Over the past few years, social media has transformed into a critical route to reach new families. Parents and teenagers are all online, and nowadays expect to be engaged.
So how can schools best use social media to reach out to, and convert, the most desirable prospective students? Here are 7 top tips:
The most important thing is for schools not to start posting to Facebook and Twitter on an ad hoc basis, and hope for the best. A school’s social media activity needs to be part of a well-thought-out digital marketing plan (ideally coordinated with your broader marketing activities), including a strategy document, social media policy with do’s and don’ts for your team, and a schedule governing what you post and when.
This ensures that:
- Your goals for social media are clear – and the success of your programme is therefore measurable
- Any material you post furthers those goals
- You are not wasting time and money on efforts that will never bear any fruit
- You are far less likely to make errors online that may damage your school’s reputation, because your material is pre-planned and can be vetted in advance.
Understand your audience
If you are trying to reach out to prospective students and their parents, it is vitally important that you understand your target market. The better you know them, the easier it will be to create online material that actually ‘speaks to’ them, and makes them more interested in your school. Without this knowledge, your content is likely to misfire.
Some of the things you need to know include:
- Their demographics. You may be targeting several different groups – perhaps families who come from different socio-economic backgrounds, or state/private primary schools, etc. Do you want to target parents online, prospective students, or both? They’ll need different approaches!Think carefully about how your target audience segments, because this will affect the type of material you publish online.
- What are their main concerns when it comes to education? Use social media to show that you understand their greatest worries, giving them the feeling that you share the same outlook and that they are in safe hands with you.
- What are their main concerns about your school? Use social media to address the factors that might put them off.
- What would make them want to join your school? What do you have to offer that they will find particularly attractive?Think about this carefully, from the prospective families’ point of view. What they might like might not necessarily correspond to what you want to talk about!There’s no point going on about your marvellous Greek and Latin programme if parents in your area are mainly concerned about science and maths standards.
Use social media to build relationships
Once you have a clear understanding of the families you would like to attract, it’s not enough to just talk to them about your school via social media. You want to build a closer connection with them: a relationship.
This means engaging. You need to invite your prospects to comment on your posts and to interact with you. You need to give them ways to experience what it means to be part of your school community even before they’ve joined – so that they already feel an emotional connection to you.
For example, if there are questions during an open evening that you do not have time to answer, how about creating a blog post where you address all the remaining issues? This way, families feel that you are responsive; they are given an incentive to visit your blog/website; and themselves have a hand in creating your social media material.
Can you create a Google Hangout for prospective parents where they can present questions to one of your team? Or if you are particularly proud of your extracurricular activities, can you create a short, fun quiz that will allow prospective students to identify which activities will be best for them, and post it on Facebook? Not only will the prospective students get involved, all their friends will see the results as well. They will be doing your marketing for you!
Dry facts about your school are never as exciting, or as memorable, as narratives, and on social media you should fully exploit this.
Do you have students who have overcome adversity to achieve excellence? Have any of your teachers pioneered unusual programmes? Has your athletics team raised a significant amount of money for charity? Profile them in a blog post or in a video. You will bring your school to life by focusing on people rather than on programmes, figures or buildings.
With the right approach, even seemingly mundane material can be exciting. One American school asked its students to film any part of their day, and put together a video showing ‘A day in our school’s life’ on Instagram, specifically targeting prospective parents and students. Next up: They are going to create a similar project with alumni and parents.
Social media is increasingly driven by images – photos as well as videos.
As the previous example showed, this can be exploited to great effect by schools, who can display their students’ art on Pinterest, share photos from school events (where appropriate), interview their management team on YouTube, post videos of play rehearsals and concerts, create an album of interesting pictures of the school grounds on Instagram – and so on and so forth.
The visual nature of social media makes it easier for schools to be creative when marketing themselves (as long as they can legally post the pictures).
Let your students do the talking
People distrust ‘official’ versions. They are much more likely to believe what your students themselves say about your school, so where appropriate, allow your students to be the public face of your school.
See for example Haberdasher’s Aske’s Girls Senior School Prospectus!
Use social media ads
The beauty of social media advertising is that it can be very precisely targeted. Are you a faith school looking to attract students from Leicester, whose families belong to a church? Facebook can find the parents for you, and show them the ad for your upcoming open evening. Would you like to zero in on families who have visited your website over the past three months? Provided you have put the right code on your website, Facebook can find these people too.
Use the ads to draw people to your open evenings, pull them to your blog / website or perhaps to show them a video about your school. The options are endless!
How have you used social media to promote your school online? Share your experiences, tips and questions in the comments!