Wrangling social media marketing

The world has been upended by the rise of social media and with it so has communication and marketing at your school. This is good, but it also means change. Schools don’t like change very much. Change is hard.

Consider this. As of late 2020, Facebook only opened membership to anyone 14 years ago. The famous ‘like’ button was only 11 years old, and the concept of a ‘hashtag’, first introduced on Twitter, was only 13 years old.

Yes, social media is the young upstart on the media landscape, but it has been used, studied and tested enough that there are well established principles to help you achieve your communication and marketing goals. Yet, for the most part, schools lag behind in their effective use of social media in pursuit of engagement with prospective parents.

The School Marketing and Social Media Survey 2019, conducted by imageseven and SchneiderB Media, revealed that while 94 percent of schools said that social media was an important marketing channel for their school, 78 percent had been using it for less than eight years.  Nearly 20 percent of schools had been using social media for less than three years. At the very best, four out of five schools have had only eight opportunities to implement a full cycle — one school year — of social media marketing.

Schools are behind in their strategic deployment of social media as a marketing tool and it is your job as school Head (aka the leader of marketing) to provide guidance and help your team define clear objectives. With more than two-thirds of school marketers devoting over five hours each week to social media marketing — this figure excludes the use of social media for communication and internal promotion with current parents — the rationale for your focus is compelling.

There are voices who will say that you cannot tie social media marketing efforts back to the enrolment demand at your school and that you “just have to put yourself out there and create some buzz.” Having a presence for presence’ sake is a promiscuous use of precious resources. The reality is clear: social media marketing is marketing. When well executed it can generate enrolment leads and help nurture them through your pipeline. Therefore, it must be held to the same standards of accountability as all your other marketing channels.

Depending on your strategy, a focus on enrolment lead generation could mean a presence on just one, or even quite a few, social media sites. The ‘Big 5’ platforms for schools are Facebook (93 percent), Instagram (83 percent), Twitter (68 percent), YouTube (55 percent) and LinkedIn (44 percent). You must go in with a plan to make sure each of the networks you decide to use produces results.

Here are six important ways you can empower your school marketing team and ensure accountability without smothering creativity.

  1. Find your social channels
    Not every social media channel is made for your school, so how do you choose? Many schools start with Facebook and Instagram and then test others. You can also get solid intelligence from your website analytics. Look for sources of social traffic that are already driving people to your website.
  1. Create a plan
    Create a plan then write it down. Not writing it down erodes most of the power in the plan, and it also makes it very hard to hold yourself and your team to account when it’s all stored in someone’s head. Each social network you decide to engage with should have everything from the voice and audience to when to post and how to respond to questions outlined in one master document.
  1. Empower leaders
    Each social network should have someone responsible for that network’s success. For most schools, it will be one person doing everything, but think about it as though each network is a separate job. Empower each ‘network owner’ to recruit contributors and make sure those contributors are participating.
  1. Set goals
    Your marketing goal is enrolment leads, but that is fuzzy. Set ‘SMART’ goals for traffic to your website and lead generation to bring focus to content creation. Pay attention to unique visitors, time spent on the site, bounce rate and enquiry forms completed. And while increases (or decreases) in social media followers and likes can be useful indicators, they don’t usually correlate directly to lead generation efficacy.
  1. Give the team flexibility
    It is important to remember that you don’t own the social networks. They set the rules and your team will have to play within the guidelines. Encourage your team to follow trends and encourage them to be a little experimental. Your social media plan should not be a straitjacket. A little divergence from that plan without deviating from the message or brand keeps your message lively.
  1. Create ad budgets
    Social media isn’t free. Not only do you need manpower but, given the noisy nature of the networks, it helps to provide a boost with advertising. That means the people in charge of your social content should also be in charge of your ads on those networks. This gives the owner a chance to maximise their chances of reaching the goals you’ve set.

As the leader of marketing at your school, you need to set goals to focus your team’s efforts. If your social channels are not supporting those efforts, then something needs to be adjusted.

It starts with you.

Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness. imageseven.com.au 

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