How to Implement a Social Media Marketing Strategy for Schools

Date posted: March 17, 2021

With the world of social media marketing changing at an increasingly rapid pace, it can be easy for schools to get caught up in the latest trends, tips, and tricks, without thinking about the big picture: your overall social media strategy.

Implementing a social media marketing strategy isn’t easy, but doing so will ensure that your posts contribute to your overall recruitment goals, whether that be to build your reputation, enroll more students, or any other objective you identify.

Whether you’re looking to create or tweak your school’s social media strategy, this blog will walk you through the steps of implementing a winning social media strategy that is targeted to your school’s prospective students.

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1. Persona Creation is an Integral Part of a Social Media Strategy for Schools

Before you start thinking about creating social media posts, you should consider who they are for.

In the digital marketing world, this process is called ‘persona creation’ and involves creating a fictional character based on your school’s typical prospective students. Personas help you craft social media posts that are optimally relevant to your target audience.

Personas are composed of a wide variety of information, from demographic info to psychographic data that you gather through admissions experience and research. 

For schools, we’ve found that the most helpful way to start creating personas is by contemplating your typical students’ background information. 

Information you may want to include is where a typical student is from, how old they are, what languages they speak, their gender, and other information of that sort.

Example: Sample background information for an international student persona.

The next step is to contemplate the things that your persona is looking for in a school, as well as the things that may hold them back from studying at a particular institution. 

Here at HEM, we call these components “motivations” and “concerns.” These are optimally useful for your social media strategy as they determine what aspects of your school you should foreground on your social media, as well as what pain points you may need to assuage.

Example: Motivations and concerns for a sample persona. The more factors you list, and the more specific these factors are, the more helpful your personas will be when creating social media posts.

Once you’ve gone through the persona creation process for one type of prospect, you may want to repeat the process with different types of typical students. 

How many personas you should create is unique to your school and its audience. Some schools have four, some have one—there’s no ‘right answer.’ 

Since personas are meant to help guide a social media strategy for schools, they should always be a help and not a hindrance. If you find that it’s too difficult to pigeonhole your posts towards one persona, it’s a sign that you need more. But if you are finding that your posts address multiple personas, and you find it difficult to create content for one specific persona, it’s a sign that you have too many.

2. Brainstorm Post Ideas Based on Student Personas

Now that you have a highly specific and in-depth understanding of your prospective students, the next step is to put yourself in their shoes and think about the kind of content they are looking for on social media.

To come up with different types of posts at this stage can be difficult, so we’ve found it helpful to first create “key messages” for each motivation and concern you’ve listed. 

Essentially, “key messages” are statements that address a prospect’s motivation or concern, and show why your school is the right choice for them. 

Example: Key messages based on a sample persona for an online learner. As you can see, the key message for the motivation shows how the school provides what the student needs, and for the concern, the key message shows how this isn’t something the prospect has to worry about at this school.

When you’ve got the key messages down, you can start thinking about how to bring them to life through social media posts. 

This could involve planning what sort of visuals best fit with certain messages, or the kinds of captions and posts that would best express your key messages.

Example: An Instagram post from EC English that perfectly articulates a key message about the language school’s teaching methodology.

While some key messages are easy to transform into social media post ideas, others may take more finesse. 

For instance, if you want to highlight statistics that solidify your school’s reputation, but still want the tone of your social media posts to come off as friendly and welcoming, you could create a post like the one below from McGill University.

Example: An Instagram post that showcases McGill’s achievements paired with a fun, student-centred photo.

It can also be helpful for your school to browse the social media channels of its competitors to see how they’re addressing student motivations and concerns. Gathering as many post ideas as possible will make it much easier to come up with content later down the line.

From there, your school may want to assemble these findings into a document that you can use for future reference. You could create sample posts for each key message, for instance, or create a list of different elements that a post should include for a certain persona. 

3. Consider What Channels and Content Types Best Suit Your School

Not only are there a number of different social media channels out there—each one also allows schools to create a wide range of posts. 

From Stories to videos to link shares and carousel posts, schools can choose from a wide variety of content types to express their key messages. 

When crafting a social media marketing strategy for schools, it is important to keep these factors in mind. For one, this will make your strategy more effective and targeted. Secondly, it will ensure that your school is devoting its resources towards the initiatives and channels that are likely to have the biggest impact.

Your personas can help you out with this. If your personas are budding professionals, a solid LinkedIn presence is essential. If your prospects are looking for a fun, welcoming school that offers plenty of on-campus activities, you may want to consider investing in TikTok. 

Example: University of Limerick graduates trying their hand at the famous TikTok #handclapchallenge. Taking part in social media challenges shows that your school makes an effort to promote community, both on campus and on social media.

When it comes to the types of content you’re posting on social media, consider first the types of content that would best express your key messages.

For instance, if you want to showcase your school’s academic reputation, sharing articles related to your school’s or its students’ successes is a great way to do so while simultaneously building your social media presence.

Example: A LinkedIn post from Cambridge University Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology.

Keep in mind that certain types of content take longer to craft than others. For instance, it’s relatively quick and simple to create the above post. All the school needed to do was find a relevant article and craft a short caption.

However, it takes significantly longer to create video content. You need to plan the video in advance, as well as set aside time to film and edit it. 

The same—potentially—goes for student-centered content. If you don’t already have a group of students willing to contribute social media content, or even ‘takeover’ your social channels for a day, it can be difficult to generate these types of posts.

With that being said, if your personas indicate that student-centered content would help convert more prospective students, it may be worth taking the time to assemble a social media team or select student social media ambassadors.

This situation can be a win-win for both your school and your current students. Depending on your school, it’s likely that many of your students are looking for resume-boosting extracurriculars, so getting your students involved on social media can provide them with valuable experience.

4. Create a Posting Schedule for Your Social Media Marketing Strategy for Schools

The previous steps have predominantly been planning-based. Now, we’ve got to the part where you can bring your blueprint to life through an actionable strategy.

Knowing what kinds of content to create—and where to share it—is one thing, but creating a schedule to ensure that content is shared frequently and regularly is another.

First, figure out how many posts you want to share each week, and across which channels. If you’ve determined that Instagram is the most important platform for your school, you may want to post there fairly frequently, while only posting a couple of times on other social networks.

Then, it may be helpful for your school to cross-reference your posting schedule with your admissions calendar. You may want to plan for additional posts leading up to key deadlines, and then loosen up on your posting schedule right after the deadlines pass. This way, you never have to scramble at the last minute to create content!

Example: This is a free social media editorial calendar template available to all on Google Sheets. Tools like this make it much easier to plan and keep track of your content.

If you want to be super-organized, you could also categorize your social media schedule by post type. This ensures that your school will target its various personas each week. It will also help your school build a robust social media presence across key channels, as you can plan in advance for different types of content such as videos, live streams, and more.

Of course, it’s impossible to create or keep an exact social media schedule. There will always be unexpected moments to capture and new initiatives to promote—not to mention new trends constantly emerging. This dynamism is the beauty of social media for schools!

5. Explore Software to Help Organize Your School’s Social Media Strategy

At this point in the process, you have a comprehensive social media schedule in your toolkit. However, you may be looking at it thinking: “how are we going to ensure that each post goes out on the right day at the right time?”

Well, certain social media channels offer built-in features that allow you to schedule your posts in advance. 

Example: Facebook’s scheduling tool, which is available under “publishing options” on your school’s account. This feature also allows you to schedule posts on Instagram.

A benefit of using these types of tools is that you can schedule posts at specific times on certain days. 

If you want to ensure that posts appear on your prospects’ news feeds when they’re likely online, and your prospects live in different time zones than you, it will be virtually impossible to manually get posts out at the right time (unless you are fine with waking up at midnight to share a post!). Scheduling tools allow your school to ensure that the right posts are going out on the right channels at the right time.

Now, there is one major drawback to native social media scheduling tools. With the exception of Facebook, schools are only able to schedule posts for one particular platform. This means you have to coordinate scheduling across a number of different platforms, making your lives more difficult and increasing the risk of errors.

That’s where social media software comes in. There are a number of different programs that allow schools to not only schedule their social posts across channels, but monitor their results.

Programs like HubSpot, Hootsuite, Buffer, Social Pilot, and Agorapulse are designed specifically for this purpose. Although you may have to pay a monthly fee for the full version of some of these platforms, the ability to manage and track your social media performance across channels is extremely valuable in the long term.

Example: The social media scheduler in HubSpot. You can create posts across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. You can also organize content by campaign in order to view results across a certain set of posts.

HubSpot, like many other marketing automation programs, also offers plenty of social media reports that allow you to analyze your performance on individual campaigns, channels, or both.

Example: A HubSpot social media report across a certain timeframe. You can also compare results over different date ranges.

If you want to properly implement a social media strategy for your school, it’s important to consider every element from start to finish—or, in other words, from your student personas to social media reporting. The better you understand your target audience, and the more organized your social media schedule is, the more likely you are to see positive results at the end of the day.

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