I was recently invited to speak about the use of social media in schools at the 2012 AMDIS Annual Conference, which took place on Monday 14th May at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield. AMDIS is The Association for Marketing and Development in Independent Schools, and I was delighted to be asked to appear as a guest expert.
I regularly speak at events, but this one was particularly important to me, as I am involved in helping out at my son’s school in this very area. Social media is a relatively new marketing communications channel for schools, and social media use varies from being non-existent or actively discouraged, to being highly integrated into the schools recruitment and communications strategy.
The title of the conference was: ‘Squaring up to the Economic Climate – Facts, Figures, Foresight and Valuable Ideas and Initiatives’; and it was interesting that digital and social media was a theme running throughout the event, illustrating the important role they have to play in the financial plans for a school. If done well, digital and social media are inexpensive communication channels with huge reach potential, so schools cannot ignore their potential in this current economic climate. Young people (and most of their parents) are also becoming increasingly digital-savvy, and now spend a lot of their time communicating, socialising and sharing on social media platforms. In order to reach young people and their parents, we therefore also need to be using and sharing through the same social media platforms.
My seminar and talk was entitled ‘Social Media: Opportunities and Rules of Engagement’
“Social media has become the most important communications platform of our time. More people visit Facebook every day than Google search; Twitter has helped to effect regime changes in Africa and the Middle East; and LinkedIn has become the de facto powerhouse of online business networking. Social media is now very much part and parcel of everyday personal and business life. In a nutshell it’s where your prospective parents are and it’s where you should be.”
I was lucky to be placed at the end of the day, so was able to sit in on discussions throughout the day where people were open and frank about their knowledge and experiences of social media, before I was ‘outed’ as the expert speaker on this subject.
What came across strongly was that some schools have fully embraced social media and achieved great success doing so. There are some excellent examples of this, which I am going to go into more detail in another blog. But there are also many people working in schools who feel very wary of social media either because of lack of understanding about its potential risks and rewards. In addition, there was a general lack of basic knowledge about how to get started, with questions such as, “Do you have to pay to set up a YouTube account?” being asked. This is a real shame, as social media has great potential for raising the profile of schools, saving time, sharing positive news stories, setting school staff up as expert opinion leaders, communicating effectively with parents and students, and giving great customer service.
Social media also helps with your Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy. Both Bing and Google have undergone massive changes over the last two years with regards to social media, and are both now openly relying on it to help position websites in their ranks.
By setting up a blog, you are able to easily share success stories and news items about your school, as well as portray members of staff as thought leaders to position the school as a reputable and forward thinking education leader.
Prior to the event, I had asked all attendees to fill in a questionnaire about their use of social media, to get an understanding of the audience’s practices and motivations General fears surrounding the use of social media at school or in the marketing of schools included negative comments, lack of time, cyberbullying and legal compliance. I’ll be covering these in more detail in my next few blogs.
In this blog, I have picked out some of the key action points to hep you quickly get started with social media. Future blogs will go into each social media platform in more detail.
How to Use Social Media in Schools: Getting Started
So having established the benefits, how should schools begin using social media?
Step One: Establish your goals
Social media shouldn’t be seen as something that separate; it should be an integrated part of your marketing goals, and your communications strategy. Consider what are you all trying to achieve and set some marketing goals
Step Two: Think about what parents want
In order to buy into a school, parents want: security that they are going to get results that their child deserves; better than average results or top A level grades; expectation to get into a university of their choice; to make sure their children are mixing with the correct peer group
Step Three: Think about the demographic of the parents
How old are parents when they make the decision about schools? For prep schools, it is probably during pregnancy and for secondary schools, it is when children are around 7, 8 or 9. As the average age for a first child in the UK now is 29, your target age group is 28-38 year olds. Note that more often than not it is mothers driving decisions about schools. The majority of your intake comes from nurseries or local primary/prep schools, so consider how to interact with these parents.
Step Four: Consider which platform to reach these target parents on
25-34 year olds are the top age category on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter, with 35-44 year olds being the 2nd top category.
As an example, we have a 6 year old, and my partner is considering his secondary school. She is always on Facebook, and has family friends that are around the age of 16 and 17 years, and she said to me “I want him to go to Ripon Grammar School, the kids talk so nicely on Facebook, they aren’t crass like many others, they are polite.” As she likes what she sees on Facebook, she visited their school’s website and has since spoken to the school about visiting.
Current parents for your target audience are very social media savvy, and are using Mumsnet, Netmums, and the baby centre. They are on Facebook and Twitter, and the professional ones are on LinkedIn. You need to be where your audience is and not wait for it to come to you.
Step Five: Choose your school’s marketing messages – Be actively pushing out positive messages about your school, so that you reach parents before they start looking and you are in the forefront of their mind. This kind of “brand awareness” activity should focus on your school’s strengths, whether that be how successful the school is at sports, music, A level grades or getting children into top universities etc.
Step Six: What’s in it for them? – Get into the habit of always asking yourself ‘What’s in it for the parent(s)?’ and consider how you can use your existing parents to help share your message. If school numbers decline, you become less financially viable as a business, so it is in parents’ interest to promote the school and its intake.
Now begin to think about how to use social media to promote your school, here are some quick and easy social media marketing activities for schools, to get you started.
How to Use Social Media in Schools: 20 Ideas for Social Media Activities
(2) Provide links to your website in all your publicity materials
(3) Think about how to keep visitors on your website for as long as possible by providing interesting, relevant, informative and regularly updated content
(4) Set up a Twitter account and regularly post new content
(5) Follow other industry experts, teachers, schools, parent groups and feeder schools
(6) Set up a blog and assign blogging responsibilities (this can be shared amongst staff or your PTA to ease the pressure and provide varied content)
(7) Post links from Twitter to your blog, and to your website, which will help with both SEO and profile raising for your school
(8) Include links to download documents, such as your school prospectus
(9) Add descriptions to images you post online, using marketing and branding content or signposting to further information on the topic area
(10)Subscribe to 10-15 other blogs including:
- some of your main universities that you send children to
- your feeder schools for secondary schools
- your secondary schools for prep schools
- the good schools guide
- competitor schools
- education journalists
(11)Visual appeal counts, so make sure your blog looks attractive, is easy to read, and includes some photo and video content.
(12)Add ‘Share this page’ icons for to each of your website and blog pages, with sharing enabled for all the main social media sites (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google+)
(13)Include a search box on your website and blog
(14)Offer an RSS feed or a subscribe by email (investigate Feedburner, it’s a free service from Google)
(15)Offer a breadcrumb
(16)Use images, but make sure they are relevant
(17)Keep all key information “above the fold”
(18)Link to your best content, use hyperlinks to other blog posts and perhaps have a list of relevant blog posts at the end of the page
(19)Allow comments on the blog, Encourage comments in your closing paragraph, all comments will go via you to be approved so don’t worry about negative ones!
(20)Pick a suitable platform – you will find the majority of these tips will be easier if you house the blog on something like WordPress
I hope you find this blog useful and would love to hear your comments and feedback. Please feel free to share and post in the box below. If you would like to discuss further how social media could help your school, please give me a call on 011 33 20 21 21.