Without a Plan, Your School’s Social Media is Destined To Fail.
Social media has been all the rage since the mid 2000’s. Starting with MySpace and moving through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the influence of social media is not slowing down. In a January 2014 study, Pew Research found that nearly 74% of online adults use a social media networking site. Specifically relevant to higher education, the May 2014 Uversity/Chegg study found that 70% of high school students surveyed stated that social media was a “moderate to extreme” influence in their college research. Unfortunately, only 44% of respondents felt that the school’s social media content was relevant for their needs. Most schools error in social media marketing and waste valuable resources and opportunity. There is room to improve.
See My Cool Twitter Page? Don’t You Want to Follow Me?
On March 30, 2007 at 10:05 A.M., I created my Twitter account and sent out my first tweet: For the next 6 years, I sat and watched. I followed a handful of friends, who in return followed me. I understood the mechanics of it, but really didn’t see the point of why I would want to invest in the network. I was a wallflower on Facebook and LinkedIn as well, having a presence and communicating the importance to clients, but not leveraging it for my own efforts. It wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that I decided to start to engage deeper. I had made a recent decision to focus my business on education marketing and as a result, I needed to build a brand around my expertise. With a newfound goal, I put together a strategy that has morphed over the last 18 months, but has overall achieved that goal. It was not until my strategy and purpose were articulated that I started to see my business goals realized. Several books have influenced my thinking about social media over the past few years. The two that have been the most influential have been Jay Baer’s “Youtility” and “The Art of Social Media” by Guy Kawasaki. Both are excellent primers on best practices for social media across the landscape. What ultimately helped me understand the importance of my efforts on social media was how Baer communicated the importance of being useful and relevant to your audience: “Success flows to organizations that inform, not organizations that promote.” This is true of any organization, including those who market education.
Where Is Your Focus?
Social media has to be more focused on your audience rather than promoting your organization. The following are common mistakes that schools, colleges, and universities are making with their social media channels. See if any of these ring true for your institution:
1. Not Having A Presence on Social Media
If this is your mistake, everything else in this blog post is irrelevant to you. In today’s education marketing world, social media is a critical part of your marketing efforts. Start with establishing goals and setting a plan for social media; then begin understanding the basics of how to use social media for education.
2. Using the Same Channel for All Audiences
Most schools have only one account for each social media channel. While we understand the logic behind such efforts, not segmenting your audiences is a recipe for irrelevancy and bland communication. Prospective parents and students will not be interested in the same items that current students need. Donors and alumni may not understand a particular post focused on transfer students. Take the time to build the strategy and the tools to allow for management of your social media to provide the best content for all audiences.
3. Never Changing
Social media has both technology and cultural components. And like both technology and the culture, social media trends change. The social media channels that were popular and effective for your institution just a few years ago may not be relevant now — or they may be more suitable for a different audience. For example, Facebook is losing popularity among younger audiences (your prospective students) and has exploded among older demographics (the parents and influencers of your prospects). Another example is the explosion of Instagram. This channel is extremely popular among prospective students, but it didn’t even exist five years ago! (It was launched in October of 2010.)
Many schools find it a challenge to consistently post to social media. It can seem overwhelming to find and/or produce content to feed the social media beast. However, there are automation tools that can help make this manageable… and help you be more consistent. Also, as mentioned in the next section, not every piece of content has to be original. Being consistent at whatever level is manageable for you (daily, three times per week, etc) will produce results over time.
Your social media messaging should be part of your overall strategy, as discussed in the opening paragraphs. The temptation may be to put up random posts just to stay active on social media. However, unless your posts are relevant to your audience and reinforce your brand, this will ultimately not further your goals. The good news is that you do not have to reinvent the wheel every day. You can curate good content from a variety of sources that your audience will find helpful and useful. Of course, original content is a key part of your strategy, too, but not every piece of content needs to be a masterpiece of original and creative thinking.
6. Being Unresponsive and/or Rude
If you are not engaged and managing your social media, you will come across as unresponsive in best case, and rude in the worst case. You may not think an unanswered question or comment on social media is any big deal, but your audience may feel quite different about it. A good rule of thumb…respond to any messages within the same day of posting.
7. Mentions that Don’t Get Mentioned
Whenever you are wanting to mention someone (especially a high profile person) be sure to NOT start the tweet with their handle. See an example tweet below:
8. Using Social Media as a Megaphone Instead of a Telephone
Studies show that digital natives expect to have a two-way conversation with brands. Far too often, social media is used as an alternative outlet for the school’s press releases. While there is merit in using social media to get the word out, there is a danger if that is the only practice your school uses. Amplifying existing messages in social media will not generate followers or interest, only create additional work for your team. Instead of using social media as a megaphone, leverage the conversational opportunities within the network to engage your followers with your news.
9. Failing to Use Hashtags
This may seem very basic, but you’d be surprised how many institutions make this mistake. Failing to use a hashtag means that your content could be floating out in cyberspace with no context and with very little chance of being found. Being consistent with your hashtags can help your followers access your content quickly and easily. Hashtagify.me is great place to discover relevant hashtags.
10. Working Without Automation
If you are not using some sort of automation tool for your social media efforts, then chances are you will find managing your school’s social media overwhelming; then you face the danger of falling into the trap of Inconsistency (#4) and/or Irrelevance (#5). One example of how you might use automation: Every time a blog is posted, an automated social share calendar is set up, pushing out the blog to various social media channels on a predetermined basis. To learn more about marketing automation, visit our recent blog.
11. Working Without a Strategy and Plan
As I shared earlier, I made this mistake for a long time, and the effectiveness of my social media efforts was lackluster at best. Once I focused my efforts by developing a strategy and plan, my social media platforms became more relevant and helpful to my audience. Once that happened, I saw organic growth that has benefited my business and those I serve.
Sharpen Your Focus
As our social media efforts become “other-focused,” we can understand the mistakes of the past and make corrections going forward. Then we can improve our effectiveness and efficiency in social media and better serve those we are striving to attract. Look at the list above. Is there one mistake you can correct today? What is that and how are you planning on addressing it?