What is Google+, and Should Your Schools Be On It?

Maybe you’ve heard the chatter about Google+. This new social network is Google’s latest attempt to compete with Facebook and Twitter, and it might just catch on this time.

What’s Different About It?
Like Facebook, Google+ allows you to connect with your friends and family and share information, links, pictures and video with them. Like Twitter, it allows you to follow celebrities, public personalities and now brands. But what sets it apart is the way it lets you easily target your posts to certain groups of people, which it calls “circles.” Facebook has this function as well, but it’s simpler and more intuitive in Google+.

Who is On It?
While Google+ doesn’t have numbers like Facebook, it is growing much faster than Facebook or Twitter did. The early adopters of Google+ since it launched this summer are mostly young men. At first, men outnumbered women on the site by by as much as nine to one, but the number of women increased somewhat. Now, according to PCMag, men outnumber women on Google+ by a mere two-to-one ratio, and women are quickly gaining ground.

Should Your Schools Be On It?
Even though Google+ recently opened its platform for brands and organizations to create profiles, it might not yet be time for you to create one for your schools. Unless your communication strategy involves reaching dads on the cutting edge, this probably isn’t the place to spend your time and energy. However, it might benefit you to create your own, personal profile to learn your way around the new social network. That way, if Google+ really takes off and becomes a viable tool, you’ll be ready to jump.

Lessons from a Corporate Social Media Guru

The big brands with big budgets are doing big things with social media, and their work provides lessons for school PR practitioners. 

Tax preparation giant H&R Block invests significant energy and resources into its Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube presence. In fact, Time Magazine named the company in its list of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds to follow.

H&R Block’s social media strategist, Matthew Staub, agreed to share some of his wisdom with NSPRA members:

You have a much bigger budget than school districts do for social media work. What are the important truths about this work that transcend budget and still apply, even if your budget is $0?
It is all about fostering a community, and having a conversation doesn’t cost anything. Parents and the broader community are invested in the workings of school districts, just like our clients are invested in the company that provides a critical service for them. I’m sure schools are emotional, life-impacting topics that bring out the passion of your audience. Foster that conversation and participate with as much transparency and candor as possible. Social media is a place for human interaction, so it’s a place to show the human side of organizations.
 
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make in social media marketing?
I think there have been plenty of examples of a build-it-and-they-will-come mentality with social media. “We need a Facebook page” isn’t a strategy, and when an organization puts itself out there, it has to be ready to provide content and respond to its community. Social technologies are among the many tools communicators have in their belts, and they should be used strategically.

Another common problem I see is people trying to control the conversation. This isn’t a world for control freaks. There will be negativity. There will be tough questions. That’s an authentic representation of the feelings of your community, and your dealing with those challenges directly and transparently will endear your advocates to you. I see so many people ready to delete comments and sanitize their pages, robbing them of that humanizing authenticity.

And finally, you can’t ignore it: conversations about your organization are happening whether you are participating or not. Get in there.
 
What is the next big thing out there in social media?
It is impossible to say. If anyone claims to be an expert in social media, run away! This world is totally subject to the whims of users.

That said, I think location awareness will continue to grow — where users are and where they’ve been, what places they like and what role places have in their social lives. Social media will also have a growing role in search and discovery, with more of our friends’ recommendations floating to the top. It’ll be a world with fewer algorithms and more personal opinions.

10 Keys to Success in Social Media

  1. Identify your target audience. With whom do you want to communicate? Teenagers? Parents? Grandparents? Business owners? Community investors?
  2. Choose your social media outlet. Once you know your audience, choose the medium that group is participating in and which media will give you the greatest reach or “bang for your buck.”
  3. Interaction is key. Social media is not a one-way conversation. Traditional marketing methods don’t allow dialogue with your audience.
  4. Listen to the feedback. You can’t change opinions or respond to complaints/concerns if you don’t know about them. Many times others will answer questions or defend the cause without your involvement.
  5. Make a commitment. Social media is a marathon and not a sprint. Stay in it for the long haul.
  6. Be timely in your response. Think of it like you do when you call your cell phone, electric or cable provider. Don’t keep your “friends” on hold.
  7. Be real and avoid being a robot. People want to connect with you. They want to relate to you. It’s okay to show them you care. We are, after all, working with their kids.
  8. Be creative in your communication. Find a unique twist to talk about your school, classes and more. People want to know what’s happening while they’re at school, how you are improving their lifestyle and learning experience. It’s about the benefits and not the features.
  9. Don’t be afraid to brag. Celebrate students. Share their stories and activities — plays, athletic events, scholastic meets, etc. Tell how students and staff are involved in the community and give back. Recognize your staff for their efforts.
  10. Have fun! The more fun you have with social media the more likely you will find others getting involved.

Five strategies to grow your Facebook fan base

Whether you are launching a new Facebook page or running an established page, these five easy tips will help you grow your social media community at a steady pace.

1. Aim for two-way communication: Posting a photo, a video, a link, a survey or a question encourages fans to comment, share and explore your website. Use contests to engage your fans (“Guess how many classrooms the superintendent visited the first week of school”). The prize can be as simple as a school tour or a free ticket to a school play or sports event. Of all these strategies, photos rank number-one in boosting interaction.

2. Know your audience: Some school districts have a parent majority in their Facebook fan base. Others have mostly employee fans or a strong student following. Use Facebook Insights to understand the unique profile of your fans by age and gender, and post more of what they “like.”

3. Share breaking news on Facebook first: Tell Facebook fans they’ll be the first to hear breaking news like snow day announcements, then keep your promise. That will make Facebook the go-to strategy for folks who want to be in the know.

4. Post every day: Post twice a day, seven days a week. Research shows that frequent posting increases interaction. Recycling news items you distribute in other ways, such as podcasts and newsletter items, will ensure a steady supply of material with no added work for you.

5. Post during prime time: Statistics reveal that the best days to post are Monday through Wednesday. Facebook usage spikes weekdays at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Posts early in the day are “liked” more than later posts.