Social media for marketing: Here’s how to make it work for your school April 24, 2020The days when reputation management consisted of press conferences are long gone. These days, anyone can report on what companies are doing. They can take to any number of social media platforms or review forums to express their views, good or bad. In some ways, this has leveled the playing field for everyone, putting small companies on the same footing as big ones. This means it’s more important than ever to be proactively involved in online reputation management. Reputation management refers to the practice of influencing how prospective students and parents perceive your school. In the fast-paced media environment in which we find ourselves in 2020, the main way this is done is by influencing the information people can find about your school online. Online reputation management is especially important and fast-changing for schools because your students are so immersed in documenting their lives online. They will be filming your school, inside and out, at all times. This means that if you can influence the perception of current students, they will pass that on to potential new students who are watching social media. Of course, there are other things you can do directly on social media to put content out that reflects the school as you want it to be seen. Read on to learn more. Want help with online reputation management? Schedule a free consultation. DIY marketing for private schools The goal of social media marketing is essentially to promote positive stories about your school. While doing this, it’s also important to effectively manage negative feedback. (Often, a well-reasoned and polite response to a negative review or comment reflects better than a 5-star review!) There are four main elements to include in a marketing strategy to create and promote positive content about your school. We recommend a model called PESO, which stands for: Paid Media – Pay-per-click advertising such as Facebook or Google Ads. Earned Media – This refers to publicity gained through promotional efforts, organic media and word of mouth. Basically, this means publicity you don’t pay for or own. Social Media – We’ll focus our attention here in this blog. Owned Properties – Your digital assets, which includes your website and your content. You can read more about web design and blogging on our website. All of these elements pay an important role in bolstering your school’s reputation. So how can you best use social media to your advantage? Reputation management for private schools 1. Establish your school’s reputation When trying to assess what your current online reputation is, it’s usually a good idea to start with your offline reputation. Asking competitors, current students, current parents, and associated schools can really help to find out how the community perceives your institution. If you then look online and look through the comments you get on your school’s social media channels, and compare these to those of your competitors, you can get a good idea of how your private school is perceived. We would then recommend that you hold a meeting with your staff and discuss what you want your reputation to look like. This should include looking at what you want to be known for, whether it’s science programs, sports, community service or other extracurriculars, to name a few. 2. Draft a social media policy Having determined what your reputation is, it’s important to protect it! We recommend creating a policy document to make sure your staff keep consistent and regular with posts – for example, you can create rules such as “never publish personal student information without consent.” Use your policy document to set the professional tone for your staff. It’s also important that you include on your social media that your private school reserves the right to edit or delete any content that could be harmful to your reputation and you delegate a person to be in charge. 3. Create your marketing strategy The first step in developing a strategy is to identify your goals. Once you’ve done that, you can create a road map to achieving them. This will include topics and subjects you’ll focus on, important themes, keywords, as well as platforms and media types you’ll use. The goal with this is to provide a clear, foundational document that can be referred to regularly. In addition, it’s a good idea to include in this document the person or people responsible for posting and responding to comments. Regular posting is vital to a successful social media campaign. We recommend at least 3-4 times per week. It’s also worth watching the competition! Looking for techniques that work well for competitors can provide useful inspiration. A great tool that Facebook Insights provides is called “Pages to Watch,” which can help you identify your main competitors (if you’re not already sure). For example, at Beacon Media + Marketing, these are our main competitors: Not sure how to develop a marketing strategy? Our social media experts can help. In your strategy, include the types of posts that encourage your followers to engage positively, such as questions, quizzes, and calls-to-action, like, “Book now, for our upcoming open day!” Also, include posts that highlight the positive things about your private school. The reason you are publishing content is to proactively create a positive perception about your school that pushes any negative perceptions that prospective students and parents may have out the door. 4. Engage with followers Responding to, and having dialogue with, the people who engage with your content is a vital aspect of online reputation management! It shows that you are active and listening, but also allows you to show that you care about your students, parents, and the community. It helps to think of social media as an extension of your current communication systems. If your private school never answered the phone or replied to emails and letters it wouldn’t reflect well. The same applies to social media. One survey found that, on social media, 32% of followers expect a response within 30 minutes and 42% within 60 minutes. Therefore, your social media guidelines should include regular checks on your private school’s social media platforms throughout the day and prompt response to comments and messages as they come. Make sure your responses are as friendly, transparent, and human as possible. 5. Optimize your profiles A really easy way to look credible on social media to be consistent. If all your accounts all have the same look and feel and match your wider branding, it gives a sense of professionalism and quality. It’s also important to have all the elements in place, make sure you have a profile photo, a cover photo, an up-to-date bio and about section, and contact info. 6. Monitor and adapt Remember that all plans are subject to change. Even if you think you’ve developed the perfect social media strategy for your private school, you still need to monitor it and adapt as necessary. Tastes and fashions change quickly, especially on social media, so you need to make sure you keep abreast of current best practices. Social media platforms also provide loads of analytics support for businesses, so you can easily track what resonates with your audience and what doesn’t, allowing you to refine your tactics and increase your engagements along the way. There are a couple of really effective tools you can use to monitor your online reputation in addition to the tools available on your social media platforms. You can set up Google Alerts to tell you when anyone is publishing content about your business, your competitors, or your industry. Meanwhile, social media management tools like Hootsuite allow you to view posts, comments, and messages that mention you or use keywords or hashtags about your practice on all of your platforms. A Note on the Negative No private school is going to be able to avoid negative feedback, and although it can be upsetting to deal with, it can also be used as an opportunity to generate a positive outcome. After years of working in the social media space, we have learned a few things about how to respond to negative reviews, posts, and comments. Here are some pieces of advice: Don’t take it personally. This can be particularly difficult, especially because more than likely you had the best of intentions. However, many people treat social media messaging as an opportunity to go direct to the “organization” in general, and don’t appreciate that they’re talking to a real person. Use the 20-minute rule. Leaving a post for 20 minutes if it is particularly upsetting can allow you to make a reasoned response. Keeping your private school’s reputation intact is very important! It’s okay to hide, delete, and report. In some cases, especially where vulgarities and disparaging language are being used or the commenter is trolling your page, you should absolutely hide that comment from your wall and possibly report it. Use your best judgment. Be willing to improve. If the negative feedback being given touches on the truth and is a real service issue that you need to take care of, be willing to make changes to your practice and demonstrate that you are taking feedback to heart on social media! This is also important for those reading comments, as a good response to a negative comment can really make a good impression. Focus on the positive. Be kind and friendly and look for opportunities to turn negative feedback into a positive interaction. If your private school would like to work with an expert partner on your social media, give us a call!