Social Media Marketing
The vast majority of educational institutions have become experienced users of social media. After a slow start due in part to fears of the unregulated social world, privacy, and message control, most schools and the vast majority of colleges and universities post regularly on Facebook, tweeting quite often, and harnessing the fast-growing medium Instagram to positive effect. Most institutions are monitoring their social properties and figuring out how to effectively handle sensitive matters such as harsh criticism from a parent or former student. "Likes" of core Facebook pages have risen considerably for most institutions in the course of the last few years. More images and videos are appearing, in keeping with our visual age, and automation tools such as Buffer or Hootsuite are becoming increasingly common to post across multiple channels simultaneously and schedule social activity.
What's the Trouble with Social Media?
This high level of social media adoption is a positive sign that education marketers recognize its importance as a communications and marketing tool. What, then, is the concern with social media? In a word - engagement. While schools and higher ed have become adroit at telling their own stories over social media, most social sites are not yet highly engaging for the various audiences, meaning there are relatively few posts or tweets originated by students, parents, alumni etc., nor are these external groups contributing many substantive comments on existing content. In an ideal social media marketing world, the community leads and the organization acts as a guide and moderator, keeping new conversations moving and contributing relevant news that will trigger even more interest and engagement from its constituents.
How can this best be accomplished? There are several methods that have their roots in business and apply very well to educational institutions as well, with variations depending on your message and the social site:
Create contests for the best story or image, perhaps based on an alum's favorite memory, best action pic of an athlete or student actor, or successful service projects. Offer a school-related tchotchke to the winners.
Request answers to a quick, fun survey, with the answers being shared with the community.
Suggest that your constituents live-tweet during an appropriate event, e.g. a game or reunion weekend.
Reward your most active participants with recognition in your print magazines and newsletters as well as your social channels; conduct these fun programs for a defined period of time, e.g. each semester or trimester.
Specifically consider campaigns that address mobile access or usage.
Ensure your posts and tweets use images effectively; test to assess which drive the most comments, retweets, shares, or mentions.
Want to go beyond basic posting to creating a more connected social media atmosphere? William Bullard has been leading and managing social media programs since 2007. He is the VP of Internet Marketing for the American Marketing Association- Boston and works weekly with the chapter's social team to drive interest and engagement with the "Blogger of the Quarter" program.