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The Ridge School takes control of social media

| November 2, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Nick Praulins

Much has been written about the ever-increasing role social media plays in marketing strategies. As organisations seek new and more creative ways of capturing the attention of an increasingly tech-savvy public, the role of social media in driving brand loyalty, shaping image perception, managing reputation and fostering product engagement cannot be underestimated. Online reputations, quite simply, can make or break a brand.

What would you find out about your school via Facebook?

Just as the corporate world is finding that social media drive marketing strategies, social media have become more relevant in an education setting. However, the relationship between social media and educational institutions has not always been an easy one.

With real concerns in relation to privacy, cyber-bullying and voyeurism, many schools have been, perhaps understandably, reluctant to engage with their stakeholders through social media. But consider this: if you were to do a quick Facebook search for your school, what would you find? The chances are that there are already a range of unofficial ‘groups’ created by current and past students where conversations about your school are taking place! And if they are not there yet, they will be soon enough as more and more school-aged children (digital natives that they are) become engaged in an ‘always-on’ environment.

Parents, too, have the power of social media in their pockets. Whether it’s an iDevice, BlackBerry, Android or ‘other’; social media are easily accessible through almost every wireless contraption currently in production. If we accept that these online social interactions are already happening, from a marketing and branding perspective, it makes sense that we are involved, and can influence the direction of our online presence.

An opportune time to take control

After a parent highlighted the success of other international schools in engaging their communities via social media, The Ridge School in Johannesburg set about exploring the role that it could play at our school, in our context. A quick Facebook search revealed a handful of unofficial groups created by alumni. It was therefore an opportune time to take control of our online reputation and so we began crafting our social media strategy, starting with Facebook and later including Twitter. Our decision to run with these two platforms was quite deliberate, as we felt that each could offer a different way in which we can engage with our larger school community.

Facebook a ‘one-stop shop’

Facebook has become very much a ‘one-stop shop’ for people to find out the fun, interesting and unique things that go on at The Ridge School on a daily basis. With over 500 unique page impressions each day, our Facebook family includes our Grade 7s (who are learning valuable social media etiquette skills by engaging in a public forum), current parents, prospective parents, alumni and grandparents as far afield as Australia!

When our new HOTSpot (Higher Order Thinking Spot) launched in September this year, we were able to share pictures from the event almost immediately, and many parents gave positive and constructive feedback about the space and the event via Facebook. A Facebook ‘build-up’ also supported our Founders’ Day birthday celebrations. Many weeks ahead of time, we were able to let people know what was being planned, drop little hints about the surprises that might be in store on the day and then cover the excitement at the celebration, garnering helpful feedback in the process from the Grade 7s and their parents.

Twitter a real-time update tool

Twitter, on the other hand, acts as a real-time update tool. We use it to provide sports scores (often live from location), and it also offers us the opportunity to participate actively in and follow current educational discussions on a national and global level. As an example, we actively follow LeadSA and are able to retweet its messages around education or provide comment if we feel it is appropriate. Our new SunSmart initiative has seen us establish links with a number of educational organisations in Australia who also support this cause. We are also able to help our staff connect with other teachers throughout South Africa by using the #SAteachers hashtag.

Define brand through social media

A positive social media presence can offer a school the opportunity to define its brand through actively and authentically sharing and celebrating the achievements and features that make school unique and relevant. Social media may never allow you to be completely in control of what is being said about your school, but they can help you guide and shape conversations, and respond mindfully and timeously to your community. The Ridge School’s decision to enter the realm of social media was not taken lightly – but we feel that, in doing so, it has allowed us to connect with our community more creatively and relevantly than ever before. Our social media journey at The Ridge School has been a positive one thus far, cultivating greater participation in the school’s daily life.

Nick Praulins is the Head of Marketing at The Ridge School. Follow him on Twitter: @nickpraulins

Category: e-Education, Summer 2011

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