November 20, 2020
Effective marketing means going where your customers are. And where are they in 2020? Parents and pupils are spending more and more time on social media. “UK’s internet use surges to new highs during lockdown”, reported the BBC in June. In September, DoubleVerify published research showing that the “number of people using social media, news/websites and streaming service daily, increased by 47%” in 2020.
It’s never been a better time, therefore, to showcase your school’s achievements online, driving website traffic, increasing brand awareness and generating new leads in the process. And the tech is coming on in leaps and bounds, with more networks adding live streaming and augmented reality to the mix. Add to this the fact that engagement is measurable, and the metrics give a truer sense of what works and what doesn’t. Social media is a must for school marketers.
So let’s take a whistle-stop tour to give you a sense of what’s out there and how to get started.
We’ll begin with – where else? – Facebook. This is where you’ll find parents. As with all marketing, think about what users want. Facebook is all about community and people connecting, through shared interests, experiences, and stories. They’re looking for updates, news, and videos. They want to be informed and entertained.
Start by looking at what other schools are doing on Facebook. (This applies to all the platforms below, and indeed all marketing.) We’d also recommend Edurank, a benchmarking platform that rates and ranks schools based on how well they use social media. The top three independent schools for the most recent academic year (2019-2020) were:
- Royal Grammar School
- Norwich School
- Millfield School
You’ll see that these schools post compelling content consistently, and engage with those who respond to this content.
In addition, school marketers find the school marketing Facebook groups and the daily news summary from the ISC invaluable. And for many parents, it’s a gateway to other platforms such as YouTube.
YouTube is the second biggest social media platform (after Facebook), and the second biggest search engine (after Google, which in fact owns YouTube).
Schools are increasingly setting up YouTube channels in order to place video content in a searchable space online. One interesting trend is schools embedding YouTube links in email newsletters. Having had less in-person contact with parents during the pandemic, Headteachers have used it to make a more memorable connection than mere words allow.
Simple tips include getting the video title right to make it findable, and using well-chosen thumbnails to make it attractive. In the videos themselves, remember to include a broad section of your school community, in terms of age, gender, and activities, while keeping your viewers (prospective families) in mind.
Videos are a great way to celebrate your school’s achievements or advertise future events.
Make sure each video grabs the viewers’ attention and outlines the important information early on. Statistics show that 20% of viewers abandon a clip within 10 seconds or less. YouTubers are a restless, fickle crowd. The platform works well with videos as short as 2–5 minutes.
Take a look at Royal Grammar School, which has, at the time of writing 2,890 subscribers and 697 videos.
Popular with a younger demographic, Instagram has become such a force that school marketing departments can no longer ignore its reach and success. And why should they? It’s an innovative, exciting platform that rewards creativity.
We can’t mention Instagram without getting excited about Instagram Reels and Stories, which allows you to share real-time photos and videos (of up to 30 seconds in length). These then feature on your profile, or you can add Stories permanently to your profile along with other ‘Instagram Stories Highlight’. Stories are a great way to create a buzz and, done well, are very sharable among followers.
It pays to be playful with this platform. Why not try time-lapse videos of games lessons or science experiments? Or you could take viewers on a virtual tour offering fly-on-the-wall footage of school life or the inside track at sports day?
The microblogging site, where posts are limited to 280 characters, invites ambivalence among marketers in both business and education. It’s often associated with heated debates that go too far.
It remains, however, a great place to drop links and promote content on Facebook and Instagram.
Many school marketers swear by it as the ideal forum to ask quick questions and get quick-fire responses. Take requests for PPE or safety advice during the early days of the coronavirus lockdown – many of these came through Twitter.
Twitter prides itself on the speedy dissemination of information, and all that’s happening right now.
This may seem another surprising choice, but the world’s number one business platform shares some of the same merits as Twitter. It is less geared to education – for now – but it’s a great place to overhear and join key conversations in the business sector. Education is a preparation for the world beyond the school gates, and LinkedIn bridges the gap.
School marketers tell us that they keep up to date through agency posts and other school marketers in their network. It’s also one of the best ways of tracking alumni, as well as forging links with local businesses. All this is invaluable for organising work experience placements or providing students with practice interviews with those in industry.
LinkedIn is also vital for boosting both the reputation of the school in the wider community and the employment prospects of pupils. Many schools advertise vacancies on LinkedIn in order to attract a broader range of candidates. 2020 figures show that LinkedIn has 675 million monthly users.
Ambleglow’s top tips
- You get out what you put into social media. A proactive approach will pay dividends.
- Keep profiles interesting and up to date. Your Instagram bio, for instance, is the first thing users see when they access your profile.
- Consistent posting of interesting content is crucial. But note, one piece of content – with only a few tweaks – may work well across several platforms. Similarly, whenever you post something on one platform, don’t forget to promote it elsewhere (this soon becomes a habit.)
- Prompt more active engagement with questions and calls to action.
- Encourage your audience to share the post.
- Direct people to your school website or news of upcoming school events.
- Track your school’s social media platforms on a regular basis. Social means social: it’s two-way. Don’t post and then forget to respond to comments.
- Keep a close eye out for anything that’s damaging to your school’s reputation. Negative comments on posts – which are, thankfully, rather rare – need to be dealt with sensitively and in a timely fashion.
- Monitor engagement, quantitatively and qualitatively. Data shows you what works and what doesn’t. Explicit feedback should inform future campaigns.
- A structured yearly review of strategy helps, as does creating a content calendar based on key events in the academic year.
- Keep a close eye on current conventions and what the competition is doing.
- Take into account ever-changing digital behaviours. We wouldn’t have mentioned Instagram a couple of years ago. In the coming years, schools may be making more use of TikTok.
Feeling a little overwhelmed?
Remember, firstly, that the scope of your social media marketing depends, in part, on the size of your marketing department and its members’ relative strengths.
Although the proliferation of platforms makes it a challenge timewise, schools lend themselves perfectly to social media. They’re communities and, therefore, social by their very nature. Plus, great visuals are the lifeblood of social media, and it’s easier to get brilliant photography and video footage from schools than, say, your local accountancy firm.
The key thing is to get everyone on board and involved. A collaborative whole-school approach will work wonders, even if that’s just sharing photos. Enlist students – they’re been raised on this stuff. And don’t forget, the carrot is mightier than the stick. Incentivise through photography or caption competitions. Brilliant photos with simple text captions go a long way on social media.
Tech tools can help, Canva creates simple designs for social media when you need something that’s quick, affordable, and effective. Hootsuite provides users with a dashboard which oversees social network integrations for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.
The social media landscape changes with quicksilver speed. That said, school marketers are an adaptable, innovative bunch. Like magpies, they’re always on the lookout for shiny things to capture with words and pictures to then post and promote on social media. The right marketing mindset works wonders. The readiness is everything. Be primed. Have fun with it. Enjoy being social.
Sally has worked within the education marketing industry since 2007, all of which with Ambleglow. She has risen through the ranks, starting as an Account Executive and now serving as the Managing Director, this has given her an insight into all aspects of the business. With in-depth knowledge of all things school marketing and recruitment, Sally is able to offer excellent knowledge and advice to all of her clients, as well as those who pop her the odd question on LinkedIn. On top of that, Sally’s also a Co-Opted Governor for a local primary school, giving her a unique understanding of the challenges faced within education.