Our Social Media Benchmark 2015 Report found that the nonprofit / education sector leads the pack in the size of their social media communities. Since everyone is on some networks already, social media is a natural platform to communicate with students and parents. It's a real time channel with maximum reach.
So why limit that reach to your current community? Your prospects are all on social media too. They're using it to talk about schools and learn from their peers. You need to make your institution part of that discussion. Start using social media to attract and talk with prospective students and parents.
It Always Starts with Your Personas
New social media sites seem to pop up daily. You can't be on them all. You don't want to be on them all. Go back to your personas – what social media sites are your prospective students using? What social media sites do they trust to find information?
With so much content to be found, people rely on their social media networks to find quality, credible information. Maybe they found good content through a social search. More likely – someone they trust has shared it with them online. You want to make sure that it's your content people are sharing. Through social media, you're enlisting an open-ended band of school ambassadors every time you post something on a social network.
You'll likely find that different personas hang out on different social media platforms. If you want to leverage your current Facebook presence to reach out to prospects, that's great. A lot of K-12 parents are discussing school options with other parents on Facebook. You can generate a lot of awareness and engagement with parents from a Facebook campaign. But when you want to reach the kids, they're all about the chat apps.
For instance, Snapchat, a videochat app, is the current #1 app for this age group. The "My Stories" function lets them string together short videos over their day. Then the story disappears. It's easy. It's visual. And it goes away. How about asking prospects who take a campus tour to share their day at your school with their friends via Snapchat? That's high-credibility content for any teen.
Start your social prospecting strategy by deciding in which social media sites you should invest resources. Pew Research conducts regular, comprehensive research on which demographic groups are using which social media platforms. It's a great source to consult for some big picture social media usage statistics.
As always – the results of your own persona research should carry the most weight when deciding where to focus your social prospecting strategy. When you interviewed current parents and students to create your personas, hopefully you asked them about which social media platforms they use and why they prefer them. If you didn't, now is the time to do some more research to refine your personas and their social media habits.
Align Platforms with Your Goals
Your research probably tells you that your personas operate on a number of social media platforms. That doesn't mean you have to reach out to prospects on all of them. Narrow down your social media platform list once more by setting out your prospecting goals for social media.
Do you want your social strategy to drive traffic to your website? Get attendees to live events? Get prospects asking questions directly to admissions or campus life officers?
Select the social media platforms that offer most potential to meet your goals. It's OK (smart, even) to have different goals for different platforms. They all don't play the same role. Twitter is for conversation. Maybe you start a regularly scheduled Twitter chat so prospects have a chance to talk with a live person from your school. LinkedIn is for the career-minded. Do you have a school page there so you can take advantage of LinkedIn's Alumni tool to show alumni bios on your website?
If the goal is to drive visitors to your admissions blog, then post regular links in the most relevant social media sites. Include the keywords and hashtags they're using to find information about schools on your posts.
Once you've selected the social media sites for your strategy, take a deep dive to see what tools they offer. You'll be surprised to find the scope of distribution, communication, and analysis tools many of them provide to help you reach your audience.
Does This Mean I Need More Content?
You already have a lot of the content. Program pages and faculty bios. Campus publications. Curriculum and social life documentation. You'll tweak it for social media consumption. That means:
- Images, including video and gifs, optimized for that social media platform. Mixed media posts get the most engagement. Visuals and movement catch people's eyes. They also communicate with greater impact than words alone.
- Hashtags, tagging, and keywords so it can be found prospects who've not yet connected with you
- Understanding the best times to post on a specific network (take a second look at our benchmark report and the Pew research as a starting point, links above)
On certain platforms, the engagement is the content. Have you heard about Ask.fm? Don't worry. Most people over 18 years old haven’t. Young students are all over it. It's a site that allows people to ask other users questions anonymously. Maybe your admissions office should set up an account and post the link on your website so kids can ask questions they may be to shy ask otherwise?
Social Media Metrics that Matter
Starting with your personas is a best practice. Another is to always close the loop on your marketing efforts. Define and track your metrics to validate what's working and find out what needs work.
When it comes to social media, you have a torrent of metrics. Beware of vanity metrics. Likes and impressions are nice, but they're not helpful in quantifying the value of your social media strategy.
Manage metrics that matter. These are the metrics that connect back to your goals. Let's go back to our driving traffic goal. Tracking URLs tell you what content piece of content brought a visitor to your site and the social media site where she found your link.
Let's say you post regular links to new blog articles to three different social media sites. Using a tracking URL lets you drop an identifying token in the link used on each social media site. Looking at your traffic, you see that 60% of your traffic back is coming from just one of the social media sites. That's valuable intelligence.
In general, the most actionable social media metrics will be those that indicate engagement – clicking through, sharing, commenting and/or responding, growth in your community size, growth in the percentage of community engaging with your content. Each social media platform has its own batch of metrics and they can change.
Distribution is a Pillar of Inbound Marketing
For your inbound marketing strategy to yield results, your content needs to get in front of the right people at the right time. That means the distribution of your content is as critical to inbound success as the content itself.
Social media is primary distribution channel. Don't overlook its power to connect your school to new prospective students and parents.