The key reasons for engaging with social media remain those of any marketing activity - to build a community, listen to its views and communicate what you are doing to meet their needs. However, the market has matured, different social media have arisen and there is a lot more evidence of the specific and complementary roles different social media fulfil as well as the demographic profiles of their users.
It has also become a lot easier to integrate social media into wider marketing activity, and to work across multiple social media platforms - both as a producer and consumer of content.
Taking these in tum...
1) Changes in Social Media Platforms
After a turbulent period in the late noughties, it's perhaps not surprise that the social media market has matured and stabilised. The top social media platforms from 2 years ago are all still going strong. Facebook is still the number one by a distance, and Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn are all still popular, although Instagram is now part of Facebook. Google+ appears popular, although anecdotally very people (and schools) actively use it for social media as opposed to email. Perhaps the only real change is the rise of blog-sharing site Tumblr (owned by Yahoo!) which has significantly increased its market share.
The reason for this survival is simple - with the exception of market-leader Facebook which thrives by virtue of its size, the other channels such as Twitter and Pinterest are developing specific niches. New social media platforms that emerge are also increasingly niche-focused - for example Vimeo focuses on videos while Soundcloud focuses on sharing audio. The brashest newcomer, Snapchat, is actually a photo-sharing site with limited capability beyond this.
2) Demographic Changes
Schools need to be aware not just of which social media platforms are the most used - but who is using them. Here's a quick run down of the latest information.
Facebook remains far and away the most generally used platform across all demographic groups with over 1.3 billion users. It is slightly less popular among younger users and there has been some evidence that teenagers and students are moving away from Facebook to Instagram (which perhaps explains why Facebook bought it!) and Snapchat. Many schools successfully use the relatively closed nature of Facebook to develop communities of parents or alumni.
Twitter's focus on instant communication of short messages makes it popular among media organisations and corporations. While the number of active users is much smaller than Facebook, Twitter is the 'go-to' social media channel for corporate or celebrity announcements and 'tweets' often now lead the news agenda. It is used by significantly more men than women. Many schools use it for 'news' announcements - one advantage of is that it's easy to use Twitter to create a website or intranet news feed or to share successes from various parts of schools.
LinkedIn is developing its niche among professionals and job-hunters. A much more 'serious' site than Facebook or Twitter, it is a place to share business and professional advice. LinkedIn now has more accounts than Twitter in the USA, although users visit it less often. Schools are less likely to use Linked In than Facebook or Twitter, but some are using it to create professional alumni communities, taking the lead from many universities who do this, while others are encouraging students to set up and manage their own profiles.
Instagram (as mentioned above, now owned by Facebook) has a strong following among students and teenagers. It focuses on sharing of photographs. Some schools are using Instagram to share and source photographs of school events.
Pinterest is a popular channel for sharing what is calls 'visual bookmarks' - pictures, designs and infographics. It is the most heavily skewed by gender of any social media with around 75% of users being female, and has a very young profile. It is however much more popular in the USA than Europe, reflected in the fact that some US schools are setting up Pinterest pages.
Tumblr has a young and fast-growing audience, who share blogs, pictures and videos. It claims that its users spend more time using the platform than others. Few schools appear to be using Tumblr - perhaps something that will change in 2015 (see below).
3) Aggregation and Management
As people often have more than one social media account there is obvious interest in making it easier to share and access information across them. There are two ways in which social media is being drawn together. Content creators (such as schools) can increasingly manage multiple social media through one interface, while those who receive and use social media will aggregate see different content thorough one app or website.
Management tools such as Hootsuite or Sprout (see here for more) allow content providers to control when messages are sent via various social media platforms. More and more schools are investing in these tools (and in training to use them) as the time required to use different platforms increases.
Personal aggregators such as Sparksfly allow individuals to manage their various social media. There are also aggregators aimed at corporate users such as Stackla which allow them to track social media mentions of their brand and to share positive messages.
4) Future trends
Given the changes above, what is likely to happen in 2015? Here are four ideas - please feel free to agree, disagree or add your own ideas!
1. Social media will become more organised and integrated with other marketing. Rather than being used to communicate ad hoc messages, schools will research the best times to send content and make sure that is it being targeted most efficiently to the social media used by their different demographic groups.
2. Schools will create and manage their own social media communities. With the vast majority of parents, teachers, alumni and older students using social media, schools will move towards using social media as key way of asking questions, listing to concerns and exploring new ideas for innovation in school.
3. School websites will become much more closely integrated with social media. Many schools are already using html widgets to for example show a Twitter news feed, but there is a fantastic opportunity to use social media to showcase the dynamism and excitement of a school by sharing social media updates. Website may well move to an active, social media based front end, backed up with more static statutory information.
4. Video use will increase, given the increasing bandwidth available to consumers and the evidence that video (and pictures) significantly increase engagement with social media. Marketing Advice for Schools' Careers page is seeing a significant increase in marketing jobs that focus on developing video content for example.