User-Generated Content: The Key to Boosting Your Social Media Efforts

User-Generated Content: The Key to Boosting Your Social Media Efforts
User-Generated Content: The Key to Boosting Your Social Media Efforts

Marketing Communications

You know social media is essential to your marketing strategy. But if you're wearing many hats, marketing—especially social media—is often the first initiative to fall to the wayside.

Creating content requires time, and time is limited. The good news is that creating your social media content doesn't have to be time-consuming or all-or-nothing. You can create authentic content for your social media feeds, engage constituents, and effectively market your school with little to no added effort. Here's how.

What Is User Generated Content?

User-generated content (UGC) is when a constituent shares their school experience on their social platforms. When your school reshares this content, you build awareness, trust, and engagement. Piggybacking like this effectively produces content for your social media accounts and website.

According to a 2019 Statista Study, UGC outperforms all other digital marketing—90% of consumers surveyed indicated that UGC influenced their purchasing decision. On average, across all industries, UGC increased conversion rates by 161%.

"People don't buy goods and services; they buy relations, stories, and magic" – Seth Godin.

School Branding

When you consider school marketing, your students are your "brand." How do your students, parents, and faculty experience the school? The answer to this question is more important than anything your school has to say about itself.

Many of your parents are likely Generation X, with millennial parents quickly taking over as their children enter early childhood and elementary school. Statistically, 84% of millennial parents say that UGC on school websites influences their buying decisions.

Additionally, many K–12 students are Gen Z—born in 1996 or later. They create and devour online content—and they are most interested in authenticity, not polish. They are plugged in as a generation, with:

  • 95% of 13- to 17-year-olds having access to a smartphone;
  • 85% using YouTube;
  • 72% using Instagram; and
  • 69% using Snapchat.

What’s more, ISM has found that once children enter sixth grade and above, they are much more involved in the school selection process. They want to choose a school that feels like home to them. So where do these students go when researching their education options? Your social media channels.

Expanding the Definition of User Generated Content

Think more broadly about what is possible with UGC. Plenty of channels are at your school's disposal for collecting valuable content, and you can repurpose content produced by your community.

Ambassadors

Many schools have ambassador programs for parents and students. Have parents write testimonials of meetings or events they attended. Student ambassadors can produce "Day in the Life" videos for YouTube, or Instagram stories that feature quotes from students.

Prospective families look to your students for perspective on what it would be like to attend your school. They want to see real people talking about real experiences. Follow the lead of colleges and universities for marketing strategies along these lines.

Social Listening

Get on your social media dashboards. Make sure you are tracking your school name and hashtags. If you see something positive, reach out to the original user and ask if you can share it.

Social Media Club

Specifically for students aged 13 and older, a school-sponsored social media club will keep your feeds filled with real student perspectives and experiences.

Review Third Party Sites

Your school probably is profiled on Great Schools, Private School Review, Google Profiles, and other sites. These sites are full of testimonials, terrific quotes, and student success stories.

Negative comments happen. They’re never fun—but you can use them to boost your authenticity and transparency. Ignoring negative comments completely can be viewed as poor customer service. Consumers call out brands on social media to raise awareness among other customers, and 55% do it for an apology—your school is no exception.

Use design platforms to produce graphically pleasing quotes or pair them with stock images.

Takeovers

Teacher and student social media takeovers—a form of “influencer marketing” used to increase brand exposure—are opportunities to bring authentic content to your profiles. It's also a look at what it's like to be in your school.

If you opt for a takeover, use the theme of Teacher Appreciation Week to focus efforts. Encourage different teachers to take over your social media accounts for the day.

Student Journalists

If your school has a student newspaper, connect with the advisor and student staff about student journalists contributing to your school's digital space. This is an opportunity to produce great content—including interviews with alumni, sports games, campus news, and upcoming events. Fill your social media calendar with student voices.

How to Use User-Generated Content

Invite your most loyal ambassadors to promote your brand in more intentional ways. Work smarter, not harder, to engage mission-appropriate families.

Include Hashtags

Hashtags are an essential tool and help to link your brand and themes throughout social media. Here are some pro tips for proper hashtag use:

  • Use up to 20 hashtags on most platforms.
  • Be cautious about choosing them—common phrases can have multiple meanings.
  • If your school name is long, use the school's initials.
  • Co-opting a widely used hashtag makes your school susceptible to finding posts that do not reflect your mission or values.
  • Use hashtags consistently.

Engage Youth Responsibly

It is crucial to think about how to engage with your constituents responsibly when your audience is minors. Here are some examples of how you can responsibly engage youth on social media.

  • The Lipscomb Academy used their #LAVirtualSchool hashtag for students to tag photos of their learning environment. The school tied this to their virtual Spirit Week event with themed days such as "Pajama Day" and "Bring Your Pet Day." You can use a hashtag for students and families to tag photos of themselves in spirit wear throughout the year.
  • The Ravenscroft School employed the hashtag #Viewfromthecroft for a campus photo contest open to parents, students, and faculty. The social community voted for winners to appear in the school's magazine and receive gift cards.
  • Sacred Heart is a worldwide network of schools with a distinct brand. The organization invited alumni, parents, and students to use the hashtag #wearesacredheart to post content that shared the school's values, vastly increasing engagement.

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Mitigate Associated Risk

Your content policies depend on your market, clientele, and type of school and age group. UGC is excellent but can increase your school's risk. Mitigate potential risks by developing a guideline for conduct and content for the social media feed.

Always Review What’s Published

Review your acceptable use policies for faculty and staff. Refer questions to your legal team and insurance department to ensure you have appropriate protection from liability.

Wherever possible, always ask for permission before you repurpose and share UGC on your feeds. Reach out to the original content producer, and always give credit on your post or use related tags. A bonus is that giving credit improves engagement.

Moderate Accounts

Social media management software can help you moderate your accounts. It helps your social media manager see each action and decide if anything needs editing, either for error or inappropriateness. This is an added layer of protection to ensure your school is well-represented online.

Update Disclaimers

Make sure you update your media disclaimer to reflect permissions and usage rights that reference social media, especially the online learning environment. This should be embedded in your enrollment contract; it should not be a separate document that requires a signature. People are likely to opt-out if presented with an additional form.

Your Handbooks

Review your student, parent, and teacher handbooks. There should be language addressing how to engage appropriately on social media and a "Code of Conduct" for online behavior. Share some best practices for social media management.

Rules and policies are essential, but remember: People don't share content to help you tell your story; they share it to tell their own. You are partners in that effort. Work with your constituents to market your school and its values—reducing the burden of generating engaging content and ensuring the content you share is authentic and meaningful.

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