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Planning — it is something school professionals don’t always do because they are too busy...well, doing. However, social media is one of those strategies where having a plan is absolutely essential because of its public nature, complex algorithms, and a variety of audiences and uses.
In this blog, we share a ten-step guide for developing and executing your social media plan, complete with this free worksheet to create your own.
Why Create a Social Media Plan?
A social media plan provides schools and districts with an exact set of measurable goals, tactics to meet those goals, and point-people to carry out those tactics. It makes tracking success easier, and gives schools and districts a point of reference to answer that pressing question: “is our social media presence helping our marketing/admission/advancement efforts?”
Before you create your social media plan, there are a few things you should in advance:
- Research your competition: Knowing who your competition is, taking note of the social media networks they’re on, and how they use them, will give you a baseline of what you should be doing, too. You can find some competitor intel in your Facebook insights, but the best way to do this is to simply review your main competitors’ social accounts and take notes.
- Know your differentiators: List out what makes you better than the competition — be it your programs, distinguished faculty, campus, etc. Some type of “differentiator” should make it into your content on a weekly basis. Additionally, these things that make you unique are typically what you should put ad dollar behind promoting.
- Research the social media industry: Knowing the latest algorithm updates and best practices is key to devising your strategy. The social media industry is always changing — so bear in mind that this is something you should be doing throughout the year and adapting accordingly.
- Do a content inventory: Use content mapping to create a list of news articles, blogs, videos, testimonials, photos, etc. that you already have that you can use throughout the year. Identify gaps in your content, and create a plan on how to fill those gaps.
Keep in mind that a social media plan is different than a social media policy, as a social media plan is executed within the guidelines of a policy. The creation of a social media policy should happen before the creation of a social media plan.
Free Worksheet: Creating Your Social Media Plan
A Twofold Social Media Approach
Every school or district’s social media plan should have two parts: the part you plan, and then the on-the-fly responsiveness that ensures your presence is authentic and engaging.
Both of these elements are very necessary to a social media strategy because being realistic about your competition, budget, staff, timeline and goals is important — but so is understanding that social media is meant to be fluid and conversational, and that can’t always be planned.
Step 1: Set a Measurable Goal
Your social media goal should be measurable, and in most cases, directly align with a strategic goal. For example, the three social media goals below are examples of social media goals that directly align to strategic goals:
Deciding on one, two, or three social media goals (depending on how many departments are involved in your strategy) is sufficient.
If you’re focusing on strategic goals, it is also essential to identify how social media can help you reach these goals.
If your school, district, or department doesn’t have strategic goals, you can create social media-specific goals. In all cases, here’s how the breakdown works:
- If your goal is to increase brand awareness, you should measure follower counts and post reach. You can find daily insights on this in your Facebook "Insights" tab, as well as well as in the "insights" section of your Instagram Business page.
- If your goal is to drive website traffic, you should measure referral traffic and bounce rates using Google Analytics.
- If your goal is to generate new leads, create social media-specific landing pages, and monitor clicks and conversions.
- If your goal is to increase engagement, measure the number of likes, comments, shares and mentions your posts receive.
Not sure what your goal should be? Admissions departments typically lean towards brand awareness and lead generation, while marketing often focuses on driving website traffic and engagement with many constituencies. Based on our survey of 300 schools last fall, here’s a breakdown of schools’ social media goals:
Step 2: Create a List of Tactics
Once you’ve identified your goal, the next step is to create a set list of tactics to carry out that goal. Each goal you’ve listed should have its own set of tactics, although there might be some overlap.
If you’re using a social media goal instead of a strategic goal, you still need a list of specific tactics to help you meet that goal. If you have multiple departments with multiple different goals, you may have a variety of tactics.
3. Select Social Media Networks to Carry Out the Goals
In our social media report, 92% of schools reported that they are active on three or more social media networks. Yet, 40% of those multi-network schools and districts are still only dedicating 0-5 hours per week to social media, which isn’t enough for a strong, multi-channel presence.
Whether you are a department of one or ten, selecting one to three social media networks that help you meet your goals and is ideal for executing the tactics lists. A key piece of this is knowing who is on each social media network.
For example, you’re most likely to reach millennial parents on Facebook and Instagram, while your current students (depending on age) are most likely to be on Snapchat and Instagram.
For schools with small offices, maintaining a presence on Facebook and Instagram is likely to reach the largest audience, without spanning multiple networks. In general, we’re seeing a shift in schools using Facebook and Instagram for their two main primary networks, while handing Twitter over to sports teams.
A key best practice to keep in mind while you select your social media networks, is to not divide your social media traffic across multiple accounts. For example, we recommend that every school have one main Facebook and one main Instagram. We often find that schools may have numerous Twitter accounts for various sports teams. As long as these Twitter accounts remain active, it is okay to have multiple.
4. Do a Social Media Audit or Get One
Before beginning the execution of a social media plan, it’s a good idea to get an expert analysis of your strengths and weaknesses, and your competition’s. This provides you with a sort of social “state of the union,” and is an excellent starting point — especially for schools who are truly planning for the first time.
At Finalsite, we offer a social media audit to our clients and non-clients to help them make smarter decisions about their social media goals and plans. "The Social Media Audit showed us a number of things we are doing well and shined a light on several opportunities for growth,” said Becky Marsh of Whitfield School. “More importantly, once the audit was complete the folks at Finalsite helped me develop an affordable and measurable strategy to address the opportunities for growth. When I presented our marketing and advertising strategy at a board meeting earlier this fall, our trustees and head of school responded with enthusiasm at the data-based decisions we are making as a result of the audit."
5. Set Expectations
Personal expectations and teamwide expectations are necessary. These expectations include post frequency, ad budget, hours dedicated, hashtags, and listing who is involved.
- Post Frequency: Determine how many times will you post each day or week on each network. A good benchmark is once per day on Facebook and Instagram, while Twitter is a more lenient, although engagement drops off after about 10 tweets per day. If you like to post more frequently on Facebook and Twitter, we advise using the “story” and live video features on both networks, as they get more engagement.
- Ad Budget: A good rule of thumb is a minimum of $200/month per social network. Any less will be difficult to generate the necessary exposure needed for interactions/traffic.
- Low-End: $250
- Middle Ground:$500
- High End: $600
- Hours dedicated: Determine how many hours each day or week you will spend posting planning content, posting content on the fly, and responding to comments. About one hour per day should be reasonable if media isn't your full-time job.
- Hashtags: Make a list of hashtags you use and when. You should have at least one hashtag you use across all posts on social media, and then you may have additional ones associated to individual campaigns. List these out and when/how to use them.
- Who’s responsible: Setting expectations of who is responsible and how is key.
Step 6: Create Landing Pages
Whether you’re investing in social media ads or not, you’ll want to create a new set of landing pages that are optimized for social media — meaning they are responsive, mobile friendly, and follow some standard landing page best practices from this blog post.
Step 7: Plan Content Distribution
Planning when and where you will share content is a major component of your social media plan. This, in most cases, can be done in four simple steps:
- Align your social media calendar with academic, event, athletic and admission calendars. Determine which events you want to promote, how far out, and how often. From here, you can build the initial framework of your schedule.
- Fill in the gaps with additional content that promotes your differentiators and mission. You can use the content library you may have already created when you conducted a content inventory.
- Create content/branding guidelines for social media. This is especially important if you have numerous social media admins creating graphics and sharing content across different social media networks. If you need inspiration, here is a great example of social media content/branding guidelines from Portsmouth Abbey School.
- Make room for authentic on-the-fly content each week. You can use Instagram and Facebook stories for these, or plan on 1-2 weekly posts that aren’t part of the original calendar.
Step 8: Assign Tasks and Due Dates
Assignments, tasks and due dates as the very foundation of every successful strategy. Tactics are great, but if they don’t actually get carried out...we’ll never meet our goal.
In general, each tactic will likely have individual due dates, where you might have the same person responsible.
Step 9: Expect the Best and Plan for the Worst
Social media is public — meaning we’re open to bad reviews, negative comments, or an angry community. Put in writing how you will handle the following:
- What happens when someone writes a negative comment?
- What happens when someone writes a negative review?
- How will you handle a crisis?
- How will you interact and engage with your followers?
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend responding to negative reviews and comments — especially if what they wrote is true. This humanizes your brand and school, and your community will appreciate the engagement. Likewise, we recommend to never leave a question or comment on a post unanswered. Not only is this good for your organic reach, but it is excellent for your brand presence.
To bolster negative situations more, you can also ask community members to reply on your behalf. This is an authentic approach that removes your school from these situations, but still combats negativity.
Step 10: Analyze and Adapt
The purpose of creating a plan is to give you a set of goals and tactics that can be measured and improved. Each month, take a look at the performance of your social media networks to determine which parts of your plan are working, and which parts you need to improve.
For data, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (for Business) provide free insights you can use to monitor your most (and least) popular posts.
Creating a social media plan may seem like a lot of work — especially when you already have so much on your plate. But it puts meaning behind what you do, and can even help you get more budget and more people to help you execute what you need to. Use our social media plan worksheet to plan your goals, strategies and tactics. And if you need a little inspiration, check out Portsmouth Abbey School’s social media plan, which was developed using this guide and worksheet!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.
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