a huge selling point for the college on social media.
Gianna Green, Hillsdale’s manager of social media works, cultivates the college’s unusual brand with a focus on quality over quantity and a recognition that social media is “people talking to people.” She said Hillsdale’s social media team, like the college at large, is committed to seeing people as more than just a demographic or a number.
Success has not come easily. According to Green, social media can be either “a very fluid creature, or the world’s most mischievous toddler.” Like anything else, creating new posts and content involves making mistakes and learning from them.