The ideas and suggestions offered here are aimed at the small to medium-sized schools which have limited marketing resources.
Summer is often an ideal time for administrators in a private school to take stock of what worked and what didn't work in the year just finished. It makes sense for the marketing team to step back and spend a few hours reviewing their campaigns. Because marketing sometimes feels more like an art than a science, it is even more important to examine the tools which your school is using. This is what prompted me to ask what your marketing team is doing this summer.
In particular the ideas and suggestions which I offer here are aimed at the small to medium-sized schools which have limited marketing resources. My long years of observing and writing about private schools have taught me that these small to medium-sized schools are hidden gems. Their message deserves to be heard and seen. Hopefully using social media effectively will make that a reality.
Boarding schools offer unique marketing challenges.
Whether yours is a small or large school, you have to get your message out. Getting your school's message out is made tougher by the mere fact that yours is a residential school. There aren't many boarding schools in the United States anyway and they tend to be misunderstood by most people especially the media. Ask about boarding school outside your circle of friends and acquaintances. The answers you will get are precisely the challenges which you as the marketing professional must overcome. "Those schools are just for rich kids." "That's where you send a kid who doesn't fit in." "I cannot imagine letting my child out of my sight."
These are just a few of the challenges you face. I refuse to call these challenges handicaps. They are not handicaps. They are challenges. Our job is to surmount challenges like these so that parents with boarding school age children will want to consider boarding schools in general and your school specifically.
Social media delivers your message effectively even on a shoe string budget..
Social media has proven to be a very effective way of marketing boarding schools. Why? One reason is the tremendous reach a video on YouTube or a post on Facebook has. Simply Measured
defines Total Reach as "The number of people who could have seen a story about your page. This is counted for each person who loads the story about your page while browsing Facebook."
Another reason is that videos and posts tend to stay there forever. Think about it. That five minute clip of your robotics class winning a competition was good news for the school when it happened. But instead of fading the news takes on a permanence of its own. That video clip is a window into your school. But you can see where postings on social media could quickly become a jumble of content. When that happens, your message suffers. That is why every school needs to have a professional staff person curating your social media sites. That professional will organize the content so that you stay on message no matter how much content you have up in the cloud.
No longer should your marketing budget be allocated simply to producing a high quality catalog. Twenty years ago that is what we did. Mind you, we still need to produce the handsome paper handouts which like business cards are an important personal introduction. The message of the printed materials is "This is who we are and how to find out more about us."
Social media expands your message with all the detail you care to supply. Social media fills in the picture and allows prospective students and their parents to really see what your school is like.
Social media connects with your graduates.
Granted, social media is probably not going to be the best way for you reach classes from the 50's and 60's. But graduates from most of the more recent classes will enjoy seeing videos of their favorite sport or other activities which they enjoyed while at school. Remember: a connected graduate will include her school in her charitable giving.
Once again a marketing professional needs to plan social media activity so that it reaches all the constituencies it needs to reach. A short clip of a treasured faculty member's class or a couple of clips of your school's homecoming or reunion events will quickly have your graduates wandering down memory lane. Make sure that you have credits at the end. Be sure to include the email address of the development office in those credits.
How to archive your social media materials.
I know it is tedious. But archiving your Facebook and YouTube materials will make your posts, photo albums and videos fun to explore. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is for me to visit school YouTube channels and Facebook pages and find everything thrown together. That tells me that nobody cares. Or perhaps it tells me that nobody 'gets' social media at that school. Facebook and YouTube are broadcasting your school's message to thousands of visitors. They are your school's virtual presence online. You just never know who may be visiting. Be sure that your social media archives are well-organized and enjoyable to explore.
Don't forget to add credits at the end of every clip or photo album. Include the school's general contact information. Include contact information for the development office and the admissions office. Create a contact panel which can be reused. Not only will it provide the information visitors need but it will also create a uniform look to all your presentations. The material which comes before the last panel can be all over the park in terms of content and quality. That last panel clearly identifies the school. It further implies that the school is behind the content of the videos which preceded the credits.
Archive your materials carefully to help you stay on message. As review your videos and posts you will discover gaps. You need balance to stay on message. You want visitors to understand that while Pink Humpty Dumpty Night is fun, it is not the only activity for which your school is known.
How to curate your social media pages.
Curating means taking care of something. Yes, you have to take care of or curate your social media pages. It is another everyday chore just as important as mowing the lawns or emptying the trash containers. It just needs to be done.
Daily posts are best for Facebook. Post at the same time every day and fans will look forward to seeing what's up at your school. Plan your posts. Keep the balance. Stay on message.
YouTube memorializes events and occasions as only video can do. Again, look at your calendar. Plan your posts around those events and occasions. Stay on message.
Pinterest has its place in a private school's social media program. Take a look at the Pinterest pages for Exeter or Lawrenceville, for example. Your school has some beautiful shots which will look wonderful on Pinterest. Perhaps a faculty member or parent who has a photographer's eye can find those gems for you. They are there. Post them on Pinterest when you find them. Be selective in what you post. Stay on message.
I have saved the best for last: Twitter. I was an early adopter of Twitter. I use it to promote Private School Review and Boarding School Review. But I absolutely refuse to Tweet what I am eating or where I am going. That's just not me.
Twitter can be a vital part of your school's social media program. My suggestion is to use it as I have seen so many schools use it effectively. That is to say, use it to provide scores and exciting plays at sporting events. Use it to alert your followers about some special event taking place at school that day. How many Tweets per day? It depends on what's happening at your school. Be relevant. Stay on message.
Have fun with your social media. It is a young marketing tool. It needs you to use it to get your message across without your audience even knowing that you are doing so. That's why marketing professionals need to handle social media for your school. They know how to stay on message. They have a vested interest in seeing their work and your school succeed.