Are We Listening?
The Role of Social Media in Independent School Marketing Today
NAIS Annual Conference, February 2009
Director of Communications and Marketing
Lausanne Collegiate School (Memphis, TN)
I. The Problem
a. Consumers today look to each other for the real scoop on a product (beyond
spin). Think Amazon, TripAdvisor, Craigslist.
b. But, many independent schools continue to market as they have for decades:
print ads, thick viewbooks, etc. These push information at readers, usually are
designed just for adults/parents and are print-driven.
c. But what is the most effective method of marketing? Word of mouth. And the
conversation is now online, particularly on social media sites.
d. What‟s social media? Sites or online tools that:
i. connect users with one another (MySpace, Facebook)
ii. share favorite content (del.icio.us, Digg)
iii. publish content (YouTube, Flickr)
e. The problem? We’re barking up the wrong tree. Our constituents are on
social media. We should be too.
a. Second most popular social networking site in U.S., most popular in world.
b. Consider that the average time spent on Facebook is 19 minutes and that the 30
and up demographic on Facebook (our parents, young alumni, faculty) is growing
c. It‟s a site our alumni, current and prospective parents and others use daily. Why
not get our message to our customers where they already are?
d. Facebook 101
i. Profiles – Each user sets up a profile on Facebook (FB) with basic or
detailed information then invites others already on FB to be friends with
1. Start here by setting up a personal account for someone on staff.
Take a few weeks/months to get used to the FB culture before
moving to a school page or group.
2. Warning: Against FB policy to have a fake profile (by your mascot
for example). They will shut you down with no recourse.
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ii. Groups and Pages
1. Both can be used to ring together alumni or others affiliated with
your school. But…
Like a party where you are the Like your current Web site
host. where your personal presence
Only visible to folks with ANYONE can see
More familiar to users Created by FB for businesses
Message friends directly Updates to fans
For schools with stricter online For schools looking to maximize
policies, mission-driven the reach of their marketing
limitations, etc. (reconnect with lost alumni)
Little way to track usage Insights (like Google Analytics
Few bells/whistles Many applications can be
added, including Causes (fund-
Your profile viewable as a Less visibility of your personal
(and other fans‟) profiles
Ads do not point to groups Ads can promote page
Members cannot add a variety Members can upload
of content videos/photos and add copy to
2. My recommendations:
a. Official school page
b. Alumni group or page depending on mission/goals
c. Other subgroups (band, drama) as groups or pages.
III. Lessons Learned
a. Be There
i. Look for your school on Facebook. There‟s probably an unofficial page or
1. Negative but harmless – watch the group/page. Users get bored
and move elsewhere quickly.
2. Negative and harmful (libelous, dangerous to students) – contact
3. Neutral or positive – Get connected with group/page admins. Join
the groups/pages. Build bridges until one day they are tired of
administering the group/page and you can step in.
4. Unofficial but vibrant can be better than official but artificial.
ii. Stake a presence asap if no real presence on Facebook or other social
iii. Save time/effort by recycling current, highly relevant content (photos,
news, event invitations) both here and on school‟s Web site, e-mail, etc.
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b. Trust Them
i. No one has died from a blog comment.
ii. Don‟t just give spin. Constituents hunger for the real world. Proctor
Academy‟s Chuck‟s Corner gives good, bad, ugly and admission/fund-
raising numbers better than ever.
iii. If one parent/alumnus complains, others may quickly chime in and prove
your point better than you could as “the school”.
iv. If lots of parents/alumni complain, they may have a very good point.
c. Herd Cats
i. Challenge: attract/engage parents/alumni/prospects on Facebook but
drive them back to your school‟s site.
ii. Why important?
1. Our customers need a place to share in the conversation and
2. We need to capture meaningful data (donor history, current
mailing address) and point customers to more substantive online
tools (admission application, online giving form)
iii. Step one: From School to Social Media
1. Add badges to your school‟s site. See
lausanneschool.com/alumni or the “For Further Information”
section below for examples/instructions.
2. Add a way for constituents to share your school‟s Web site
content on their own social media pages. See
lausanneschool.com (bottom banner) for finalsite‟s new Share
This button which makes this a snap!
3. Constantly update your Facebook and other accounts (Twitter
and LinkedIn are two other great starting points). Updates are
viewable on personal profiles.
4. Let your community know about your Facebook presence
(postcards? Announcements in newsletters? Facebook Ads?)
5. Add a pitch for your Facebook presence in your e-mail sig line.
6. Encourage your fans to share the page with others or to add their
photos/videos/comments to the page. Viral marketing!
iv. Step two: From Social Media to School
1. “In my life as a web content administrator, the key was always
„drive traffic to the Web site.‟ That hasn‟t changed with social
networking, but…now you are going where your audience
already is. Then, when you begin interaction, you can entice
them to visit your site for more goodies.” Laura Fawcett, Director
of Communications, Fountain Valley School (Co.)
2. Tease fans/members with a little content on Facebook but put
most content on your school‟s site. Someone famous came to
campus? Add a few pics on Facebook but put most (especially
those pics with alumni or students) on your site!
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3. Look for ways within your school‟s site to open the conversation
to constituents. Many school sites have the capability to host
blogs, forums, even share content between group members.
4. Use what you have. Other than social media‟s relevance and
usage, other sites (Nings) may just be one more step for
constituents. Look at ways you can replicate that function in your
d. Target Students
i. Schools vary in their policies regarding student use of social media sites
ii. Facebook policy – 13 and older
iii. 75% of the admission decision is made by middle and high school
iv. What are you saying to this wired and skeptical generation?
v. Within your mission/policies, involve students in social media:
1. A Day in the Life – videos/photos taken by students in a given
2. Student-to-student groups/pages (within your school site or on
“real” social media sites)
a. American School of Bombay – Mumbai, India
Older students connect with new students (usually
transferred from across the world)
b. Doris Weber High School – Atlanta, Georgia
Admission picnic invite from high schoolers to rising 9th
graders in area. 30% increase in attendance.
e. Define Vision
i. You have a marketing plan. Marketing to the Social Web‟s author Larry
Weber argues that organizations need a digital vision, a long-term plan to
create/maintain an online presence.
ii. Don‟t start what you can‟t finish (so start small).
iii. Tailor to your overall marketing goals and school mission.
IV. In sum
a. Consumers make decisions using not just traditional marketing messages but
messages shared and created by their peers.
b. Parents, alumni, students, even faculty use social media sites to connect with
one another and share/publish content.
c. Independent schools can and should provide authentic space and place for these
d. Value-added nature of independent schools – we form meaningful relationships
with our constituents in ways our public school peers cannot.
e. In an uncertain economy, no better time to let go, listen and learn.
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V. For More Information
a. Schools Using Social Media (just a few of the many, many across the world!).
Tip: Facebook links are really icky…use the Search feature in Facebook to find
i. Kimball Union Academy – find them on Facebook!
ii. Proctor Academy – www.proctoracademy.org (look for Chuck‟s Corner)
iii. White Mountain School – find them on Facebook!
iv. Urban School – www.urbanschool.org (click Alumni page to see badges
v. Northfield Mount Hermon School – 2000+ fans on their Facebook page
vi. Lausanne Collegiate School – official school page plus alumni page on
b. Stuff to read.
i. “Can You Hear Me Now? School Marketing and the Social Web” (Winter
2009) by Lorrie Jackson in Independent School Magazine (online at
nais.org or in print) – more examples and tips from experts! Many, many
thanks to those who contributed to this article.
ii. Marketing to the Social Web: How Digital Customer Communities Build
Your Business (2007), by Larry Weber.
iii. The Impact of Facebook on Our Students (teaching/learning, not
c. The Next Step Beyond:
i. American School of Bombay‟s YouTube Channel!
ii. Beaver Country Day‟s Twitter!
d. How do I…
i. Explain social media to others (or learn about it myself)?
“Social Media in Plain English” – creative pen and paper animation on
YouTube, easy-to-understand for all audiences.
ii. Create my school’s Facebook presence?
iii. Add a badge to my Facebook page?
Good luck and please contact me as you explore the social media world!
LinkedIn profile – LorrieJackson
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