Tag Archives: blogs

Content marketing … back to school

I recently met Simon Hepburn virtually, through LinkedIn and his excellent website, Marketing Advice for Schools.  Simon is a teacher and schools marketer who set up his website to help those looking to make their school stand out in today’s increasingly complex market.  He is also the author of ‘An Introduction to Marketing for Schools‘, an excellent         e-book which summarises the key issues involved through all areas of marketing a school.

I regularly visit Simon’s website and enjoy his articles.  He is, I think, one of the first to identify that with over 2,000 academies and nearly 100 free schools, it is just a matter of time before they realise that they are all competing both with each other and with private schools.  And while schools with the status of, for example, Eton, are likely to continue unhampered, sooner or later schools of all types are going to have to turn to all aspects of marketing – including a mix of traditional and 21st century channels like social media, blogging (perhaps story-telling is a better description) and digital PR.

Simon very kind agreed to let me reprint his article on how to find engaging stories in a school – the perfect subject for our Tuffill Verner blog which looks to share information, content, and encourage stories, information and engagement.  My personal view is that schools simply don’t yet make the most of this opportunity, though I have seen some excellent examples of school blogs, particularly from Heads.  But I have to say that I take particular enjoyment from the blogs that are written by or in combination with the pupils – and I’d love to see more schools engaging in this type of activity – it gives a real insight into what goes on in a school.  This is one of my favourites.

Without further ado, here is Simon’s article.

How to Find Engaging Stories in a School

What would persuade you to buy a new car? You’d probably want a test drive. But that wouldn’t be enough.  You would want to hear from people who had used cars of the same make and model, read reviews, and compare specific facts with other cars.

Choosing a school is a much more important decision than a new car – and so evidence becomes even more important.  A school can claim to do many things – to be academic, caring, exciting, inclusive – but without actual evidence this will not be trusted.

How do you find and present this evidence in a school? Perhaps the best approach to take is that of a local journalist and find the stories that show your school in action. Here are a few tips…

1. Ask face-to-face – in a school community there is a lot of exciting news every day – but much is happening well away from the centre. You can ask in a number of ways but the best is to attend department or year group meetings and talk face to face about what you’d like to hear about. Email is much less effective – although you can follow up meeting with emails.

2. Make it easy for teachers and students
 – don’t insist on fully written stories. All you need is a brief tip-off that something is going to happen.

3. Keep a news diary – record everything in the future with a date against it. This allows you to communicate in advance, when the event is happening (live Tweeting?), and again after you’ve recorded it.

4. Focus on a few top stories – once you’ve got information coming in, filter it and choose the stories that best meet your school’s key messages to work on. (But make sure to thank everyone who sends you ideas!) You will have your own idea of how many stories you can work on.

5. Involve students – ask participants in an event to write down their stories or take photos or videos. You could ask them to keep diaries or blog from a trip (with moderation of course!)

6. Use a range of media to record stories – using photos and video as well as words is vital. The good news is that almost everything will be photographed and videoed on a smartphone – ask for people to email you the best pictures!

7. Interpret jargon and data – a lot of school news (especially when student assessment is involved) can appear dry and be full of acronyms. Take time to remove this and tell the story in a way that a parent or student can understand (and check with a real parent or student!)

8. Encourage sharing of stories. Nothing will encourage more people to tell you stories than seeing themselves featured – whether on the school website, in local papers or on Facebook or Twitter. Creating a ‘news page’ on your website with links to social media is a great way of starting this. Here’s an example from the US

Simon Hepburn, November 2012

As always we welcome views and debate on all subjects – I hope you found Simon’s article helpful, and that it provides food for thought – don’t hesitate to comment if you have any further thoughts or questions.  And we recommend that you hop over to his website yesterday to get even more information from him!  

And if you’d like some help marketing your school, please get in touch.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  

Do visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

LinkedIn communities … and lemon sharks

One of LinkedIn’s key principles is that social learning and sharing is good.  I’ve been talking for some time on this subject, as persuading people to engage in conversation or debate on LinkedIn can be rather like pulling teeth or swimming through syrup. And on the subject of swimming and sharing, it’s worth noting that even lemon sharks instinctively understand the importance of social learning and sharing knowledge.

With that in mind, I’d be interested to understand how many individuals using LinkedIn actually look at group stats – a useful tool that lets you see (broadly) the community size, demographics, and level of activity and engagement.  It should go without saying that as a group manager, the stats are invaluable.

But I suspect not enough members use them, and those who don’t are missing a chance of helpful insight either when considering joining a group  or in understanding the make up of the groups already joined. For example, I’m currently “culling” my groups (starting with those whose emails I now just delete unread)!  I know there are about 10 groups that I really want or need to be part of.  I’m expecting to lose at least half of the others and I’ll use the stats to help me make the right decision.

The stats summary page looks like this, and provides a dashboard of how many members there are in the group, their seniority, with further information on geography, market sector and function to be found in Demographics. You can also see the level of new members under Growth.

And, under Activity you can see how many discussions and comments have taken place in the last week, and review a graph that shows trends over time.

This shows how different the “activity” levels can be and how they can change over time. The group on the left looks to have good activity level, but a recent trend towards a disproportionate number of discussions (green) to comments (blue) suggests that the group manager might need to review the quality of the discussions or start to think about some kind of reactivation strategy. In the example on the right, though the number of discussions is relatively low, the comments ratio is excellent at 4:1 comments to discussion.

For both the groups above, it is worth looking at the discussions in question to see what’s going on and the quality of the conversations. By doing so you can see that, in relation to the graph on the right (from Modern Selling group – another of my favourites), the members of the community are engaged and interesting, the quality of discussions, debates, comments and insights is excellent and the range of topics fascinating.    And that’s largely because of the effort and energy put into the group by Neil Warren.  His contribution to the discussions is substantial, his management of the group and debates is strong, and he has some great group members.  The result is a group that it is a pleasure to be part of.

Here are three more examples of Linked In group and community characteristics.

1.  Looks good on paper but disappoints

I have a particular fondness (at least in theory) for one of my groups – which focuses on direct and digital marketing. This group is a decent size (nearly 15,000 members), full of good people, many of whom I know and have worked with, and who have the knowledge and experience to provide a valuable contribution.  In other words, I would expect them to participate.

 BUT

The number of discussions posted per week runs at around 100.  The number of comments  seems to range from 6 to 18.  The number of “commenters”?  Roughly 9. And that’s from a group of direct and digital marketers!  More worrying is that the discussions posted are not from different individuals, so there is a very low engagement level.

So why is engagement so low?

As ever, there are any number of reasons, ranging from “I’m too busy” to “I know I should be properly LinkedIn, but I keep forgetting about it” to “I don’t have anything to contribute to this debate” to “I only joined the group so I’d get access to the members”.

But there are other issues too.  There are groups that aren’t managed properly.  There are groups with no clear aims or obvious reasons for their existence, and there are groups where it seems that the community has just lost interest, energy and motivation (if they ever had it in the first place) and are effectively dormant.

Too often there is little or no discrimination between discussion posts and promotions. And to an extent I sympathise with this problem.  If a group is receiving literally thousands of “discussion” posts per week, it can be tricky and inordinately time-consuming for the manager to work through them all – at the same time staying within the LinkedIn group rules.

The result is that too many so-called discussions are really just self-promotions which (with honourable exceptions) tend to be posted by those whose intention is to broadcast to the available audience, and who do not intend to do much – if anything – in the way of listening, sharing knowledge or joining a debate.  Let alone the straightforward “spam” postings.  Not only that, but the self-promoters are  highly likely to post without even considering the audience to whom they are broadcasting.

And it is precisely those large-volume groups that need to be managed.  When a group runs along lines that allow self-promotion to be included as a discussion it gets painfully “noisy”. It becomes time-consuming and, frankly, irritating to have to trawl through all the junk to get to the relevant posts that would actually benefit from a debate or discussion.   So of course many group members just don’t bother.  Let’s face it, time is always at a premium.

2.  Huge engagement, interesting discussions, well managed group

The group I’m using to illustrate this category, TED  is also in my Top 10 groups.  The discussions are fascinating and are not specifically business related.  They cover an enormous range of subjects from poetry to religion to archaeology, history, science, conspiracy theories and aliens.  Not to mention some interesting business debates too.

This is the group that, as articulated by Regan George in his Schmooz.me blog,  has, from a single discussion (or in this case, poll) so far generated in excess of  40,000 comments.

In his blog Regan makes (among others – have a look) two great points – the first is that the use of polls, strongly targeted to the group audience, is a great way to increase group engagement.  The second is that the kind of question that creates most engagement tends to be emotion-based.

Which is a very good reminder.  We should never forget that, regardless of our ability to rationalise our decisions, emotion is always a key driver both personally and in business.

3.         Engagement slipping – needs reactivating

The founder of one of my other groups, Lets Talk Here, came too close to hitting the  delete key on his group, because his community was simply not engaging as strongly as it had previously.  This group is a particular favourite of mine because (like Modern Selling) it is properly managed by somebody who completely understands how social interaction – both online and offline – should work.  Mark Longbottom gives enormous amounts of time, energy and effort to make the conversations interesting, relevant and engaging.   There is a clear purpose to their groups.  And the rules are clear cut.  A discussion’s a discussion, and a promotion’s a promotion.

Lets Talk Here strikes a great balance between business insights and discussion, genuine chat and getting to know each other.   It is small and intimate, and though I don’t know the community in “real” life (yet) it feels like a group of friends.  And I’m looking forward to meeting many of the individuals in person or on Skype or through any other method that works.

But though the group had previously been very active, engagement was slipping.  Mark needed to decide whether the community was still viable, or whether he should simply close and delete it.  Lisa Marie Dias summarises the story beautifully, including explanations from Mark himself to explain the thinking and philosophy behind his group, and to share the level of re-engagement he achieved, and how he did so. It’s a great case study if you’re struggling with getting engagement from your own group or groups.

Which brings me to my final question.

What’s the point of LinkedIn anyway?

I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn.  It’s a great network for the business community. I’ve seen it provide enormous benefit for me and our clients. It’s an excellent way to meet and communicate with people, it’s a potential tool for sales, and it’s a database of sorts.  It’s also, both potentially and currently a great place for high quality debate and discussion.

Like all social media networks, it’s vital to remember that just because it’s online, it doesn’t mean that you’re not dealing with real people in the real world.  I see too many people forget their basic manners and rules of social interaction when they go online.

But to get the most out of any social network – online or offline – it’s essential to use it properly – to contribute when appropriate, to help where you can, to share your views, knowledge and opinions.

After all, even lemon sharks know the value of sharing knowledge!

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, views, tips or knowledge, please  just “reply” below.

Victoria Tuffill – Partner Tuffill Verner Associates – victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk 

01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  

Feel free to visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Linked InTwitter  and Google+

Direct marketing … social media … and bonfires

It’s the season for bonfires, direct marketing and social media.  In the case of bonfires, perhaps in your own garden, with foil-wrapped potatoes baking at the base.  And maybe with some sparklers and fireworks to light the night sky. Or as part of a local community celebration where everyone dresses warmly for the evening and gets together for fun, chat, catching up, watching a straw effigy of Guy Fawkes burning fiercely on top, and, of course, spectacular fireworks.

There is something about bonfires that is enormously appealing.  The smell, the crackling sound, the warmth, the smoke, the sparks, and the variety, movement and colour of the flames. And there’s a primeval fierceness about a fire. The way it grows from a tiny spark  into a roaring body of light and heat is a reminder that, although it may be lit by a person or people, fire itself can be dangerous. It is much bigger than we are, and needs to be monitored and controlled if we want to benefit rather than be harmed by it.

Direct marketing campaigns are similar.  Like bonfires, they need fuel to come alive – whatever the channel or mix of channels. There can be no successful marketing campaign  without the carefully laid fuel of end-to-end campaign strategy, including product, audience, offer, price, PR, fulfilment, delivery and customer service.  As a bonfire is lit by bringing flame and fuel together, a marketing campaign gains life when the consumer and the brand, product and offer come together.

As long as the fuel has been properly laid, then the fire will burn well and provide warmth and enjoyment to the crowds.  Like a social media campaign – if the activity is planned and structured well, it will deliver your customers’ needs and provide value to your business.  If not, or if it is left untended, then either it will never grow beyond a small spark, or – worse – it will grow into an uncontrollable inferno devouring your brand and reputation as it spreads.  And those are the fires that are most difficult to put out.

A point worth noting is that social media essentially allow a dialogue between business and customer (or prospect), that is held in public.  It impacts every area of a business, so it is vital that everybody within the company understands the goals and aims of the social media strategy and engages appropriately.  And it is also essential that there is an understanding that though the conversation is held online, it is a real conversation held between real people.  So basic everyday “real life” social principles, behaviour and manners need to be considered and included in whatever social media strategy is developed.

Laying the fire

Before deciding you want to build a social media strategy, the first thing to consider is why. What do you want to gain out of it?    Are you looking to extend awareness of your brand?  Or improve your reputation?  Or engage with a particular audience?  Do you want to increase sales?  Or improve customer loyalty or customer service?  Or do you want information to help you deliver better marketing – whether in terms of product or price or delivery?

Having addressed those questions, if you decide to go ahead, then you need to know your own brand’s  audience.  Where are they to be found?  Are they on Facebook or Twitter or Linked In?  Do they use Pinterest or Instagram?  Google + or You Tube?  If so, how do they use these networks? What’s their style and tone of voice?  Does it match your brand values? Might there be value in creating groups and forums on your own websites. What do you think your customers or audience would want to get out of a social media relationship with you?  What do you want them to get out of it? Where should you focus?  Do they talk about you?  If so,what are they saying?  Are they complimentary or are they promoting your competitors?  And if so, why?  And so on.

At this point it’s probably sensible to start outlining, in words, diagrams, flow charts and pictures, exactly what you want to do and how you intend to achieve your aspirations and integrate a social media strategy  throughout the business.  You’ll need to establish a team and allocate responsibility. You’ll need to make sure that what you are planning complies with all legal requirements.

If you use a third parties to manage your direct marketing and social media activity, the communication between your business and that agency or those agencies will need to be ongoing and seamless from all areas of the business.  Especially where your brand is concerned – any third party will need ongoing information on what is going on in the business, what is under development, what are the current key areas of strength and weakness. And  if you want to build trust through your social media activity, that information needs to be up-to-date, relevant and honest – whether the news is good or bad.

Your communication style will need to be considered.  Generally speaking, it can be more relaxed and fun than some other channels, but it should reflect your brand values and the values of your audience.   O2 has a great social media reputation, build in part from the disastrous few days when the service went down.  Not least on Twitter, where they were able not only to address genuine customer service issues, but also turn the whole problem around and generate more loyalty simply because their responses to their customers were wholehearted, honest, apologetic, helpful and witty.  Having said that, there are inherent dangers within that sort of approach – it’s potentially only a matter of time before one ill-chosen, unfunny, “witty” response has the same effect as pouring petrol on kindling – an instant explosion that – at the least – removes your eyebrows and much of your hair and probably blows you backwards!

Tending the fire

Fires need to be controlled, and monitored until such time as they are put out, or run out of fuel and die down to embers, which can then be allowed to cool, or be used to start a new fire.

Having laid the groundwork for your social media campaign, you then need to consider what you want to measure.  If your campaign is designed to increase awareness, you’ll be looking at likes and shares, reach, comments and other forms of engagement, subscriptions to newsletters, blogs and emails.    Sales and loyalty can be measured through a variety of methods – including mining data retrospectively,  using control groups to measure differences in performance, and measuring sales from social e-commerce.  Again, what you want to measure and how you intend to do so needs to be part of your documentation, and what you learn from this analysis will enable you to drive your ongoing activity based on performance.

You’ll need to be ready to deal immediately with issues that will come up in real time like complaints that come up in a public forum or negative comments on your Facebook page. So it’s well worth the time to brainstorm before the issue comes up so that your team know how to respond to a negative comment before it actually comes up.  You also need to monitor whether what your fans are saying is appropriate to your brand, and, if not, how you should deal with them.

Having established your policy regarding the networks on which you want to concentrate,  how you want to use them and integrate them with other channels, how you want to communicate with your audience, how you will resolve any issues, who your team is, who will do what, what competition you will monitor and how that will be reported, how you will measure your own performance etc etc …you need to execute your plan.

This means you need to know what content you are going to create, where you are going to post it, how you are going to promote your social media activity.  For a start, you’ll need to include icons, links, addresses on your website, promotions, advertising, invoices, email signatures, letters, employee business cards,  and all your communications so that you encourage your audience to visit and engage with your social networks.

You need to provide content for each of the networks – whether you want to blog or promote or sell direct or chat or conduct research or offer prizes in return for information or just run simple but fun competitions. As well as integrating with other channels, you can also integrate social media channels – use Twitter to promote a competition on Facebook, use You Tube to broadcast results and promote the next.

But what is absolutely vital is that your content is planned and scheduled before you push any buttons.  If social media is done randomly or on a whim, if it is unplanned, or if too little time, resource or budget is spent on it, the whole campaign is likely either to go out or – more tragically – be rained on before the fire is properly lit.

We’re all for sharing knowledge and information and enjoy a healthy debate, so if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  Or if you disagree with any of our views above, just let us know why.  And of course, if you have a social media strategy and would like to share your tips or thoughts, please feel free – in all cases, just “reply” below.

As ever, if you’d like some help with your social media strategy, don’t hesitate to ask – you can reach me on 01787 277742 or 07967 148398.  Or email victoria@tuffillverner.co.uk  If you’d like to know more about us before you do so, by all means visit our website.  And yes, we’re on Twitter and Linked In.  And if we believe we can’t help you, we’ll make sure we recommend one of the good guys.

Writing Concepts To Boost Your Marketing Communications Collateral

We’ve reblogged this because it’s a good reminder of the basics of any kind of campaign – whether it’s marketing or building a website, or establishing a social media network, or, indeed writing communications collateral.

It really is just too easy to blast off without thinking it through first – and this blog summarises neatly the steps you should take before even putting pen to paper. Good advice – thanks gracesurya

gracetalk!

Image1. Have clear objectives

While this first concept may seem like common sense, there are plenty of examples out there to say otherwise. Before you begin writing your collateral, decide on your objectives What is it you want to convey to your reader. Do you want them to call you and place an order? Are you trying to inform them about a new product and service? What is the purpose for you writing the copy? You need to have these questions answered before you begin writing. If you are not clear about your objective, then how can you expect your customer or potential customer to understand what it is you want them to do.

2. Create copy that readers can scan first

Your marketing collateral is fighting for the readers attention just like the other guys marketing collateral. Be it printed direct mail pieces or your website, you need to…

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Multi-channel marketing … in schools

I was fortunate enough to enjoy reading and literature from a very young age, and, as a child, my father introduced me to Isaac Asimov. I promptly inhaled all his fiction, and, in particular, I remember reading a short story which has always stuck in my mind, called “The Fun They Had”. In that story, two children are reading with wistful enjoyment (and utter disbelief that any human could possibly know enough to be able to teach) about something called “school”, where children learnt and played together.

In Asimov’s future, every child has a mechanical “teacher” in their own home – programmed to the child’s own ability, which teaches and assesses its pupil on all subjects. The story was written in the 1950s and some 60 years later, Asimov’s vision of the future of teaching seems to be moving ever closer – and it’s certainly not taking hundreds of years.

Today we have extensive online education tools through all stages of education – from primary school vles (virtual learning environments) such as Espresso and Education City to all the way up to the scale to university and beyond. We have Fronter from Pearson – now widely adopted in London … there’s Noodle … Moodle … online revision tools … CEM (introduced into universities as early as the 1990s and since adjusted for use earlier in the educational process) … Open University has invested heavily in digital tools … support apprentice programmes like Blackboard; and many adult e-learning courses both for businesses and individuals.

However, there are still schools and universities, many of which are embracing technology in ways that other business sectors may find enviable.

Multiple marketing channels in education

Modern technology not only allows the provision of e-education, it also enables schools, colleges and universities to promote themselves, their brand, their goals, their community and their achievements to meet their own business goals and fulfil their ambitions.

Schools have unique challenges, which they address through the combined use of digital and traditional channels. State and private schools have subtly different goals, but today schools from both sectors are embracing technology to support their core priorities:

  • improved levels of achievement for their pupils (and better rankings in league tables)
  • a strong desire (particularly in the private sector) to raise awareness and persuade potential parents to choose that particular school for their children – just the same as any other business, but servicing a very specific market sector

The differences in technological philosophy between private schools (who have to find their pupils) and state schools (where pupils are admitted based on geographic location) are interesting. In general terms, state schools have been driving e-learning based on the curriculum; while private schools have been embracing technology to drive marketing.

But those differences are gradually becoming blurred, particularly with the advent of Academies and Free Schools. Schools use a variety of marketing channels to promote themselves and their community – from websites, SEO, print, direct mail, email, social media, e-learning, mobile technology, and TV and radio.

A strong emphasis on websites

Websites are essentially an interactive prospectus for schools, and provide a channel for self-promotion, dissemination of rules and policies and, importantly, to:

  • Engage parents – through inclusion of information, fixtures, exam statistics, OFSTED reports, news, pupils’ work and homework, blogs, school reports
  • Engage pupils – provide the facility for pupils to engage with each other and their teachers through private areas of the website, offer e-learning including “games”; internal debates; encourage contribution to school news reports and blogs
  • Engage the local community – publicise and involve the local community in school events, support local events, and form links with local industries
  • Raise money – publicise fundraising events; school charities; alumni engagement
  • Sell merchandise online – uniforms, equipment, sportswear – even souvenirs –directly from the website

There are some fantastic websites both from private and, more recently, state schools, who are now starting to see and reap the benefits of a good website as they begin to identify themselves as a business.

Social Media, digital and traditional PR

Use of digital PR is increasing in schools, combined with traditional PR through press and media, in a cohesive and integrated strategy to keep branding awareness, engagement and enjoyment of the school firmly in the public eye. A great OFSTED report should be shouted from the rooftops – as well as within a schools reception area; a visit from a famous author or celebrity makes an involving story; excellent exam results; a particular pupil or group of pupil’s remarkable achievement; school charity fundraising; particular sporting success; availability of school facilities to the community – all these provide opportunities to communicate and publicise the school both locally and farther afield.

But social media in schools has obvious challenges, and often has its own section in a communications / ICT policy. A problem with bullying or inappropriate posting is very serious. So it can be a tricky balance for a school to use Facebook or Twitter to promote themselves while adopting a proscriptive approach about whether or how their pupils may use them.

However, blogs, e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest can be an effective part of a school’s overall multi-channel strategy, and can set an example to involve pupils in how to use social media wisely and understand their benefits.

A good example is set by Kelly College, who uses Facebook to promote the school, disseminate information, generate interest, good press and involvement for parents, staff, pupils, and the local and wider community – working almost as a microsite of the school website.

Of course the traditional PR channels are also used – press, community magazines, a printed prospectus with stunning photography, broadcast media, posters and print. Broadcast has an added advantage of the ability to load videos onto the website and Facebook and You Tube … to enhance involvement and drive improved Google rankings.

Keeping up with Technology

It’s noteworthy that much of the technological innovation in education comes from the children first – they know and use the new technology; they have an instinctive understanding of social media, the internet, tablets, smartphones and the internet – all of which are a fundamental, living and breathing part of their lives. There are “rate your teacher” or “rate your food” sites; children already use social media to keep in touch with their friends … and to achieve objectives – whether it’s a Twitter campaign to prevent the appointment of a new head teacher, or a fund-raising exercise from a blog about school meals. So how much of a school’s social marketing activity could – and should – be developed and produced with pupil involvement ‘in-school’?

The increasing availability of notebooks and ipads is also impacting schools – it’s not that long ago that having an ICT suite was considered very forward thinking. Now schools are developing and implementing strategies for a time when all pupils have notebooks or ipads – in which case ICT will become a thing of the past!

My thanks to Jessica Avery and Peter Provins for sparing the time to talk to me.

by Victoria Tuffill, August 2012

© Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates, August 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Victoria Tuffill and Tuffill Verner Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.