Get (h)appy: technological trends for school marketers

| September 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

BY DEIDRE ALCOCK

We are living in a digital world where you either keep up to date, or you fall behind.

In this world, our thumbs are becoming an important commodity. If you are having issues with an iPad, you can just ask a six-year-old, and Google is your best friend. It’s a world in which you can no longer avoid deadlines, thanks to a multiplicity of apps to help you carefully plan responses and strategies. We are surrounded by so many digital choices that it’s common for folks to develop FOMO (fear of missing out). You need to decide what image of your school you want to portray, and you need to do this now. School marketers need to know all about different communication platforms, in an attempt to be both transparent and current.

Technology

• Fight the fear: It has now become the norm to use iPads in the classroom, and to have Wi-Fi. Don’t fear it – research it (using our friend Google). Use technology to your advantage, and don’t hesitate to stop using a social media platform if it’s not a good fit for your school community. Never underestimate the power of walking around your school, hearing the conversations taking place.
• Empower your staff, and don’t make assumptions about their skill levels. Your school will be filled with staff of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. Some people were born in the computer era or studied an introductory course at tertiary level, but some did not. Urge management to send staff on a computer basics course – or even better, hold one in-house, conducted by your head of information technology (IT), and invite everyone, even your estate and support staff. Empower and upskill. At a later stage, more advanced courses such as Photoshop can be offered.
•Wi-Fi: Prioritise your budgets and get fully functional Wi-Fi in your school
•  iPods are here to stay. Use them to your advantage. Challenge your school community members to create a promotional video or podcast.
• Social media: This doesn’t particularly count as a trend anymore, but new platforms continuously pop up and you need to decide if it makes sense for your school to use them officially. And take it for granted that the students at your school are on platforms like WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+ – so be aware of who (parents, staff and students) is saying what where. This is also why you need a social media policy in place. It should protect your learners and teachers from cyberbullying and other inappropriate behaviour. For example, staff should not “friend” current learners, and should not list their institution as their place of work. However, it can be good practice for marketers to “friend” current moms/dads, colleagues and past pupils in their personal capacity – this allows for increased monitoring of what’s going on.
• Twitter is a good platform to use to join conversations, and to get in touch quickly and directly with companies and organisations. Instagram appeals to the youth since it is not riddled with random posts, advertisements or filters. Decide how best to use it in a marketing capacity. Remember that both Instagram and Twitter allow you to share videos directly and that YouTube is beneficial to your website ranking.
• The school website: This is the window to your school; your ultimate marketing platform. The general public is incredibly perceptive and judgemental – a school that has e-mail addresses hosted by Gmail isn’t perceived to be as good as those that have their own domain name. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly (see below).
• Facebook: A winning strategy is to create a profile for your alumni, and a page for your current school matters. Be careful not to have too many profiles, such as one for the library, one for rowing, one for cricket, etc. – you need to be able to have one person monitoring everything. Whilst you don’t want to stifle these particular groups’ passion, rather get them to run interesting content on the main page. Consider that often the information they are sending out is better suited to a newsletter or an e-mail. By having only one person running your Facebook page, you are ensuring that the same tone/focus is used. Make sure this person is naturally good at spelling and grammar – because you are a school, you cannot afford to send out anything riddled with spelling mistakes. o Know how this platform works. For example, do you want to create a photo album rather than a contentdriven source?
o Remember that people like to see themselves and to rekindle memories, so tag people as often as possible and post #TBT (Throwback Thursday) or #FBF (Flashback Friday) pics (and remember to post #TBT and #FBF on the correct days!). Try to be specific – for example, in 2017, run the 1987 Debutantes Ball video as a 30-year “anniversary” post, rather than videos from other random years; or run a #TBT matric dance post just before the current year’s event, rather than erratically throughout the year. You want to create a sense of nostalgia, and both to start conversations and encourage others to join them. Good practice for interacting with your alumni is to post on their Facebook walls for their birthdays and comment when they give birth/get married/get an award/graduate or any other life moment worth commenting on. This has a threefold purpose – the school wants to stay in touch with its alumni (perhaps you can feature them in your annual school magazine/they can help with funding of a certain project/they can be a guest speaker); the alumni want to feel special and remembered; and it is an excellent public relations opportunity for the general public who see your interaction. Although it might be extra work for you, create posts that are interesting – for example, get in touch with a popular ex-teacher and post an update on their lives.
o Be aware that not everyone who went to your school is going to have favourable comments – know how to handle this.
o Facebook is an excellent way to check that your alumni database is up to date. You can also create a group for each matric year.
o Facebook isn’t going away – so encourage students and staff to follow interesting sites that promote critical thinking, and link these to your page.
o Link your platforms when possible – but not to the point where you become lazy and a Twitter post just reads “I posted a photo on Facebook”. • Newsletters may be considered by some as old-fashioned and a waste of paper, but there are still parents and community members who read them, print them and stick them on their fridge. Pander to these people. Make sure your editorials are new and refreshing. Some forwardthinking schools run software on their newsletters that show if the newsletter was opened, and how long was spent on each page.

Trends

Increasingly, technological trends are all to do with mobile devices, and must appeal to the time-starved person on the move. Society demands immediate answers and solutions – you can’t be off-duty just because it’s school holidays or the weekend. Some of the new trends that will ease your life as a marketer in a school environment if you are successful at achieving them include:
• Get (h)appy! There are at least 1 500 apps being added to the Google Play Store daily,1 and the most in-demand commodity is data. Your school is no different to any other business out there – you need to reach your “customers” with pertinent information as quickly as possible. Two commonly used apps that streamline school communications are Entegy and d6 School Communicator.2
• Your past is the key to your success: Digitise your school magazines. Conduct oral histories. Your alumni are not only a living key to your school’s history, but they also ultimately shape its future. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
• Viva, video, viva: Although Vine (the popular eightsecond platform)3 has disappeared, this doesn’t mean video isn’t popular anymore. It’s a different way of reaching your audience. Consider when and how it can promote your school.
• Streaming: People are always on the move, and will inevitably have to miss a sport event, recital or service. The solution? Introduce live streaming of, say, the annual hockey festival. Others are doing it, so can you.
• Knowledge is key: Attend conferences and workshops to keep your knowledge of your focus area up to date. Budget can be a concern, but there are often free courses, such as those offered by the Shaw Academy.4 Often, too, this knowledge is shared in group environments such as the Independent Schools Marketing Association (ISMA), the Southern African Heads of Independent Schools Association (SAHISA) and the Catholic Schools’ Office (CSO).5 Be part of a group and remember that multiple mindsets are better than one. Recognise that you are not alone.The Protection of Personal

Information Act (POPI)6 is in action. Be prepared. An idea is to send out letters at the beginning of each year, asking for permission from parents to use their child’s photograph and full name in all publications. Also, remove the tagging function from your current school Facebook page.
• Liberate the library: It is said that reading is losing popularity.7 Let’s make it cool again! Get your librarians on board, and make the library a reading hub. Provide workspaces, computers, printers, beanbags, murals and, of course, the latest books. Have a bookworm award. Read from classics at assemblies. Then link all this activity to your marketing strategy.
• Go digital with your magazine. Some independent schools in Johannesburg publish some of their annual school magazines as e-books – thereby saving on printing costs and doing their bit for the environment.

Ignore the fads and fashions

There will always be fads and fashions. As school marketers, we need to manage all these digital platforms in conjunction with the school foundation office and the alumni officer. In time, this interesting digital space in which schools operate will include everyone who works on your campus, from the maintenance team to the hockey coach. Possibly, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll use Skype for applications. And maybe eye scanners will determine if the child is really sick after all, and not just trying to get out of swimming!

Deidre Alcock is the marketer at Holy Rosary School in Johannesburg, Gauteng.

References:
1. See, for example: https://www.quora.com/How-many-new-apps-are-addedto- Google-Play-everyday
2. See: https://entegy.com.au/ and http://www.schoolcommunicator. com/download.php
3. See: https://www.wired.com/2016/10/rip-vine/
4. See: http://www.shawacademy.com/
5. See: https://www.isasa.org/tag/isma/ and http://www.sahisa.org/ and http://www.cso.za.org/
6. See: https://www.workpool.co/featured/popi/
7. See, for example: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/ 2016/09/07/the-long-steady-decline-of-literary-reading/?utm_term=. ddf57052df15

 

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