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Google Plus. Yik Yak. Vine. MySpace. Each of these social media channels generated their fair share of hype before evaporating from the internet. Still, there’s always something new and shiny to capture our attention in the social space. And every year or so, it’s only a matter of time before a well-meaning parent, board member, or coworker asks why your school isn’t using “fill-in-the-blank.”
Whether you’re still debating the merits of Tik Tok (sigh), or just trying to keep up with your peer schools, it’s helpful to have a framework for answering this question when it comes up, time and time again.
These are the four questions I always come back to when I have to answer it myself:
1. Do you have the bandwidth?
If you have a small team (or none at all), you could be setting yourself up for failure by taking on something new just because it’s creating a lot of buzz. When it comes to social media, it’s better to use a small number of platforms exceptionally well than to try to be everywhere with low quality content. Instead of adding more to your plate, review the data for your current suite of social channels on a regular basis and consider how you might tweak your content strategy to support your goals for family recruitment. If you’re wondering how you stack up against other schools, this benchmarking data from Niche is a good starting point.
It’s also important to remember that using social media isn’t about checking more boxes to broadcast your school’s message. At least not anymore. In 2021, engagement is key — you have to create content that will “stop the scroll” and interact with your audiences in meaningful ways, including answering questions, responding to comments, and even providing customer service. When you’re thinking about trying something new, make sure you have the resources to create stellar content and connect with your constituents on that channel, not just push things out.
Finally, in addition to engagement, social media can be a significant driver for website traffic. If you’re thinking about branching out on social, you want to make sure you’re choosing platforms that can support timely, hyper-relevant traffic to key landing pages on your website throughout the course of a school year, from virtual tours and admission events to summer camp registration. And, if you want to add some extra “oomph,” consider experimenting with remarketing to put some super power behind the tools you already have in your social media toolbox.
2. Does your audience use it?
This is marketing 101 — if your audience doesn’t use something, it’s an automatic “no.” But user stats for social media channels can lead you astray if you aren’t careful. Headlines about high numbers for app downloads and daily active users can create a false sense of urgency to adopt a new channel that might not actually be right for your school. For example, Snapchat has more than 265 million daily users, but the majority of those users are between 18 and 29. If you’re recruiting families for an elementary or K-8 school, that last part should give you pause as that age group may not be very helpful for engaging students or parents. If you’re a school that charges tuition, age becomes even more of a factor — even if they have kids at the right grade levels, is your school affordable for the average 20-something?
Another important step is to look at how your audience is using a channel and any potential risk factors that might exist. Today’s of-the-moment social channels tend to emphasize more humorous, casual, short-form video and image content, which may not align with your brand (more on that later) or overall content strategy. It’s also important to be aware of potential privacy or security concerns that could impact your school or your audience. While most popular social channels are pretty consistent with the ways they collect and use user data, you don’t want to unintentionally associate your brand with a platform that’s using this information unethically.
Which brings me to…
3. Does the channel align with your brand?
I talk about branding a lot. Why? One reason is that when you have a solid understanding of who you are and what you stand for as a school, it makes decisions like this a lot easier. At Flint Hill, our brand promise is “Always curious. Always innovative.” As a result, from a branding standpoint, we actually have a lot of room when it comes to exploring new and creative ways to support our enrollment marketing efforts. But, we also lean very heavily on our brand values, one of which is “Act with integrity.” That means when we look at new channels, in addition to asking the questions above, we also look at the kind of content that’s being shared on those channels.
As social channels grow, the range of content and content creators grows with them, and not always for the better. With large, established channels like Instagram and Facebook it can be easier to distance your brand from the darker content that can show up on those platforms, but that can be harder to do with up and coming channels. Press pause to do a bit of research. What types of individuals or brands are using the channel? What kinds of content are they posting? Is it the kind of content you want to have indirectly associated with your school? Even if you don’t have formal branding documentation, you can evaluate new marketing opportunities through the lens of your school’s mission, values, and culture.
4. Does it have staying power?
Remember the four failed social media platforms I started this post with? There’s plenty more where those came from, and that brings me to my fourth and final question — Does that new channel you have your eye on have staying power?
Big consumer brands have the resources to experiment with channels that may disappear in 12-18 months. Us little guys? Not so much. Marketing and admission professionals should absolutely stay on top of trends, but with limited time and resources, we’re better served to prioritize channels that are firmly established. And, doing so doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss out. If there’s a feature from a new channel that piques your interest, look into whether that feature might be available through a larger, more established competitor. For example, after all the noise that was made about live audio app Clubhouse earlier this year, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook all have social audio features in the works.
Consumer behavior is constantly changing and there will always be new platforms to help us navigate those changes — but we don’t have to use them all. To cut through the noise, focus on the tools that serve your audience, reinforce your brand, and have enough longevity to be worth the investment.