Is Marketing Your School District a Thing? Part 3: Social Media
One of the major issues that schools face is engaging with parents, community, and stakeholders. It is not about educational changes and innovative initiatives, but about the everyday work such as field trips, after-school programs, counseling, volunteering opportunities, sports events, snow days, drop-off and pick-up, fundraisers, and more.
Education is an ever-changing and ever-evolving landscape, and communications is no different. The ways in which we communicate have evolved, and many new ways to communicate effectively have emerged and improved over time. The way we access information today is very different from the way we used to just a few years ago: we read our morning news from our smartphones, we look up restaurant menus online, we keep up with our friends through Facebook Live and Instagram Stories, and we seek customer support from companies on Twitter.
Why is Social Media (SM) Important?
With 3.196 billion SM users worldwide in 2018, and in an era where we must move beyond communication to “community building and collaboration,” not taking advantage of this type of technology is education malpractice. Education institutions are missing out on all the benefits of social media if they continue shying away from social networks.
One straightforward and easy way to reach these parents where they are is to connect with them on social media, where the majority of them spend a good chunk of their time (like most of us do!). If you want to reach parents in today’s connected world, the best way is to establish your voice and presence on the networks in which they live. This means making friends with SM platforms and adding that medium to your strategy.
According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen MediaTech Trender survey, Adults 18+ spent on average 45 minutes per day on social media during the first-quarter of 2018, with most of that time coming from smartphones. 64% of these adult smartphone users who view video content within social networking sites/apps do so at least once per day.
According to another research survey conducted in 2018 by PEW, around two-thirds (68%) of U.S. adults use Facebook.
Per the we are social digital report for 2018, there are 3.196 billion social media users worldwide in 2018.
Social media offers an invaluable way to improve parent-school communication, by reaching students' families on platforms where many of them already spend a fair amount of time. SM also offers an excellent outlet for district-community communication: schools can share with their community and various stakeholders news, accomplishments, event announcements, and more.
Social media is not only for meeting people and connecting with friends and families, but a media channel that allows brands, individuals, governments, and institutions to reach their audiences and engage with them. Big and small businesses are thriving because of SM; individuals turn to SM to find reviews on products or services, to learn about election candidates, and to vote for causes; parents turn to SM to check reviews of schools in which they are thinking about enrolling their children, or to learn about activities or programs in the school their children attend – and the list goes on.
Benefits of Using Social Media
SM tools provide stronger connections to local stakeholders, fellow educators, and the world. There are many benefits to using it for schools, some of which are:
Quick and easy access for families: Parents open and check their children’s school website for day-to-day information very rarely. For active parents, it’s about once a week. But when it comes to social media, they get to see their children’s school information much more often as most parents are already using SM to keep up with family and friends. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are easy to use and view on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, making it easy to scroll and view information while waiting during a music lesson or for soccer practice to end. Information that is easy to access is key.
Building a community network: People commit to things they care about, and parents care about their children and their children’s environment. One of the greatest benefits to SM platforms is the ability to engage parents and the community in discussion. Social media promotes community by inviting people to be part of the conversation, whether it’s about thanking an administrator or a teacher who’s retiring or wishing good luck to the school sports team.
A great way to listen: SM allows you to develop and manage your school’s reputation by looking out for criticism or negative messages and reacting appropriately. By watching your community online, you can hear directly from parents who may be complaining about things that happened to their children at school or sharing great stories about things their children experienced in classrooms. People are more likely to share their experiences on SM so their social networks can benefit or learn from them. Also, in a more active and structured way, you can gain valuable feedback about situations or potential problems within your school before you implement a strategy that might not be needed or that won’t actually address the problem. You can ask questions through surveys and polls, which most of the SM platforms now offer.
Easy to use, share and update: It is incredibly easy to start and maintain a Facebook page or a Twitter account, and the chances are good that people in your organization are already familiar with how they work. Updates take only minutes to post, and the information is available immediately – no need to worry about forgetting information that should have gone in the newsletter.
Sharing news and managing disasters: SM allows schools to share important or emergency announcements. Twitter is a great way to get important news to parents quickly. You can also share messages from your mobile device in the event you aren’t by your computer. Consider a dangerous situation that forces your school to initiate a campus-wide lockdown. A bus breaks down and students are temporarily stranded. Sending information to parents on Twitter is a quick way to keep them updated with important information, which not only helps alleviate parent worry, it also helps build your credibility and trust.
An extension of your school or district website: In this digital age, your second most important online communication tool is social media. One cannot replace the other; they work together to help you tell your school’s story more completely. While the best school or district websites “pull” your audience in, SM “pushes” straight to their news feeds. Rather than just telling people about your schools, SM allows you to show them. Both should be an integral part of your school public relations strategy.
How to Use Social Media
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Youtube are the key channels we’re talking about here. There are many others, but these are what your school or district should be using to reach the increasingly digital and mobile stakeholders these institutions serve today. It may change tomorrow, with the adoption of new platforms – remember how exponentially fast communication technology has been evolving!
Here’s some advice on how to use these platforms:
Understanding which channel to use and when to use it requires understanding the limits and lifecycle of the content posted to each of these channels. When planning and creating the content for these channels, remember that one size does not fit all. It’s important you understand the value and limitations of each so that your school messaging is not incongruent with respective media.
Do not overdo it – don’t waste your energy on trying to juggle too many platforms! Prioritize the platform you want to focus your efforts on in relation to your goals.
When using Instagram, think outside the box to try to capture the essence of the many facets of your school: culture, discipline, joy, diversity, sports teams, teachers’ happiness, etc.
Get teachers involved – teachers can get involved with SM by using it as a positive, fun way to highlight students’ work and projects! Students feel a sense of achievement when seeing their work shared with others, and families will feel more involved with what is happening in the classroom. Be mindful of students who can’t be photographed or video recorded – have a list of these students on hand when posting media online.
Get students involved – yes, you read it right! If you are a high school, get your students involved in managing your social media accounts. A lot of schools complain about not having the necessary staff, time, or bandwidth to be continually monitoring and engaging on social channels. We get that! Today’s students are digital natives, and they use social channels constantly. If your team cannot handle your social media presence, set a framework and guidelines (that is extremely important) and assign your social media management to 1 or 2 volunteer students that you trust.
Lead by example – School social media usage can be a model for students to learn responsible, positive SM practices. Students will see their parents, teachers, and school staff utilizing SM in fun, but responsible, ways!
In today’s world, where at least two-thirds of the population is on social media, SM use for schools is an expectation, and no longer optional.
In this blog post, I have talked about the use of SM for communications and marketing, but social media can benefit schools in many other different ways, such as professional development for teachers, leadership development for principals, and more. Connect with us to learn about how we can help you tell your school's story and engage with your community!
Want to learn more about about marketing for your school or district? Check out the rest of the series – Part 1: Branding and Part 2: Storytelling. Also check out the Personalized Learning Summit 2019, where experts and innovative educators gather every year to share learnings and strategies around everything from implementing PL to effective communications to developing responsive organizations. Register before tickets sell out and save your spot on the innovation tours!