Purposeful Social Media Plans
Vol. 14 No. 7
Social media can be a powerful tool. It’s the online driver of word-of-mouth recommendations that keep your admission pool full. However, the platforms are only useful if your school uses its accounts strategically. Having an account for the sake of having one—without knowing who your audience is or what you want them to do—will waste time and resources when you have none to spare.
1. Determine Your Audience & Your Social Media Goals
People of every age, profession, and familiarity with the Internet will have a profile somewhere. Social media marketing, therefore, helps participate (and guide) a conversation that is already happening. In other words, you’re not asking your community to join a social media website just to talk with your school; your school is joining a social media website to talk with the people already there.
Your social media marketing should have an explicit purpose, a stated goal. Do you want to raise awareness of your school with prospective families? Increase online donations? Reconnect with alumni? These are all valuable—and achievable!—social media goals that yield real, concrete ways to measure the effectiveness of your efforts.
Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s “measurable” by a given metric. You could measure the effectiveness of your social media efforts by noticing increased mentions of your school’s name on private school-related forums, for example, or a higher percentage of online donations traceable to your links shared on social media. Maybe more alumni interact with the school’s online profiles and later call in to ask about annual fund giving. Success can be measured in a variety of different ways, as you can see—but it must be measured.
Some content will be seen and enjoyed by one segment over another. This means that not every piece of content should appeal to every potential audience your school has.
Therefore, when planning your social media marketing, you need to identify the various audiences of your school’s online community, how they use the websites—and how your school can best generate and distribute the type of content a targeted audience most prefers.
- Current families, including parents and students, want to hear about what’s going on at the school right now—what immediately impacts the students.
- Prospective students and their families also want to see that “slice of school life” revealed for current families, as well as your plans for the future—when they (might) attend your school—and how previous students have fared.
- Alumni want to see how your school has changed from when they attended, how it’s grown, as well as what has remained the same: your school’s dedication to its mission and its students, past and present.
- Donors want to understand how their donations have impacted your school’s culture and students—that their gifts have accomplished something meaningful.
2. Where to Reach Your Audience
Just as certain television channels or radio stations have a certain “typical” viewer demographic, different social media websites and apps have unique user characteristics. It’s difficult to reach every audience on one account, so knowing where your school’s main social media focus will be is crucial.
- Facebook and Twitter are the closest to general “catch all” social media websites, though Facebook’s typical users have aged toward middle-twenties and older lately, as student-aged users abandon the site for alternatives like Snapchat, Youtube, and Vine.
- Instagram is purely a visual-based website whose users skew toward the Millennial crowd. Another visual social media site, Pinterest, is often used by young women (and mothers) interested in fashion, crafts, and food, with a growing percentage of both male users and teachers who use the site to find creative lesson plans.
- LinkedIn and Medium focus on the professional world, making them a good place to start online investigations of prospective parents and donors, as well as reaching out to alumni.
- Social media apps and websites that feature live video feeds, essentially making every user the host of his/her own reality show, have risen in popularity lately. Periscope and Meerkat are two sites worth a second look if you’re interested in reaching out via live video.
- If you’re looking to encourage international students to apply—and feel comfortable conversing in a foreign language—consider establishing accounts on popular foreign networks like Renren or Whatsapp.
There are dozens more sites that can be used for online outreach, but a strategic social media plan will consider which platforms will have the greatest returns on the limited time and resources you have to spend.
Plan on running at least two online social media accounts when you start—Facebook and Twitter are considered “standards” of online social media interaction—and experimenting on other sites to see what sort of response you generate.
3. How to Reach Your Audience
Finally, your strategic social media plan should consider the actual content that’s being published on each platform.
- The most basic and easiest form of social media content to produced is the short text-based post, update, or tweet. (The term will change depending on the website.) Some sites limit the length of text content, while others permit speech-length monologues.
- Photos are truly worth a thousand words—if you use the right ones. Social media profiles often contain spaces for schools’ logos, banner images, and support picture attachments to text posts.
- Video can be powerful on sites dedicated to dynamic media (like YouTube or Periscope), as well as cousin sites that are known for photos but also support videos of various length. Instagram and Twitter both allow 15 second video clips, for example, and Vine’s entire posting strategy revolves around the seven-second clip that loops endlessly. Video often takes planning and good equipment, however, and is less “impulsive” than other types of content—though it can be more engaging and has a much longer staying power than a tweet or post. (Student-created videos can be a great hit, too, filmed on cellphones and other handheld devices!)
- School-created hashtags are ways to encourage community involvement while categorizing related content under a single, searchable term. They can be related to the school’s sports teams, annual fund and capital campaigns, or even encompass the entire school program.
- Engagement is a form of content, too. Every time the school’s accounts reshare content through retweets, repins, and reposts, the school offers its support of community creators while giving its audience more content to consume. Likes and comments also offer a visible support that gives the audience a greater understanding of the school’s “personality” while managing word-of-mouth.
- Reviews of the school and its faculty members can bolster word-of-mouth marketing campaigns and give prospective families (and donors) food for thought. After all, it’s someone else saying nice things about your school, its program, and its community—so the endorsement carries more weight with prospects.
Most social sites offer engagement overviews. You’ll want to observe and keep track of what content generates the most interaction from your online community.
For example, if your videos aren’t performing well on Facebook, try uploading them to your school’s YouTube channel or shortening them for a seven-second Vine video. Conversely, photos that return ho-hum results on Instagram might be better compiled into a shareable Facebook album. So pay attention to those statistics on your account dashboard!
In the end, the only thing worse than having no social media marketing at all is having an abandoned profile—or one that isn’t achieving its goals due to a lack of planning or strategy. If your school’s accounts are suffering, consider these three points of the strategic social media plan and see if your approach could use some adjusting.
Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Risk Managers Vol. 6 No. 6 Social Media: The Often Overlooked Element in Your School's Crisis Plan
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 14 No. 2 Getting Students Involved in Social Media Efforts
The Source for Private School News Vol. 14 No. 7 School Spotlight: Cheshire Academy Shares Social Media Secrets
The Source for Admission Directors Vol. 10 No. 1 Communicating Through Social Media
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 9 No. 7 Keeping Parents Informed on Facebook
Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 40 No. 10 Marketing Communications and the Student
I&P Vol. 35 No. 3 The Growing Importance of Technology in Parent Communications