Note: "Driving Demand" is a three part series on manufacturing interest and demand for independent schools and colleges. Written by our Director of Enrollment Management Services, Kelly Laboe, each article focuses on foundational aspects of generating interest and demand for enrollment. This is the third and final in the three part series.
The Invisible Inquiry
What is the first step in inquiry into an institution for parents and students? It certainly isn’t picking up the phone and calling the admissions office. That process went away 10 years ago, if not more. Today, the inquiry is invisible as the first step for families is culling through websites and social media outlets to separate the competition among independent schools. And, ironically, very few independent schools institutionally structure a social media content plan as a priority.
The Enrollment Managers Woe
Additionally, Admission Directors are increasingly expected to own their institution's social media presence. In effect, they expected to be an expert in a dynamic system of providers that they invariably have received little to no training. As social media and web presence being an afterthought, institutions are often missing out on the most effective and inexpensive means of reaching a maximum number of constituents to share their unique school culture. We are living in a world where social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter are the vehicles for not only sharing but shaping the public’s perception of each school’s particular experience. When used effectively, these tools can generate a feel of what it is like to be part of the school’s culture.
So, how do you get moving with social media? Start with truly examining your school’s culture and feel. Brainstorm a list of key brand attributes, inlcuding the special experiences and programs that really define the magic of your institution. Remember, you are focusing on reflecting the culture of your institution, not just facts and figures. Once your team has refined this list, use it as the lens or organizing concept of a communication plan to be disseminated through social media outlets. Utilize every post with a keen eye on understanding that it needs to be a true reflection of the culture of your institution.
The Truth About Social Media
Here's the deal about social media from our vantage point. We have never had so many intuitive, audience-friendly, engaging, inexpensive tools available to engage our audiences before in this industry. My hot words are bold here for a point.
- Intuitive - Come on. Social media is really easy to use. If you can run an app on your iPhone, you can run a social media site.
- Audience-Friendly - This is where our audience is. On social media. We don't need to work so hard to find them if we become one with them.
- Engaging - Social media allows organizations to stop promotion and start engagement. Our audiences are tired and skeptical about promotion.
- Inexpensive - Social media is cheap. Really cheap compared to the print and advertising alternative.
Now, before we elect social media as the panacea to marketing, let's be clear about a few important marketing issues. We tend to confuse activity with meaning. Just because we can easily publish any photo or video we want, that does not mean we should. Social media is still like any other marketing communications tool in that it needs to be consistent, integrated, and have effective messages. Again, I've underlined my hot words for a point.
- Consistent - No matter what tools your school uses, let's make sure that you are being consistent in all media the messages that you want to convey. Volvo is not just about "safety" in some materials and not in others.
- Integrated - All marketing communication strategies need to be integrated so that the tools in a system work in concert.
- Effective - What are you really trying to communicate? Make sure that the key message is crystal clear. "What" is conveyed in a viral video should be the same message in a website or print media. It is the "how" that message is conveyed that is different.
It's pretty simple. Social media offers a great new set of tools that we all should embrace. And, it also opens up many challenges for the organization that does not have clear or consistent messaging. In fact, adding social media to an already faltering marketing organization will likely accentuate the negative. Translation: If you don't have your act together, social media will demonstrate that for all to see.
Finally, institutions need maintain their commitment to social media. After drawing prospective families in with a compelling vision of your school’s experience, they are invariably hungry to dive deeper into this culture. Prospective families notice when social media sites aren’t maintained. In this culture of “binge-watching” and entertainment on demand, waiting around for the next episode just isn’t in our vernacular.