Meeting the needs of your evolving fan base

In the past few months, my school district experienced two dramatic events that substantially increased our social media following: winning a state football championship and the death of a long-time staff member, coach and alumnus.

Each of these events – one happy and one sad – resulted in a nine-percent boost in our Facebook fan base, with hundreds of likes, shares and comments as the news went viral. More than 27,300 people viewed the record-setting posts in our little 2,200-student district.

When your page experiences such rapid growth, it’s important to do the research on who your new followers are and what content they respond to. Your new fans may be a different demographic than your base followers. And while it’s great to add followers, if you don’t keep them engaged, you will lose them.

The easy way to measure change is to look at your page insights. Has there been a shift in the age distribution? Has the gender balanced changed? Are the new followers interested in different topics than the rest?

With our small town’s state football championship, we gained more fans who are current students (age 13 to 17) and folks age 18 to 24 – likely recent alumni. This group’s interest in athletic events – not just football – have led me to increase postings about our many sports teams.

The unexpected death of a long-time employee and beloved coach rocked our community in an even bigger way. Comments poured in from his former classmates, athletes he coached, and past and current students and staff. These new followers boosted our male fan base by four percent and increased followers over age 55 by about three percent. These new followers may help us raise attendance at alumni events and fundraisers, especially given a scholarship fund started in my colleague’s memory.

Any surge in followers is an opportunity to take a strategic look at your social media plan. Why not post a survey to ask about their interests, or just ask them? At its best, social media is two-way communication that builds trust and community well beyond your district borders.

That Little Blue Check

In order to help you distinguish real celebrities from impostors, Twitter started verifying the real accounts with little blue checks several years ago.

Just like celebrities, school districts are vulnerable to impostors. Teenagers like nothing more than setting up parody accounts to troll their schools, and they even like to see if they can get others to believe them when they call a snow day. This could be a safety issue.

To protect against this possibility, I petitioned Twitter to get my district’s account verified. Twitter doesn’t really accept requests for verification, and they prefer to reach out to brands instead. But since I had a legitimate reason, it was worth a try. A PIO from an agency in my region shared a list of information to include when making this request:

  • Twitter account handle
  • Agency name
  • Two contact names with titles and emails
  • URL of your main website as well as a URL with your Twitter handle listed

I sent this information to gov at twitter dot com (I’m trying to prevent them from getting spammed), and crossed my fingers.

They responded that they would consider my request, which I believe involved making sure we were authentic and using Twitter appropriately. It probably also helped that we have a prominent icon on our website directing people to our Twitter feed.

Then a few days later, this appeared:

verify

The result? A few more followers, who were mostly not in our community or really concerned with our schools (including one celebrity’s account). And, much more importantly, a little peace of mind.

Snapchat offers new ways for schools to market to students

When Snapchat first arrived on the scene, there were several districts in Ohio that sent letters home to parents warning of the dangers of this mobile platform. Rightfully so, since it offered teens a way to send photos and videos to their peers (or strangers) and have them disappear in seconds (unless they were screenshot by the person on the other end). The dangers of that were real, and for a school district, Snapchat quickly earned a reputation as more negative than positive.

Fast forward to 2015, and the possibilities of Snapchat as a tool for marketing have blossomed, especially as you attempt to reach younger audiences in middle school and high school. According to Business Insider (BI) Intelligence, Snapchat’s users are majority female between the ages of 13-25, and engagement is high on Snapchat, with 40% of 18-year-olds using it multiple times daily. Also, sharing increased 100% once Snapchat Stories (see video below) were introduced, with 1 billion views daily for stories and 760 million disappearing photos and videos sent daily. Per BI Intelligence, “Brands stand to gain a lasting advantage from adopting emerging social media early.” Why not give it a shot?

Here are three ways to consider using Snapchat as part of your social toolbox:

Pure Storytelling
When my school district was ready to host our Sophomore Tour Day as part of our recruitment activities, we offered up a behind-the-scenes preview and tour of the preparations for the big event by using a Snapchat Story, a 24-hour narrative with your clips. We experimented with this and found some moderate success in students being interested in following along as we added video clips and photos (with drawings and emojis added, too) of our teachers and students getting ready to host 1,000 sophomores the next day.

Storytelling is certainly the biggest advantage to using Snapchat to reach this desired audience. You can host tours, communicate messages or run specific campaigns, such as anti-bullying messages or public service announcements. The key to these stories is they disappear within 24 hours, so they become something you market across multiple platforms to create a sense of urgency or exclusivity.

Recruiting & Advertising
If your district recruits students or needs to advertise events or campaigns to this target audience, Snapchat becomes a powerful tool, because it is so personal and so immediate. Want students to buy tickets for an athletic event, a fundraiser or a theater production? Want to direct students to do something with immediacy or communicate a call-to-action to this demographic? Snapchat can be used to remind students about everything from events and activities to delivering special messages to prospective students. Later this year, my district will use Snapchat to welcome incoming students a week after they receive their acceptance package in the mail promoting our Snapchat account (cross-platform promotion). This personalized touch is just one way we are experimenting with the uniqueness of the platform.

Engagement
Want students to be engaged in your school? Snapchat provides the perfect platform to communicate with them and involve them. From scavenger hunts to giveaways, you can engage students in fun ways by “speaking their language” via Snapchat, which is proving itself much more powerful with this demographic than the fading Facebook or Twitter.

Want to see how brands and colleges are using Snapchat? Check out these accounts on Snapchat:

  • University of Michigan (UofMichigan)
  • West Virginia University (WestVirginiaU)
  • Tennessee Wesleyan College (TWC_Snaps)
  • University of Kansas (jayhawks)
  • Taco Bell
  • Mashable
  • General Electric

Check out more brands using Snapchat.

Want social media success? Stop what you’re doing (literally)

It’s a new year, and with that comes resolutions and commitments to make your life better, healthier, happier. It should be no different with your social media. Often, we like to set goals and lists of what we want to start doing to get our new year off right. But, what if we thought about this differently? What if we asked ourselves, “what can I stop doing that will make using social media to meet my school communication goals easier?”

So, let’s free ourselves of a few nasty habits this year, starting with these:

  1. Same content, different platform. This could be by way of auto posting, copy and paste, or whatever. Stop doing it. Do not post your 47-word tweet to Facebook because you can. Customize it for the appropriate platform. And on that note, do not post a link on your Twitter that will drive folks to your Facebook page (unless that is your goal).
  2. Practical, but unbalanced. You’ve got great content. It’s info your parents, community or students need to know. But you’ve just posted a dozen things in the last five minutes. On one platform. Unless you are posting scores to a football game, updating about a crisis or live-tweeting an event, you should balance your content. Over-posting can drown out even your own content. Take advantage of the scheduling feature and balance your content.
  3. Ignoring engagement. Did a parent post a question or comment to your Facebook wall? Did you get mentioned in a praiseworthy (or not so nice) post on Twitter? Don’t ignore it. Good or bad, respond to it. A quick thanks, retweet or answer to a question will go a long way with your followers.
  4. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Your cover, background and bio picture are visual cues to your followers and friends. Don’t show off old, outdated photos. I keep our profile pictures the same (our logo), but use the cover/bio/background photo to feature students, teachers, programs and more. Try it!