Sometimes I think we get carried away by social media hype and forget to question the myths out there. So here I bust open three social media myths and show you how understanding the truth can propel your social media strategy to the next level.
Myth 1: Social media promotion is free
Yes, access to most social media platforms is free but that doesn't mean that social media promotion comes without a cost.
Staff time is one of the biggest costs involved, but where social media is incorporated into a job role alongside other responsibilities I've frequently seen schools and colleges fail to account for this. As soon as you quantify the staff cost it's clear it should be budgeted for: If a staff member being paid roughly £29,000 p.a. is spending about 2 hours a day on social media activities then this is costing the organisation about £9,250 p.a. (see calculation below). That's certainly not insubstantial. You might need to factor in some professional development costs too - even social media wizkids need to keep their skills up to date!
In addition to staff time, it is increasingly common for schools, colleges and universities to pay to boost or promote their posts on social media sites (The Seventh Annual Survey of Social Media in Advancement, conducted by CASE, Huron, and mStoner, 2016). This is being driven by the fact that 'organic reach' - when you rely on free posts to reach the audience you are targeting - is declining across all social media platforms (for more detail see this great Hootsuite blog).
Lesson learned: Planning and monitoring your social media budget should be a top priority, and should certainly include staff time and training. You should also consider the cost of paid advertising and boosting posts, and possibly subscription to a social media management platform like Hootsuite. These won't be needed by all schools, colleges and universities, but should be considered when you develop your social media strategy.
Myth 2: You need to be on lots of social media platforms
Can you think of a time when trying to do a little bit of everything was the best strategy? None spring to mind for me - normally focusing my efforts has a bigger impact. I've seen schools and colleges try the scatter-gun approach to social media without great success. They feel they need to be active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.... and all with a limited budget so their efforts get diluted. Having dispelled the myth that social media is free, it follows that it's important to focus your attention and investment.
Lesson learned: You need to find out where your target audience hangs out on social media and focus on becoming a valued part of their life there. That means you need to identify your target audience, find out which social media platforms they use, and work out what they want from their relationship with your school/college/university. This may involve some primary research - an online survey or some focus groups can be useful for this. Of course this shouldn't stop you experimenting on new platforms, but you shouldn't try and do everything at once without a considered social media strategy.
Myth 3: Older people don't use social media
It's easy to slip into assumptions about who uses social media, so it's important to take a step back and critically evaluate your assumptions.
I've frequently seen people assume that the older generation don't use social media. I got caught out on this many years ago when a grandmother on a committee I was presenting to curtly informed me that she frequently uses Facebook as it's the best way to keep in touch with her grandchildren. Her comments have stayed with me - so I wasn't surprised when the most active member of the local toddler group Facebook page I manage is the great-grandmother who attends every week!
A quick look at the evidence shows that while older people do spend less time on social media than younger generations, the use of social media by those over 65 has been steadily increasing. In 2016 48% of internet users aged 65-74 in the UK had a social media profile (Ofcom, 2017), a figure which is likely to have grown since then. However, the same report shows that the older generation have less confidence online - possibly revealing an opportunity for educational institutions to offer older alumni a helping hand and safe haven in the world of social media.
On the other hand, the statistics do back up the assumption that different age groups prefer different social media platforms, with Snapchat and Instagram being more popular among younger people and Facebook more popular with older people (Pew Research Center, 2018).
Lesson learned: There are differences in the ways different groups use social media, but always check the evidence before basing strategic decisions on an assumption. There's a lot of information available free online about social media use, such as the annual Global Digital Report by We Are Social.
In conclusion... you need a social media strategy
We've seen that using social media is an investment of your organisation's resources, that you're unlikely to succeed without focusing your efforts and that it's not helpful making decisions based on assumptions rather than evidence. From this emerges an important lesson: to fully harness the potential of social media for your school, college or university you need a coherent, evidence-based social media strategy. I'm planning a few blog posts on how to create a winning social media strategy for later in 2019, but in the meantime do get in touch if you need some pointers.
Juliet Corbett is an experienced education management professional and consultant.
Salary example from above:
Mean salary for UK development staff without management responsibility = £28,992 p.a. (2013 CASE Europe Salary Survey - this is clearly quite out of date now but it's the latest figure I can find right now)
With additional staff on-costs (National Insurance and pension) = approx. £37,000
Cost of 2 hours per day working on social media = approx. £9,250 p.a.