“March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb.”
“April showers bring May flowers”
“April…hath put a spirit of youth in everything.” (Shakespeare)
Believe it or not, I proposed to my wife on April 1, 1995! No joke. It had to be a Saturday night and that was the weekend that particular spring when it was the perfect timing. Nevertheless, it still makes for some good laughs when I tell that to people.
As your school get swamped in year-end activities, do not forget that potential moms and dads are also busy looking at school options for their kids. In order to continue to be top-of-mind with all of them (when your to-do list is already full), you must continue to produce content that is relevant to their lives. And if it is part of the cultural conversation on social media already, why not create content that would keep you in the forefront of their minds?
As I have done in the past with content ideas for the months of January, February and March, here are 11 content ideas for the month of April:
PB & Jelly Day (4/2) – have some fun with the younger kids and older kids and even the staff all enjoying a PB&J feast! According to Guinness World Records, one man holds the record for eating 6 sandwiches within a minute – who will accept the challenge to beat that record? As I have said in other months, think “free news coverage”!
College Basketball Championship (first part of April) – as March Madness winds down, the Final Four is college basketball’s “super bowl”! Make student connections with former students who are attending any of the competing schools; especially noteworthy if any former students are playing in the big tournament (interview them via Skype about the behind-the-scenes or about how your school helped them to prepare for college).
MLB Opening Day (usually around the first part of the month) – in the same way, recognize any former students playing in the MLB or interview your staff about who their favorite MLB player is. Hot dogs, nachos, peanuts and Cracker Jacks may be a fun lunch menu that on Opening Day!
National Library Week (4/10-16) – if your school has a school librarian, this is the week you want to do a special feature on this staff person (note: featuring all of your staff throughout the year is important!)
The Masters (ends on the 2nd Sunday of April) – golf’s most heralded tournament with the prized green jacket.
Tax Day (April 15) – publish FAQs on your website (that will remain year-round) that answer common questions like “can I deduct my daughter’s private school tuition?” or “can you use a 529 to pay for son’s private high school?”. People are likely asking you these questions already (or wondering in their head), so provide the answers.
Earth Day (4/22) – your local news stations may be looking for young people who take pride in the environment, so this may be an opportunity to do something unique that gets media attention.
Administrative Professionals Week (last week of the month) – another opportunity to introduce potential families to the personal (and personnel) side of your school.
Arbor Day (last Friday of the month) – plant some trees around campus and feature ones you have planted in previous years.
NFL Draft (toward the end of April) – while we watch our TVs and devices to see what round our favorite college players get picked by our favorite NFL teams, you may want to explore any connection you have to former students in this year’s draft (or you can list out other famous former student who have played in the NFL). You may also wish to have a video or essay contest if you can have students talk about the best character qualities of some of their favorite NFL players.
As I have done in the past with content ideas for January and February months, here are a few things to be posting about during the month of March:
DAY OF PIGS – I’m not sure what you would do here, but March 1st is “National Pig Day”. I used to work for a woman who loved pigs. She decorated her office with everything pig! She used this funny day to host her annual open house. The pig-shaped cookies and the pig theme made it fun for her vendors and clients – and it was something everyone knew about her. This was something that made her unique in the city! Maybe your Head of School can greet the students and parents in the parking lost with some great tastin’ bacon! Be creative in order to be memorable and remarkable! [click to tweet]
DR. SEUSS DAY – have some fun with the big strong football players reading Dr. Seuss books aloud to the tiny Kindergartners (this maybe guarantees a high share-ability of these videos simply because of the “cute factor”). If anything, you might contact the local TV stations and ask if they might want to send a crew out for this special day if you do something special. News organizations like “oddball” material for their news programs and your school might be the one who gets coverage on TV because you are willing to do something a little off the wall.
NATIONAL ANTHEM DAY – Celebrate the Star-Spangled Banner on March 3rd – have a school-wide contest for the best performance of Francis Scott Key’s song and then celebrate that winner’s performance at your school’s basketball game that night. If you live in a town with a university or professional basketball team, arrange to have the contest winner sing the national anthem at the event. Again, think “news coverage”!
LADIES, LADIES – International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th, so coordinate video interviews with some of your most notable women graduates.
SPRING RENEWAL – March often ushers in springtime, so why not post things about your campus that are “renewing”. Maybe it is some spring flowers, new construction, or maybe your school has a renewed vision for the future.
WHAT DID YOU LOSE NOW? – Daylight Saving Time is March 11 so have some fun with the time change (“Spring Forward” so you lose an hour of sleep – maybe do a parody video about the Head of School losing things. . . his phone, his hat, his pen, his keys, and then losing an hour of sleep. These videos are just a fun way to showcase the lighter side of your leadership.
SPRING BREAK – unless your break occurs in April (which it might if your school’s break is centered around Easter and that holiday happens during the month of April), have some fun talking about this “holiday”. In advance, have someone write a blog post about the “Top 10 Things to Do on Spring Break in ___(your city)___”. If posted early enough, this could get some good traction and traffic if shared enough on social media. Maybe a college counselor can write, “How to Gain $$ for College During Spring Break” where he could not only talk about seasonal jobs, but more importantly how juniors and seniors could spend their break prepping for an improved SAT score which could lead to scholarships. As well, post pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter of students/parents holding a small toy mascot or your company logo on a piece of paper. This would be fun to see where all the places around the world your people visit
EASTER – notably the most significant event on the Christian calendar, you should be sharing spiritual reflections on the meaning of the resurrection of Christ. Record video testimonials of parents and staff who tell of their spiritual journey of faith. Have fun with the younger children and record videos of them answering “What is Easter all about?” You will likely get a lot of funny responses about the Easter bunny and hiding/coloring eggs, but you could certainly find some who will talk about Jesus, too. With Easter coming on April 1st, use the month of March to get videos recorded and edited (warning: be careful about doing any “April Fool’s Jokes” about the Resurrection – it’s the highest holy day on the Christian calendar).
PURIM – another holiday on the faith calendar is Purim, a celebration recorded in the book of Esther after Haman’s prescribed massacre of the Jewish was thwarted because of Mordecai’s perseverance and Esther’s obedience. [Dates vary according to Hebrew calendar]
MARCH MADNESS – this is the NCAA’s “shining moment” where 60+ teams compete around the country for the title of the #1 team in college basketball. I would suspect you have some alumni at some participating schools, perhaps even some who are playing in the tournament. This affords you a great chance to interview that former student via Skype about the impact your school made on him. You can certainly do the same for women’s college basketball and teams that make the NAIA men’s basketball championship.
ST. PATTY – March 17th is St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to the annoying (my feeling) “pinching” going on because of someone not wearing green, you may also want to share something of the historical nature of the missionary, St. Patrick. Here’s a video I recorded about the story of St. Patrick.
NATIONAL PANCAKE DAY – made famous by IHOP, you may wish to enjoy some flapjacks yourself and post about this March holiday, too (usually celebrated during the first week in March – check IHOP’s website!)
PI DAY – no, I’m not talking about cherry pie, but the mathematical celebration of Pi. The 3/14 date, when written 3.14, looks a lot like math’s PI (the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter). Have some fun with pie and pi – maybe a pie eating or “pie-in-the-face” contest with administrators. If you order it in time, you could play this game, “Pie in the Face” game from Hasbro and make some really funny videos. (WATCH A HILARIOUS VIDEO BELOW!)
Pinterest is a social media platform wildly popular for discovering creatively designed holidays treats, the latest fashion trends, home decor, and the answer to every parent pulling their hair out because her three-year old talks back and spends too much on the iPad.
I am a huge proponent for schools using Pinterest for a number of reasons, not to mention the obvious similarities in demographics. While obviously generalizing, the large number of users of this platform are females, ages 18 to 49 (says SproutSocial). If your school is like most schools, I suspect you are trying to attract the attention of the very same demographic because those are the moms (or future moms) of the kids you want filling your seats.
In this post, I will share with you a few basics to get you started.
After you set up your institutional (not personal) account on Pinterest, make sure you socialize on this very social platform:
Follow your parents who are on Pinterest
Follow local businesses, nonprofits, community organizations
Follow competing schools and other schools around the country similar to yours
Use keywords in the search bar to find other users, boards and other pins that may interest you
Make comments on these pins to build your community
Once you get started, it’s time to get pinteresting!
Create 5 boards that have to do with your school (successes in athletics, arts and academics, your mascot, the history of your school, etc.
Create at least 7 boards that are not self-promoting boards that are all about the interests of your target market (fashion, home decor, recipes, financial advice, parenting tips, etc.)
Look at your website and find pages to pin to your self-promotional boards (mentioned above) and start pinning. This may be a wake-up call because you might find that you lack images on your site’s pages – if there are no images, you cannot pin the page!
Begin curating content from around the web to pin to your other 7 non-self-promotional boards. However, you may consider the reality that while the content is helpful to you target audience, you are also sending your audience to other websites than your own. This is the brilliance of a well-thought-out Pinterest strategy. In lieu of sending your target audience traffic AWAY from your site, you bring it TO your site. This means you have to author the content that is of interest to your audience.
Pinterest is an incredibly power driver of website traffic, a place to nurture the community of potential parents, and a natural place to educate and build trust with those future parents who are looking a place who will care for their children and educate them to their highest potential.
If you would like assistance in learning how to integrate social media into your overall marketing system, click on the graphic below to schedule your free phone consultation with Randy.
But first – why? This time of year, admissions offices are overwhelmed by preview night planning and re-enrollment deadlines. So I have heard many schools say, “these are neat, but we are swamped right now.” But the strategy behind these content ideas is not just to have fun (although revealing your school’s personality is important). You want engagement on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. You want your current followers to like, favorite, comment and share your content. These allow your school to reach into similar audiences as your followers when they share your content with their friends and followers. So there is a real strategy behind creative content.
Here are 4 February content ideas for your school:
GROUNDHOG DAY – the 2nd day of the 2nd month is the popular cultural event where the groundhog supposedly predicts the upcoming months’ weather. You can use your own mascot to “predict” 6 more weeks of winter. Another cultural reference to Groundhog Dad stems from the 1993 Bill Murray classic movie of the same name. Thus, Groundhog Day references have also come to include having to endure unpleasant situations over and over until changes are finally made (like the experience of the arrogant weatherman Bill Murphy portrayed in the movie). With some creativity, you could create a mini-movie of a public school family experiencing the same struggles over and over until they finally emerge with a new plan to explore your school that will change their future!
SUPER BOWL – because it is very often one of the most trending topics of the early part of this second month, be sure and have contests to predict the winner (fun wagers between coaches or lower and upper school principals can result in future video fun as the loser has to do something embarrassing in front of the student body). If there are any local tie-ins to the NFL players from the 2 teams, capture those and hit up your local media and let them know about it!
VALENTINES DAY – approach this holiday from a variety of angles! Feature longtime romance stories of your staff by interviewing them (in a written article with photos or a video interview) about how many years they have been married. Schools of the Christian faith may want to feature the historical background of St. Valentine. You can also have fun with images on Facebook and Instagram where you have a large chalkboard that students and parents will hold up with “Why I LOVE My School”.
HISTORICAL FIGURES – whether it’s Black History Month or Presidents’ Day, this month provides you plenty of opportunities connecting your present-day school life with the past. Perhaps your community or school has direct ties to significant events from African-American leaders. This would give you a way to connect your school to the things that your community is talking about. With Presidents’ Day, why not also do a feature on your own school President. Or let the President of your Student Council do something creative to showcase your school’s personality.
There are a host of other celebrations in this month, including bizarre events like “National Cherry Pie Day” and “National Tooth Fairy Day” (who knew?) Have fun with as many as you can!
Social media has emerged in the past 5-10 years as an integral part of every school’s marketing efforts. Unfortunately, those who succeed in it are rare. Here are some general statements that reflect how some of my conversations with school marketing folks have gone:
“I always thought that since social media was free advertising, we would see a great return and I could ditch my advertising budget on print.”
“Things change so often, especially on Facebook, that I don’t always keep up. Sometimes I just give up.”
“I try and make life easier by posting the same thing to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But people say the content should be unique to each platform’s audience. But who has the time to customize it?”
“I hear that people are getting on Instagram instead of Facebook. But is Facebook dead?”
“I never thought of using Pinterest. Why? Isn’t it just for recipes and home decor?”
But do you know the best social media tools to use for your school?
Let me run through a quick overview of several key tools that I think have a strong place in your school’s marketing strategy:
BLOG: whether it is called a “blog” or “news” or “success stories”, hopefully your content management system has a tool that you can easily (without an extra charge) add quick content. This is such a versatile tool on your website that you must have it. To learn more about using a blog in your marketing, listen to this podcast episode about blogging for your school.
REVIEWS:whether it is your Google page, your listing on GreatSchools.org, or the reviews on your school’s Facebook page, you need to accumulate 2-3 reviews each month on these three critical sites. Reviews verify to prospective parents that your school is worth the investment and the best choice in a competitive landscape. To learn more about theimportance on online reviews, click here.
EMAIL MARKETING:do not let those emails sit in a drawer somewhere handwritten on inquiry cards. Put those email addresses into a system like MailChimp or Constant Contact and create a consistent communication link with everyone who has visited your campus, inquired over the phone (ask for their email!), and who have downloaded content from your website (in exchange for their email address, you deliver valuable content). Not every family is ready to click on your “APPLY NOW” button. Nurture that relationship with email marketing. Read: “Using email marketing to engage prospective families (and doing it the right way!)”
FACEBOOK: while some of your younger prospective moms may be totally consumed with Instagram, statistics show that Facebook remains a vital tool for every school. The data shows that moms and dads over 30 still consume Facebook the most so keep the great content flowing for them to know, like and trust you as the best educational choice for their child. Listen to “What to Post on Facebook?”
I think there’s a strong case as well for YouTube and/or Vimeo for video. You can also upload native video directly to your Facebook page and add a “Call to Action” at the end of the video which is a nice touch. Twitter is valuable on so many levels for dissemniating information, connecting with alumni and local media and to communicate your distinct claims. But I would do more than simply linking my Facebook posts to Twitter because the Twitter culture invites (even “demands”) more content than typical Facebook users want to see. Instagram and Pinterest are strong visual content tools and, while both involve a lot of visual content, they deliver different results.
To get further comments about the best social media tools, sign up for the free “Pumpkin Spice Webinar Series” where each Tuesday for 5 consecutive weeks (starting Oct 20, 2015), we will release a new 20-30 minute presentation about school marketing. The second webinar in the series is on this topic, “The Best Social Media Tools for Your School”.
It’s back-to-school time and in addition to those new backpacks filled with books, pens, and paper, students will be packing their smartphones as well. In recent years, administrators, teachers, and coaches have been wringing their hands about what students are saying on social media. Some have considered banning the use of social media on campus and others are adopting strict bullying policies.
Despite what you decide to do about smartphone use at school, it’s time for K-12 schools to start thinking about adding social media responsible use training to their curriculum. Some school districts already have mandatory classes based on approved curriculums and there are lots of great resources out there to help put something together. But what if you don’t have those resources?
After years of traveling the country training students, athletes, and coaches to use social media responsibly I have learned a few things:
Training is not foolproof. You cannot stop impulsive teenagers from posting something dreadful on social media. You can only lower the risk by education.
Training that isn’t mandatory will only be attended by students that don’t need it. This is evergreen. If something is important enough, it should be part of a standard curriculum. Granted, parents need to be involved and permission needs to be asked, but all students should have it.
Training needs to be age appropriate.Middle school kids need different training than high school kids and college kids need an entirely different treatment. You wouldn’t teach a beginning cook how to make a soufflé and you shouldn’t treat all your students the same. Each age group has different social group conventions that require a different approach to social media.
There are three learning levels in every group: those that already know it, those that would adopt it with the right information, and those that don’t give a rip. Teach to the middle group.
Every social media training curriculum needs to include four sections: how to protect privacy, how to protect and build your reputation, how to prevent cyberharassment, and how to build a brand with social media. The last module can be dropped for middle school kids.
Facebook alone has over one billion active monthly users and 13 million of them have never touched their privacy settings, according to research done by Marketo.
According to the latest Pew Internet research (May 2013) on teen online privacy, teens are sharing more personal information on social media today than they were when the first Pew privacy study was done in 2006. Either they do not value privacy or we are failing to educate them, or both.
91% post photos of themselves, up from 79% in 2006
71% post their school name, up from 49%
71% post the city or town where they live
53% post their email address, up from 29%
20% post their phone numbers, up from 2%
Do these stats show that young people are more confident about their privacy on social media or that they are less concerned? Sixty percent of teens in the same survey said they have their Facebook profiles set to “friends only” and report high levels of confidence in their ability to manage their privacy. It could be their definition of privacy does not include their personal information. In my experience, teens do not equate the sharing of personal information with privacy. And, they are not 100 percent sure who can actually see what they are posting on social media.
You need to be teaching students the important privacy settings they need to address. You’d be surprised how many students believe that all their social media is private. Screenshots of privacy settings on a laptop and mobile devices help in your training. I recommend walking students through the platforms individually and showing them how to turn on notifications for tagging, disable location, remove email and phone numbers from About sections, as well several other key areas. I also encourage them to unfriend people they do not know personally and possibly protect their Twitter and Instagram accounts.
Protecting And Building Reputation
In 2011, the rap artist Drake released a song called “The Motto” that popularized the acronym YOLO or “you only live once.” The phrase spawned a hashtag on Twitter and other social media that began to epitomize reckless youth behavior accompanied by a disdain for consequences of any kind. But it was nothing new.
Every generation has its carpe diem. When I was young, there was a song by a group called The Grass Roots where the chorus sang, “sha-la-la-la-la-la live for today, and don’t worry ‘bout tomorrow.” Three Doors Down did their version that says, “I won’t look back to regret yesterday, we’re not handed tomorrow, so I’ll live for today.”
Risky behavior isn’t just the moniker of youth. It seems to be the behavior of choice for many celebrities, corporate business owners, professional athletes, and others in the media spotlight. It’s the way to get noticed. Unfortunately for many, it’s also the way to ruin a reputation. Most people cannot afford to be known for despicable behavior. They have to find jobs, make a living, and maybe support a family. In his recent book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson describes the devastation a social media screw-up can cause. Benjamin Franklin once said, “it takes many good deeds to build a reputation and only one to ruin it.” And in today’s culture, social media is the accelerant that will ruin it quicker than Urkel can say, “Did I do that?”
The biggest challenge for the YOLO generation is to figure out how to live a regular life while building a good reputation at the same time. But prohibition is not the answer. Teachers and administrators also need to remember that social media is the new after school hangout. A seminal book by Danah Boyd called It’s Complicated should be a mandatory read for all teachers. Boyd, a former researcher for Microsoft spent several years doing case studies on how teen communicate on social media. It’s an eye opener. Kids need to be on social media. It’s their community center. Let’s teach them how to use it responsibly.
This is the section of the training where I usually show five good lessons from tweets using screenshots of well know teen idols or athletes that use social media well. I also teach five lessons from bad tweets using screenshots of those that screw up. Unfortunately, the latter is much easier to find. This section also needs to include how to handle negative subjects on social media, how to apologize, and the golden rules of social media posting. I also try and push (sometimes to deaf ears) that social media is forever. Jon Ronson’s book does a very good job of illustrating that if you need some background.
Lowering Your Risk of Cyberharassment
I hope we all know that cyber bullying is rampant. These recent statistics via nobullying.com show the scope of the problem:
Nearly 1 in 3 students report being bullied during the school year (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2013).
6% of high school students in the US report being bullied at school in the past year. 14.8% reported being bullied online (Center for Disease Control, 2014).
64 percent of children who were bullied did not report it; only 36 percent reported the bullying.
More than half of bullying situations (57 percent) stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied.
School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%.
The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students were looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%).
In your training, start out by identifying the four basic types of cyber harassment:
Bullying:mean-spirited, degrading behavior meant to intimidate and harass. This could be anonymous or from someone the victim knows.
Unsolicited inappropriate social media content:this usually comes in the form of text messages or emails that are offensive or threatening. Often sexual.
Fake accounts: either an outright stolen identity or parody account set up to pretend to be someone else or make fun of a known person.
Inappropriate sports fan behavior: Crass, mean-spirited posts aimed at a particular coach or athlete. Usually someone the victim does not know.
In my trainings, I then proceed to identify 16 ways students can lower their risk of being bullied online.
I don’t recommend this portion of training for younger students as I think the concept is wasted on most of them. Until they get to high school and are applying for jobs and scholarships, they don’t see or understand the value of building a brand. But it doesn’t hurt to touch on the subject. Many middle school kids are working already. They need to know that their lawn mowing business can be ruined by a bad social media post.
High school students may not be motivated by a career yet, but many have their eye on a college scholarship, whether athletics or academic. It’s been very well documented that recruiters, both athletic and academic, are looking at social media for the same reasons that employers are. Some college coaches are going public to let prospects know their social media was a factor in rejecting them. Some athletes catch themselves in time, but others are hampered by unknowing coaches, school administrators, and parents. Social media has certainly changed the face of college athletics recruiting. And the admissions officers across campus are employing the same screening tactics, according to a 2013 survey by CareerBuilder.
Many high school students are starting to think about a career. They need to understand that what they post on social media now will be available to future employers to peruse. CareerBuilder offers this basic advice:
Take down any inappropriate pictures. No drugs, alcohol, sexually suggestive behavior. Use whichever golden rule works best for you from chapter two.
Clean up your profanity. Cursing and vulgar language may be cool, but it’s more effective in person. Keep it offline.
Don’t go on a crazy rant. Don’t bad mouth coaches, teammates, bosses, co-workers, rivals – you get the picture.
Use real language. If people need a decoder ring to understand your tweets, obviously your Twitter account should be private. Remember what employers said about bad communication skills. Don’t let this be your motto: “OMG I h8 inglish.”
Don’t be intolerant: The majority of employers in a CareerBuilder survey were concerned about discriminatory comments about race, gender, and religion.
You shall not tell a lie. Did you really do that internship at the local newspaper or did you just deliver newspapers on Sundays?
Integrating these four main concepts into your social media training will give your students and teachers a good knowledge base on how to use social media responsibly.
For more information on how to train students and teachers to use social media responsibly, Chris’ book Practice Safe Social 2.0 is available on Amazon.com. Feel free to email me with questions and comments at chris [at] cksyme.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @cksyme.
Chris Syme has over 25 years experience in the communications industry and is principal at CKSyme Media Group. Her agency specializes in social media marketing, virtual assistant services, and digital communication services for self-published authors and higher education. She is a former university media relations professional. Chris is a frequent speaker on the national stage and the author of two books on social media: Listen, Engage, Respond and Practice Safe Social 2.0. Her agency won the 2014 SoMe Award for Social Agency Of The Year. Her new book, SMART Social Media For Authors will be released in fall 2015.