One of the most common things people say when I ask them to post something on social media on behalf of a company is: “I don’t have anything to say.” My simple reply is: “I don’t believe you.” A more dramatic reply is: “How could you live and have no story to say?”
What Dostoevsky, whose words I borrowed above, was trying to say is that humans can always tell a story. So, why do people struggle so much with storytelling on social media? A strong reason is how public the networks are, and how some people are so good at storytelling, others don’t want to be compared to them. This is a struggle most companies face, but particularly those who need their people to be at the forefront of their social media activities, like educational institutions.
The education sector has a long history of being very serious. The problem is today’s students are less concerned about your list of awards and more interested in the experiences you can offer outside the classroom.
Universities have started to notice this. Other parts of education, not so much. The reason behind this is that most social media influencers have gone through university in the past decade. It’s easy for them to speak on their universities’ behalf. But what about the characters who aren’t so social media savvy? How do educational organisations get them to tell their stories on social media?
Meeting your main characters
I think all your characters have a place on social media: from teachers to students to your admin teams. However, allowing all these people to have a voice on one social media platform can be chaotic. A good trick is to divide and conquer. Put all your characters into different categories – e.g. teachers, students, researchers – and figure out what network fits whom best. For universities, the most popular ones would be Twitter (people who are part of your management or leadership, as well as researchers), Instagram and Facebook (students all the way).
It’s vital not to forget your international students, who might be on platforms like VK in Russia, WeChat and Weibo in China or Naver in South Korea.
The key to discovering which platform to use for your international students is doing some good old market or persona research.
Next, you need to put together a plan about what they’ll say and how they’ll say it.
3 tips to empower your main characters to tell the story for you
The first thing you need to do before you even begin talking to your characters is map it all out. Include this kind of content in your editorial calendar, and allow yourself plenty of time to organise everything. This might mean you have to start as far as six months before you go live with your first post. Do you think that’s excessive? Let me tell you an insider’s secret: no successful social media campaign was ever rushed. Never. Ever.
So, what exactly do you need to do?
1. Show a day in the life of a student/teacher/employee
Some of the most interesting social media content is the kind that shows what it’s like to be someone for a day. This has the potential of being evergreen content, and you could even attach it to course information or job vacancies. It needs to be rather short though, even if it’s promising a day in someone’s life. You can’t actually post an eight-hour-long video – you’re not trying to pitch a reality TV show idea here – so go for five minutes maximum.
International students and their parents will appreciate this kind of content the most. Studying abroad comes with a lot of unknowns, so the more content they can get about what it’s going to be like, the better.
2. Get your staff and students to comment on news
An easy way to get your characters to talk is to ask their opinion on a certain topic.
Some of your students might not be as eloquent as your staff, but their opinion also matters – they are tomorrow’s experts, after all. Consider creating content like vox populi interviews where you ask different students what they think about the same topic.
Keep an eye on international news as well and offer your international staff and students the chance to explain to their colleagues and classmates what’s going on with a certain event in a particular country.
3. Let students and staff help each other
Being a student can be harrowing. Studying can be exhausting and assignments can make no sense. How about being brave and admitting this is a truth, then empower some of your students to create content helping other students overcome the tough times?
Your international students will be a gold mine for this. There is a lot to take on when moving to a new country: from small things like different plugs and pedestrian crossings, to big things like food and social behaviour.
You can also use social media as a channel where your students could reach out if they need help. WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger could be great tools for this, but bear in mind WeChat, KakaoTalk, Telegram and Line could also be platforms you need to be on if you have a lot of Chinese, Korean, Russian or Japanese students.
To sum it all up, the trick behind getting your people to talk about you on social media is knocking on a lot of doors, allowing yourself enough time to do it, and letting your characters find their own stories rather than imposing your official narrative on them. I know it seems like a lot, but I have faith you’ve got this. Good luck!
I hope this blog post has given you a useful introduction to how to approach storytelling on social media in the education sector. For more in-depth information, read my free, full-length guide here. The guide covers the following ten tips:
- find your main characters
- let them tell you their stories
- be proud of their successes
- show a day in the life of a student/teacher/employee
- get your staff and students to comment on news
- let students and staff help each other
- ask your characters what content they need
- make sure you have a mix of fun and useful content
- build a long-term relationship
- make sure your characters fit the strategy
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