Getting the most out of social media

Are you using social media to its full potential? What platforms work best for schools? How often should you be posting? What should you post? Justin Smith provides a quick guide to social media for schools

According to a recent report by Hootsuite and We Are Social, more than three billion people worldwide use social media; that’s a staggering 40% of the population. More than a third of our web time is spent browsing social networks, with more than half of this activity via mobile devices and tablets. More and more schools are adapting their marketing strategies to accommodate the effective use of social media as an incredibly cost-effective and efficient way of reaching their target audiences.

Of course, there are a number of different social media platforms to choose from and it’s probably wise to adopt those that are best suited to your needs. Facebook, used by more than 60% of schools, is a great way to communicate with your local communities and parents. Twitter users are predominantly under the age of 35 – a platform favoured by businesses that may be interested in supporting your school. LinkedIn, meanwhile, is ideal for building a school network of professional people – perhaps alumni who may be keen to re-engage and learn more about their former school.

It’s important to consider all potential platforms and how they may best support your needs, from marketing and promoting student success, to potential new recruits and enticing sponsorship and financial support.

Plan and purpose
As with all forms of school marketing it is vital that social media forms part of your marketing strategy. Identifying what you’re looking to achieve, timescales and resources is key before embarking upon any specific activities. It is also vital that the school adopts a social media policy with guidance to ensure a standardised approach. It is also worthwhile deciding the tone and style of posts to ensure consistency and identifying staff whose responsibility it is to manage these posts.

Adopting a ‘press release template’ will help staff share their departmental/faculty news to a central contact in school – this keeps school marketing consistent and regular.

Sharing success
Often the primary purpose of utilising social media is to share the successes and the ‘good news’ stories of your students. Posting stories about student work, events, school achievements and activities in lessons is an effective way to let parents and the community know what students are up to throughout the day and to celebrate their work. The more relevant and engaging the information you share, the more you engage your audience. Using hashtags, and linking back to the school website, will drive traffic to your site.

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If you’re looking to reconnect with former students, posting images and videos from the past can trigger strong nostalgic emotions and encourage engagement; ‘name the teacher/building/year’ is a great way to get the conversation going.

Digital media
Posting videos and photos – of ongoing building works, for example – is a far more effective way to engage with people than static blocks of text. Research shows that stories with digital content are more likely to go viral and reach a wider audience. It’s also nice for prospective parents and students to be able to see what daily life is like in school and to share in school developments.

It’s a two-way street!
Communication works both ways, so make sure you reply to questions directed to the school on Twitter or Facebook in a timely manner. If needs be, continue the conversation offline, but it’s important to show that your school is responsive.

Following or connecting with relevant people or organisations will help broaden your reach – you never know how useful these new connections may be!

Build a community
Building a network on your social media platforms does take time and effort, but the more interesting your posts are, the more likely you are to attract new followers. Posting thank you messages to those who have supported the school will encourage them to leave reviews or recommendations, whilst a poll or questionnaire will draw-in followers and those willing to engage with the school.

Finally, make sure your social media is easily accessible from your website – many schools have their Twitter feeds scrolling on the homepage, for example. Either way, positioning your links so they’re easily found on the homepage will help your communities engage with you on as many levels as possible.

Justin Smith is managing director of Chameleon Training and Consultancy.

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