- General Best Practices
Like many enthusiastic students today, I turn to social media whenever good things happen. Minutes after opening a letter of acceptance to my dream school, for example, I posted a photo on my Instagram, updated my Facebook profile, and followed three school-sponsored social media accounts. It was my way of saying to the world, “I am part of this community now and I belong.”
So I was a bit skeptical when I heard the title, “Social Media is Dumb: Defend or Refute” of the latest webinar from our Manager of Consulting Services, Red Abbott. It’s no secret that most prospective students—and parents, for that matter— are active on social media. How could social media marketing for schools be “dumb”? It must be worth the time and effort, right?
Using engaging analogies and a self-proclaimed “inflammatory” title, Red addresses this question with five main reasons one might reject social media as a marketing tool, each more specific to school marketers than the last.
Concern #1: Insignificance
Many school marketers think: It would be worth the time if only my followership was large enough to make an impact. But of course, in order to get a large following, you need to create engaging content. (It’s a what came first, the chicken or the egg, type of scenario.)
If you think your school isn’t the “social media type,” think again. Schools of all sizes, budgets, and markets have successfully utilized social media to fit their organizations’ needs.
Let’s take a look at two very different schools who actively use social media: Ellington Public Schools and Choate Rosemary Hall. Ellington Public Schools is a school district in a rural area of Connecticut, catering to a small, tight-knit community. While their community may not be large in size compared to other districts in the state or across the country, they put 110% into their social media efforts with an engaging Twitter strategy that puts social media storytelling in the hands of the teachers. (You can read more about it here!)
Compare that to Choate Rosemary Hall, a high profile, internationally recognized boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut. With a large community, stemming from faculty and students to alumni, Choate knows social media is essential for reaching their community where they already are.
Discover more about Choate’s success with Finalsite Feeds in this blog post.
If it’s significant for schools just like yours, how can you make it significant for you?
Solution: Increase Your Social Media Followership.
- Focus on posts that tell a story and are visually compelling. Social media is your chance to highlight the specifics of your school—such as individual student success stories and faculty accomplishments. Save the overall information about your school for your website.
- Treat social media like a conversation, not a podium and engage with your followers. For more about the kinds of posts that get the most engagement, read this blog post by Finalsite’s Content Marketing Manager Mia Major.
- Promote recent social media activity on your website to drive current and prospective families to view and follow various accounts, respectively.
Concern #2: Irrelevance
Even for schools with a large social following, there’s still the question of ROI: Our students may like our posts, but how does that help us meet our goals? Is Facebook even relevant anymore?
It can be a challenge for schools to decide which platforms to use and which ones to ignore. In some ways, Facebook is becoming less popular among young audiences. Red introduces a few newer, “more trendy” apps such as Brighten and Whisper, stating that “the youngs” are more prominent on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.
But young people, he notes, “are not going to pay you the kind of money you need to meet monetary goals.” In other words, trendy platforms are not always practical, and practical platforms are not always trendy.
The trick is to act accordingly.
Solution: Choose platforms that are relevant to your marketing goals.
- Define the primary purpose of your social media presence. Are you looking to monetize, increase community engagement, or both? In our social media report released in October 2017, with data from more than 300 schools, we found that the majority of schools want to increase community engagement—which has a direct tie to ROI: recruitment and retention.
- Think about your ideal audience. Are you looking to address prospective students, current students, or alumni? Perhaps you want to focus on parents instead; how old are they? As Red points out, the “youngs” are going to be your kindergarten parents sometime soon. Make sure your social media platform is relevant to the demographic you want to address.
St. Anne’s-Bedfield School, for example, uses Twitter and Facebook to engage students, parents, and alumni because the platforms are the “most broad-reaching.” Below is a post from their “Faculty Friday” series:
For a more professional platform, the school also utilizes Vimeo—to reach prospective parents who are interested in learning more. Click the image below to watch the video:
Each social media platform has different characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks. Use this knowledge to your advantage and you will optimize your social media presence.
Concern #3: Ineffective
For some marketing cynics, social platforms can seem like chaos.
According to Red, “Facebook is kind of like going to Times Square to have a quiet cup of coffee with an old college friend to catch up. You are going to be bombarded by a bunch of stuff that’s different than what you came for.”
In other words, is my content even getting to my followers?
It’s true that social media organic reach is on the decline—there is only so much information people can read in their feeds before they stop scrolling, and network services know this. Facebook algorithms make it difficult for even the most popular pages to reach all of their followers. As of October 2017, the organic reach for Facebook posts was as low as 2 percent.
So what do schools like yours do?
Solution: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Invest in social media ads.
Sponsored content doesn’t need to replace organic content. Use both. In this way, your social media presence will both engage your audience—through organic conversations— and target new audiences—through specific, carefully crafted campaigns.
If you still aren’t sure how paid content differs from organic content, or if you need help creating your own social media campaign, check out how other schools are doing this well, or download this webinar: Social Media Ads 101: For Schools.
Concern #4: Insecure
The perks of having multiple social media accounts includes having a wider reach. But with all those accounts come multiple social media passwords, and large room for, well, human error:
“How many of you have a Post-It somewhere in your office because several of you share the Facebook login? And that Post-It has the login ID and password. How many of those offices are accessible by kids?”
Red’s comment touches on a safety issue that is becoming more and more prominent in the news. We don’t own or control Facebook or Instagram. So how do we make sure our students are protected?
Solution: Invest in a part-time or full-time social media manager.
When you add together all the aspects of good social media marketing—from strategy, to content creation, to updating and monitoring posts—the workload suddenly becomes more than just a hobby. Many schools are hiring social media marketers to make their social media presence a constant and strategic endeavor. Not only does this position make it possible for a more fine-tuned strategy, it also reduces the amount of admins on your respective platforms, which can ease security-breaching worries. For more information about safety regarding student privacy, download this free Finalsite webinar.
Concern #5: Inappropriate
The last big concern for schools is about content: what if people post things that aren’t consistent with our values?
The above word cloud represents the frequency with which these words appeared in a whole group of mid-atlantic schools’ mission statements collected by Red. He says, “When I read these words, I don’t generally feel a ton of resonance with my recent social media experiences.”
The fear of having your school’s content in a news feed with content you can’t control is scary. But you are in control of your own content, and that’s what matters.
Solution: Create a social media policy.
- Develop guidelines to ensure your social media presence cultivates the values instilled in your mission and follows branding.
- Consider the options of private vs public presence.
- Use Finalsite Feeds to filter content on your site and monitor social-media mashups.
Social media isn’t perfect. If you, your team, or your school’s leadership feels one or more of the following concerns, I encourage you to embrace the solutions provided in this blog and take the plunge into creating an engaging social media strategy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Marketing Associate, Leah promotes new school site launches and educates people on all things digital marketing. She’s passionate about global communication, handwritten notes, and sole travel. When she’s not exploring new places, she’s either blogging, doodling, or dreaming about it!
- Social Media