Many schools find using social media a challenge. There will often be access restrictions when on school premises, and numerous reasons for being circumspect as to what gets posted, which can result in heads and business managers undervaluing just how effective social media can be.
The ubiquity of social media should allow every school to spread good news and engage local parents, thereby providing them with an affordable and easy to master marketing platform.
Unfortunately, however, mistrust of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms leads many schools to take a bare-bones approach, limiting their posts to the sharing of uninspiring images and news pieces and little more. This is barely scratching the surface of what can be achieved.
As a digital marketing agency, we’re firm proponents of using organic social media and paid advertising on the major platforms in order to effectively market a school, whether that be to prospective and existing parents or to potential future staff.
With the majority of our client schools, we encourage the leadership team to step a little outside their comfort zone and post more content, more often. The simple truth is that virtually everyone the school would like to reach is using Facebook and Instagram; simply by being bold enough to take part, your school will get noticed.
However, the greatest results can be achieved when a school is sufficiently far-sighted to commit some of its budget to running advertising both on social media and through Google to deliver a specific goal.
The way in which one school we worked with used this approach to fix their falling pupil roll is a perfect example of the power of social media advertising – both its ability to reach people where they’re already looking, and the way its incredibly detailed targeting allows you to reach precisely who you want, when you want.
The school in question is St. Andrew’s CE Primary School in Lambeth. We were already working with the partnership running this school and one other in the borough, having previously built both schools’ websites.
St Andrews has a single form entry, and had been under-subscribed in reception by eight and four places respectively in the last two years. The head was concerned that unless she took action, this would be an ongoing issue that would recur every year with an incrementally negative effect on her per pupil funding.
The head felt that the school needed to reach all parents within a reasonable area of the school, who had children about to enter Reception, and put forward some compelling positive information to encourage more parents to apply for places.
This is something that’s remarkably easy to do with social media advertising, if you understand how it works and what it can do.
We devised a marketing campaign that would assess exactly what parents were looking for when choosing a school place for their child, and how they obtained the information on which to base their decision.
The campaign would then aim put the answers they were looking for right in front of them in their social media feeds and among their Google search results.
To do this, we researched the available data – focusing on one particular Cambridge University study – and talked to existing parents to find out why they had chosen St Andrews in previous years. We then created and updated content on the school’s website to focus on the factors that parents had highlighted.
These included the general local reputation of the school and the quality of its teaching, but also wider concerns such as extended childcare. Critically, we discovered that the most compelling sources of information for parents were school tours, local word-of-mouth and the information shown on a school’s website.
With this information in hand, informative content and additional pages were added to the school website which sought to directly address the known concerns of prospective parents, while also providing them with all the information they’d need to apply for a school place, via a series of clearly presented and easy to follow ‘how to’ posts.
Our core strategy, though, was to focus intently on getting prospective parents to take a school tour. New webpages were created that enabled parents to book a date that suited them, and which we could track from the planned advertising.
We also made sure that all of our updated and new content throughout the school website clearly linked back to the school tour page so that parents couldn’t miss it, no matter how they came to the site.
Having completed this necessary groundwork on the school website, we then set up advertising campaigns via Facebook, Instagram and Google AdWords. The Google AdWords campaign simply targeted people making relevant searches, such as ‘primary school Lambeth’.
On Facebook and Instagram we ran numerous advert types using most of the available options and listed the available school tour dates as Facebook events.
The adverts used to promote the school tours and the new information pages comprised long copy text ads, image ads (which employed a whole range of different photos) and video ads – the latter of which both repurposed existing promotional video belonging to the school and new, simple video footage we shot of the head using just an iPhone.
What made these ads so effective is that the Facebook ads platform allows you to target a very specific set of people. In this case, we were able to target the parents of 3 to 5-year-olds who lived within one or two miles of the school’s location – the exact target demographic the head needed to reach. Similarly, the Google AdWords campaigns only targeted people within a 1- or 2-mile radius of the school who were making relevant Google search queries.
Another enormously powerful aspect of social media advertising is that you’re able to track exactly which adverts generate traffic and the conversion event for which you’re optimising – in this instance, a school tour booking.
This allows you to see exactly what’s working and what isn’t in your campaign, enabling to focus on the positive and see significant results even with just a small advertising budget.
The total cost of the advertising spend for the campaign was £1,059.28 across Facebook, Instagram and Google. The end result was an 83% increase in applications to St Andrews this past January, the upshot of which has been that its Reception class is now oversubscribed.
The school embraced the power of social media advertising to deliver a specific result, which is what it was uniquely designed to do. Every school can expect similar results when running promotional campaigns with a similar objective, or indeed campaigns tailored to different goals entirely.
Ian Clifford, Illicit Digital, is a digital marketing expert working with schools and education authorities; an expanded version of this case study can be found here.