It's a social world out there.

Social Media – Redo

Posted on: August 10, 2009

It is vital for businesses today to keep up with the ongoing changes and evolution of technology. While this has been the case for years, recent changes in online social networking and media have opened doors to businesses of all kinds. Media outlets have evolved so extensively in the last decade that it is crucial for businesses of all shapes and sizes to look at how they tap these outlets to reach their prospective users in the best possible way. Stoneleigh-Burnham School, a non-profit independent school for girls grades 7-12 in Greenfield, Massachusetts could greatly benefit from the integration of a well thought out social media strategy.

Social Media – The Basics

Social media is a phenomenon that has evolved since the extended adoption of all things online. Society has begun to use the internet for much more than googling and billpay, many of us now rely on it for socialization and networking, both personally and professionally. According to Wikipedia:

“Social media is online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. Social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content; it’s a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologues (one to many) into dialogues (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form relationships for personal, political and business use. Businesses also refer to social media as user-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM).” 2

Social media allows non-profits like Stoneleigh-Burnham School to more easily reach out to prospective students. Sites likes Twitter and Facebook allow users to follow and friend organizations, meaning they have a direct and immediate connection to these organizations for news and updates. These outlets on the world wide web which provide use of social media and networking are easy to employ and, in many case, free of charge. In short, putting in action a social media strategy could provide Stoneleigh-Burnham School with free advertising and direct connections to prospective students, parents, as well as its alumnae base.

Who Else is Doing It?

Many non-profits have caught on to the marketing power that lies within online social media in recent years. The Internet has given consumers more power than they have ever experienced when it comes to finding the right products, whether it be new shoes or a quality single sex education, such as the one provided at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. This means that Stoneleigh-Burnham School needs to fully adopt and integrate a social media strategy to effectively catch the eye of all potential families and maintain an ongoing relationship with alumnae.

“Some non-profits that have a presence on social networking sites have discovered a new relationship with users. Carie Lewis, the Humane Society’s Internet marketing manager, said she finds herself responding to lots of mundane questions on pet care as a result of maintaining a presence on Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and Flickr. More important, Lewis said she’s discovered supporters outside the organization’s traditional demographic of women in their 50s.
“It was a lot of work, but it really paid off for us,” Lewis said. The Humane Society has raised more than $33,000 on Facebook from users who have set up pages to protest everything from puppy mills to seal clubbing in Namibia. The amount of money raised is small, but convinced Lewis’ bosses that the online efforts have merit.” 3

Independent school such as Emma Willard, Deerfield Academy, Northfield Mount Hermon and many others have personalized Twitter profiles with many followers, this trends follows into their Youtube and Facebook accounts. Taking the time to put together a well-thought out strategy and keep the social media outlets up-to-date is vital for an independent school like Stoneleigh-Burnham. The first step is to independently form social media profiles on various sites, then effectly link them together so that users get the full feel of Stoneleigh-Burnham through its use of social media.

Get Going

While Stoneleigh-Burnham School has active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, they have no fully tapped the power that is held in many other social media outlets. The School is currently concentrating on the use of social networking sites rather than the overall use of social media. In doing so, they are missing out on much of what social media outlets can do for them.

It is important that they more fully develop their blog and micro bloges. This is something that would likely be done through the admissions department and should provide regular updates on the ‘day-to-day’ at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. This should include pictures, videos and testimonials from current students. Hosted by a site outside of the http://www.sbschool.org website, the blog will have a broad audience, it is of course vital to market this blog through the current website as well as through word of mouth by current constituencies. The head of school currently has a blog, which is, of course, a great concept. It is important to incorporate this with a blog that involves more of the day-to-day life at the School from the eyes of Stoneleigh-Burnham girls, rather than highlighting only thoughts from the Head of School, which alone could be somewhat intimidating. I would recommend coming up with a set of topics that will get the words flowing. It is never a good idea to sit down to write a blog entry without an umbrella topic from which to work. For independent schools, especially single-sex schools, there is a variety of topics from which to choose, in doing so it becomes easier to highlight the many offerings of a school like Stoneleigh-Burnham.

In forming a Stoneleigh-Burnham School blog the admissions department along with the communications department should put together a schedule of how often to make new posts to the site. It is vital that the blog always have fresh material. If someone checks the blog twice a week they should be able to find something new, even if it is a photo or quick 200-word entry. While it is important to often post more lengthy, around 500 word entries, photos and quick enthusiastic short entries are acceptable it time is lacking. The Stoneleigh-Burnham School admissions blog should be updated twice weekly, while the twitter account should be updated every other day. The constant updates allow for improved communication with prospective students and families as well as the potential to build a strong online following.

After forming a blog, the School should consider the use of Podcasts. Podcasts could provide an opportunity for students to speak out on issues both inside and outsides Stoneleigh-Burnham walls. These could take the form of student projects, alumnae highlights or communication vehicles from the School’s marketing department. Podcasts can be complimentary to the School’s print publications and web efforts. They can also provide a way to archive and revisit oral history for the School, being that it is a school with tenure, finding a way to archive such things is important.

The use of widgets on the sbschool.org website would also provide well in linking to blogs, podcasts and highlight the social networking tools The School is employing. The use of chats with prospective students or parents could also lend well to the School. Skype is something that the School should make sure is being employed efficiently for contact with international, as well as domestic prospective families. This service according to wikipedia is: “a software application that allows users to make voice calls over the Internet. Calls to other users of the service, and in some countries to free-of-charge numbers, are free, while calls to other landlines and mobile phones can be made for a fee. Additional features include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing.” 1

The combination of a blog, podcasts, widgets, Skype and the continued use of the social networking sites will provide Stoneleigh-Burnham School with what they need in the social media arena. Lastly, it is important that not only the admissions and communications departments of the School be involved in social media efforts. Their efforts should combine with those of the development and alumnae relations team. While it is vital to get a blog going for the admissions team, when the time is right the alumnae relations director should take the reigns on social media directed toward Stoneleigh-Burnham School alumnae.

Who Can Help?

WippleHill, a communications and marketing company that works with independent schools has put together an extremely useful combination of information regarding social media in the independent school arena. I would recommend taking a look here http://www.whipplehill.com/isanne/. This site contains presentations and explanations of how best to employ social media in independent schools and much of it is highly relevant to how Stoneleigh-Burnham School could best use these services. The Blogging Basics presentation given by Tucker Kimball and Peter Baron is one that should be looked over by the person who will be in charge of the Stoneleigh-Burnham blogs, as well as anyone interesting in how and why blogging works.

What Will This Bring?

Further use of the social networking sites will provide more followers and friends, leading interested parties to the Stoneleigh-Burnham School website and allowing for increased inquiries. This partnered with a blog will allow for comments from prospective, current and past students. Commenting on the blog will open doors for what The School should hope is positive conversation about the offerings of Stoneleigh-Burnham. Adding podcasts and widgets will further link all the aspects of the social media strategy, combining the social networking with The School’s website, providing the perfect offering to prospective students. This strategy will also provide current students, faculty and alumnae the opportunity to stay up-to-date with what is happening at Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

Sources:

Skype, In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 8, 2009 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skype

Social Media, In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved August 2, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media

Wong, Wailin (2009, April 20). How non-profits are using social networking to raise money and awareness Charities see potential in tapping young Web users to promote their causesonline. Retrieved August 2, 2009, from Chicago Tribune Web site: http://archives.chicagotribune.com/2008/apr/30/business/chi-wed-nonprofit-networks-apr30

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