Social Media Strategies for Independent Schools: Case Study & Tips from St. Anne's-Belfield School
Mia Major

St. Anne's-Belfield School's new website that launched this summer has already taken home an award and received tons of praise from our team at workshops and conferences across the country.

But they don't just put time, effort, and strategy into their website. Today, we're taking the time to give their marketing strategies beyond their website some serious kudos and acknowledgement. In every nook and cranny of their marketing, the School sets a new standard of excellence — especially on social media.

In short, they nail it. Every single day.

How? Genuine hard work, planning, teamwork, creativity and strategy.

St. Anne's-Belfield Social Media Tips

We think that every independent school can learn a thing or two from the amazing things the School is doing. So I set up a Q&A session with the talented independent school marketers behind the social media plan: Beth Stefanik, Associate Director of Communications & Media Relations, and James Mattise, the school's Multimedia Producer, to find out exactly how they make their social strategy stick.

So get out your notepads and pens, folks — because these are some seriously awesome pieces of advice your independent school will want to use for their 2016 social media strategy.

1. Which social media platforms do you use, and why?

We use a variety of social media platforms to reach a number of different audiences.

Facebook and Twitter we look at as our most broad-reaching platforms, capable of engaging audiences at St. Anne's-Belfield School, in our local Charlottesville community, and all the way across the world to alumni and prospective families. We use these platforms multiple times per day to announce news, post photos and videos, make announcements, send out congratulations to our community members, and more.

Our blog, STAB365, we use for quick news items that are just a bit longer than Facebook or Twitter might allow, generally human interest topics with a great photo.

We also use Vimeo for our videos so that we have a professional platform over which we have a good deal of control in terms of the videos that appear alongside featured content, and SmugMug as a photo archive.

In the future we are considering adding Instagram to our mix as we know many of our current students and young alumni in particular enjoy this platform.

Free Report: The State of Social Media Marketing Among Schools

2. Do you have a designated person who manages all your social channels?

Beth manages our website, news, social media channels, and our internal weekly digests and monthly electronic School newsletter, among other responsibilities.

Having so many outlets all under the umbrella of one position has a huge benefit because one person can view the broad landscape of school stories and prioritize posts on particular platforms for specific audiences, as well as to stagger posts and news across platforms.

Vimeo and SmugMug are exceptions in that they function more as archives for us, and both are managed by James.

Beth and James collaborate daily on which School events should be covered and how, and the majority of content posted on SmugMug and Vimeo is publicized on Facebook and Twitter with links back to the full content.

For example, we do a lot of single photos and or small photo albums on Facebook and then will include a link to a whole SmugMug gallery.

Later, another single photo may also be used in a digest or newsletter with a link to the entire gallery. James also does a great job of staggering our new videos because our Vimeo feed is linked to our homepage, so the most recent video added will appear on our website as well.

3. Do you use any publishing tools — if so, which ones? Do you like them? If so, why?

We do not use publishing tools at the moment, Beth sorts through potential posts throughout the day and manually updates our different channels.

However, we'd like to move into more evening and weekend posts knowing that these would be more visible at peak traffic times, and for audiences in other time-zones.

This is a priority for the coming months.

4. How do you decide which events to promote with graphics, and which ones to just use text for?

Last year, Beth and James admired the graphic designs from colleges and professional athletics teams announcing their games. So, in February 2015 they worked together to look over several school calendars to determine which events would be best promoted with graphics and even video.

Championship Tweet

James took the design lead on these, and decided to create a graphic for every home, varsity athletic event as well as major arts events and other notable all-School events, such as our Fall Family Picnic, with the goal of increasing attendance at each.

We used a very broad guideline when selecting which events deserved something extra. So we decided to try to use multimedia to promote any event requiring ticket purchases.

We've been able to use these graphics again in website announcements and even press releases which then also filter through to our digests and newsletters.

James also did a great job recently with a series of six videos highlighting aspects of the school supported by our annual fund, and this campaign in particular became significant with our current school parents and was able to be re-used in weekly digests and our monthly newsletter as well.

Annual Fund Tweet

5. How important is social media to your school? How important to you think it is for schools in general?

Social media is a key component of our engagement with our own school families, our alumni, and local community organizations. We have a very engaged community of more than 900 students and their families, of whom more than 70 are boarding students, and we have more than 3,600 alumni spread across the globe.

Being able to post something online and invite engagement is critical to maintaining community ties. Social media is timely and easy. It allows users to spend one second pressing "like" or one minute adding a thought to an on-going conversation.

Our goal is to welcome all of these voices, so that what takes place on our campuses remains relevant to those who may currently be a great distance away or many years removed from their own student days.

6. How do you manage to maintain consistent branding and messaging across your website and social platforms?

Because we have one position that is responsible for writing our news, updating our website, and posting on social media, we have a relatively easy time of making sure that the same messaging is used throughout all of these areas.

How we introduce information might be positioned a bit differently on different platforms.

For example, we might use one headline for a news story, write a slightly different introduction for a Facebook post with a link to the story, and then create a question to invite clicks on the story link on Twitter, but with one person managing these different areas it's not quite as hectic as it could be.

We work closely on a daily basis so that if a story is best told in pictures or video they'll both know when it will be available and on which platforms it should be publicized for the best effect.

7. What type of content do you share? Which type seems to be the most effective?

We are able to share content in many different ways, with links to news articles or specific website pages, photos, and video. Overwhelmingly our social media posts containing a great photo or video have more engagement than text-only posts.

Our Faculty Friday series, brief interviews with a different teacher each week, in particular draws a significant amount of engagement from students, parents, and alumni.

Faculty Friday on Facebook

8. Is there a particular post that drove a ton of website traffic?

Generally, when we have students who win regional or national awards, or an alumnus featured in a major publication, we'll see a spike in traffic to those news stories.

Also, when we launched our new website in August 2015 we did a fun video with our football coach (also our director of alumni relations) and released it to the School community. It continues to draw views to this day!

9. Do you have any tips for other schools looking to better their social media initiatives?

  • Spend some time browsing platforms and checking out what other organizations are doing: We try to keep an eye on peer schools across the country to see what and how they are posting, but some of our more innovative ideas have come from looking at higher education accounts, professional athletics teams, and community organizations.
  • Let your imagination run wild for a few minutes as well: Most of our best ideas come when we set aside time to brainstorm. We have a similar sense of humor so once we get on a roll, we often hit on an idea that will make us both laugh, and then our audiences enjoy a fresh look at the topic as well.
  • Invest in staff and quality equipment to be able to best cover your school stories, and always keep an eye toward equal attention for all school divisions.
  • Finally, it's important for members of the school community to understand that their event coverage is important to communications and can be used on social media as well, and that they feel comfortable sharing it.

10. How do your website and social media play hand in hand?

Our social media platforms largely function to drive traffic to our website.

Most of what we post on social media will include a link back to a webpage, even if it's a news article, to get people "through the door" of our online home, so to speak.

We also make sure that those who find our website first can easily see our community in action on social media.

Our homepage features our latest videos, the bottom banner of every webpage has links to all of our social accounts, and our Community page functions as a preview to all of our social media.

Featured Videos on Homepage

When we know someone is interested in learning more about us online, we want to make it easy for him or her to find all of our different platforms.

And of course — that's the goal of any website. Attract, recruit, retain. And we think that the team at St. Anne's-Belfield School is doing an excellent job doing just that.

Social Media Marketing Toolkit

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