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Schools and Facebook: Spreading the message July 23, 2010

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Effective International Schools Series, Marketing.
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With the news that Facebook has recently signed up its 500 millionth member, we thought it might be a good time to bring you a little extract from one of our most popular books of the last six months – Effective Marketing, Communications and Development.

The extract below was taken from the end of a chapter written by Jon Moser and Clive Ungless, entitled: Tell your story: web and social media. Jon, President and founder of Finalsite, and Clive, Director for International Operations, used the chapter to explain how important the website is to a school and how to develop and enrich the content available.

Social networks – spreading the message
Perhaps the most pervasive and profound changes to the way the web is used have come in the last few years in the form of social networking sites. The web has moved from a place where, essentially, small numbers of larger organizations have been responsible for posting content, to a place where millions of individual users regularly post their own information, photos, and video.

The spur for all this content has been sites dedicated to social networking and sharing essentially personal, rather than official, information. There are innumerable social networking sites, good examples being Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (a professional, business networking site), the video-sharing site YouTube, and the image-sharing site Flickr.

Although they were originally created as social environments, businesses now see the potential of social networking sites as a way of engaging with vast numbers of people. They recognize that building a presence on any of these sites is a powerful way to reach out to audiences in the virtual space that they return to on a regular basis. This approach can often be more effective than trying to attract people directly to your own site. Schools have thus started to set up Facebook pages, Facebook groups (very often for alumni), Twitter feeds with daily information, LinkedIn business pages, as well as posting their videos on YouTube.

Social networking sites can be seen as an integral and significant component of a school’s web presence. The main school site can be set to display links to the school’s presence on these sites, and conversely they can contain links back to the school’s main site.

Keeping information current on these sites need not be too time consuming, and if your site supports RSS feeds (a system of pushing notifications of content changes out to users), these can be embedded in the Facebook or Twitter pages, avoiding the need to duplicate one’s efforts. Also ‘teasers’ can be placed on social media sites with links to further content on your own site, thus drawing traffic in.

It should be said, however, that a school and its web staff should understand the nature of these sites well, and some schools, for a variety of philosophical as well as practical reasons, have made the conscious decision not to participate in social media sites at all.

The pace of change on the web has been truly dramatic in recent years, and it is a matter of some curiosity as to how this chapter will read in the near future. The key points at the moment are clear, however. A school should strive to have a professional looking website that embraces the key technologies of a modern site – a Content Management System with distributed authorship of a range of rich media, secure areas for key constituencies with data integration where appropriate, and an expanded footprint on the web, with a dedicated mobile presence, and seamless connections with a range of social networking sites that complement and extend the school’s digital presence and story.

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