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How To Use Social Media To Build Your Boarding Community

Vincent Paget

November 30, 2015

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 10 years, you must’ve used or heard of social media before.And you're probably already aware that social media is a fantastic way to connect and build relationships with people everywhere.And you definitely know that building a strong community - with your boarders, parents, prospective families and staff - is an important aspect for you and your schools success.So using social media to help build your boarding community is a no brainer right?Well yes…But only if you use it properly. If you aren't using social media properly, you can end up doing more harm than good.But there're so many different networks out there now, How do you know which one will be best for you to use?Should you use all of them? Just a few? Or none?What's the difference between each social network? And how should you be using them?In this post, I'll go through 5 main social networks and tell you how you can use them to build your boarding community.


1. Facebook Is For Storytelling

People already use Facebook to see what their family and friends have been doing, so why not let them also discover what your boarding house has been doing?With over 1.49 billion users, Facebook's a great place for you to connect with your parents, alumni, and your boarders. And one of the most powerful ways to connect with them is by telling stories.Everyone loves a story and I’m willing to bet that your boarding house has plenty of stories just waiting to be told.When it comes to storytelling on Facebook, you first need to understand who uses Facebook and how they're using it, so that you can give your stories the best chance of being heard by the right people.Although Facebook has long been dominated by teens, studies have shown that they're starting to spend less time on Facebook because a lot of their parents have started to use it. Most teens will still have a Facebook profile, but they'll only tend to use it to check groups they're a part of, upload photos and send private messages.[Tweet "Teens are using #Facebook less because of their parents #BoardingwareChat"]Read this post, written by a teenager about how he uses Facebook and other social media sites.Parents, on the other hand, are much more active than you may think. According to Pew Research Centre, 75% of parents on Facebook log in daily and 51% log in several times a day.Parents, particularly mothers, view Facebook as a parenting tool and a useful source of information. They're also more likely to engage with their networks through likes, posts, and comments (as opposed to simply reading or viewing the content).So when it comes to storytelling on Facebook, it's important you consider who you're telling your story to. Imagine your ideal reader (most likely your parents or alumni) and write your story as if you're speaking directly to them.Aside from addressing your ideal reader, there's also 2 other key factors you need to consider:.

  1. Keep It Short And Sweet - No one likes stories that drag on and on. Keep them short and to the point. Shorter posts get 23% more interaction..
  2. Be Visual - Before someone reads your story, you first have to grab their attention and the best way to do that is with a photo or video. Image posts get 39% more interaction from their users.

Here's an example of a few boarding schools that effectively use Facebook to tell their stories.

Your stories don’t necessarily have to be about your boarders. Stories about you and your staff are just as interesting and a great way for your community to get to know you and your team.

Videos are also a great way to tell a story. You can’t get more descriptive than a video of the experience. Check out St Margaret’s awesome game of sponge-dodge ball they had with their residential community.

Telling stories from your boarding house is a great way to help those, who are physically distant from your school, to still feel like part of the community.As you can see, by the number of likes, comments and shares, all of these stories have been well received by their audience.But some of you may find that you're not getting this kind of engagement on your posts and if that's the case, you may need to try a different approach..


.Use Facebook’s insights and analytic tools to analyze the performance of your posts. They'll let you see what kind of stories your community enjoys and what they do not. You can see when your fans are online, how often they visit your page, what kind of reach each of your posts have and you can even pay a small sum to 'boost' your posts to reach a wider audience.All this information will help you to make the right changes and tweaks to tailor your posts towards your communities best interests.


If you want to build a tighter and more personal sense of community, create a "Facebook Group".You can create a group with whoever you want, and the group can be either open, private or secret. It's a great way to build relationships with a smaller circle of people.Some schools have groups for specific micro-communities such as their parents, boarders, alumni, sports teams etc. Groups are an effective way to communicate with a targeted set of people, especially for your teenage boarders because you're engaging with them in a way that aligns with their interests on Facebook.St Marks School from Massachusetts, America, effectively uses multiple Facebook groups to create a collection of smaller communities. They have a group specifically for parents, rowing teams, alumni, students etc.


2. Twitter Is For News And Updates

Whilst Facebook is about building friendships and telling stories, Twitter is all about short bursts of news and information.Unlike Facebook, Twitter only allows you to post up to 140 characters at a time, which allows readers to easily scan through and absorb a lot of information at a glance.This makes Twitter a powerful tool you can use to frequently keep your community posted about what’s happening on campus. You can share anything from sports results to events and activities, retweet interesting articles or news and set trends and conversations with Hashtags.Hashtags are great because you can organize your information into different categories, like #sport, #activites, #openday, #study etc. This makes it easy for your readers to find content about specific topics. Hashtags are also a great way to interact with your readers because they can also contribute their own information by including the hashtag in their tweets.But too often, hashtags are misunderstood and not used properly. Some use too many hashtags, others use hashtags that aren’t relevant to their topic and some use hashtags just for the sake of using hashtags.The key to a good hashtag is to make sure that it's:

  1. Short and Memorable - You want people to be able to easily remember your hashtag. If it’s too long, it's likely that people will misspell it and resultantly, their tweets won’t contribute to your hashtag..If you have #multiplewordsinyourhashtag use #CapitalLettersAtTheBeginning of each word to make it easier to read at a glance. Hashtags aren’t case sensitive so it won’t affect the search results..
  2. Unique - Make sure that your hashtag is not too broad. A broad or general hashtag will contain a broad range of content and it'll be hard for you to keep track of. Make it unique so that people can easily distinguish what your hashtag is about..For instance, some boarding schools use #boarding in their tweets. But if you search #boarding in twitter, you'll find that it also contains tweets about snowboarding, boarding a plane, people that travel, boarding kennels etc.
  3. Relevant - Make sure the hashtags you use are relevant to what you're talking about. Don’t try to include as many hashtags as possible just to make your tweet more searchable..#Too #many #hashtags #will #make #your #tweet #hard #to #read..Use around 2 hashtags per post and focus on clarity rather than trying to get people to find your information through many different hashtags..On another note, try not to post tweets with no hashtags. Without hashtags, your tweet is nearly impossible to find, so always try to include at least 1.

Once you've made a hashtag that's Memorable, Unique, and Relevant, make sure you're consistent in using them. Don’t change your tags constantly, instead just have a few you can consistently add information to. This'll make your tags much more valuable for your readers when they search them.[Tweet "The perfect Hashtag is Memorable, Unique, and Relevant #BoardingwareChat"]Rothesay Netherwood School, a Canadian Boarding School, uses #NetherwoodHouse as a way to categorize any news and information specific to their boarding house.

They also use #RNSlearns as a tag for people to discuss learning for both teachers and students. Here they have effectively used their school's initials, “RNS” to make their tag unique, and followed it with a topic, “learns” to make it relevant. As a whole, the tweet is short and memorable. This technique is simple and effective and they have also used it with many of their other tweets - #RNSdisruptED, #RNSreads, #RNSzombieday.

For more tips on how you can engage your parents on twitter, visit Simon Noakes Interactive Schools Blog


3. Instagram Is For A Visual Experience

A picture is worth a thousand words, and Instagram is full of them.Instagram is quickly becoming a popular app among teens, even more so among girls, and its focus on photos and videos makes it a great way for you to connect with your boarding community in a visual way.Powerfully connect with your boarding community by showing them how much fun you guys are having. Consistently upload photos to build a collection of images that'll portray your boarding experience, like a virtual tour. This'll make your profile a valuable visual source of information for both your parents and your prospective families.If there's one thing you must know about Instagram, it's the quality of its content. Instagram is full of high-quality images, and that's what has made it so popular.So make sure the images you post on Instagram are also of a high standard so you can appeal to your audience, otherwise people will just scroll right past your content.A school we work closely with, The Hockaday School, has some awesome photos on their Instagram account that documents their boarding experience.

hockaday instagram

.What about Hashtags on Instagram?Hashtags on Instagram are not as important as they are on twitter because the focus is on the imagery. This means that there's more freedom when you use hashtags in the caption. Don’t be afraid to include as many as necessary to make your content more discoverable for others. Just don’t go overboard, I'd recommend not to use more than 10.Instagram's also a place to get creative. St Marks School has made a collection of photos from around their campus that includes a plush toy of their school mascot along with the tag, #HenryLion so you can easily search for them. This is a fun and quirky way to use Instagram that I think it's very successful.

st marks instagram

4. Snapchat Is For Fun

Now you see it, now you don’t.Like magic, Snapchat is basically a fun way for you to send photos or videos to your friends that'll disappear within a matter of seconds. It's a fun way to share small, random moments with a close group of friends.However, most schools tend to steer clear of Snapchat because of the way some young people use it to share inappropriate content. But the fact of the matter is, Snapchat could also be an opportunity to connect with your boarders and their parents (if they have Snapchat) on a more personal level, especially because it's one of the fastest growing social media apps among teens.What makes Snapchat feel so personal is the fact you don’t need to send the perfect photo or video because it's going to disappear in a matter of seconds anyway (most of the time). Unlike Instagram where the photos are of very high quality, the media sent through Snapchat feels more real.[Tweet "#Snapchat is used for more than just #sexting"]A post from Simon Noakes' blog, "Why are schools scared of Snapchat?", challenges you to use Snapchat at your school. He suggests that you can use it to make “stories" that give insight into what life at boarding school is really like.These stories could also be used as a good way to get your boarders excited about activities happening across campus. It can build hype and anticipation around certain events - a Snapchat of what's for dinner, or a game of dodgeball, or a trip to the movies - and can create a sense of excitement and happiness across campus.

periscope meerkat

5. Periscope or Meerkat Is For Live-Streaming

Both of these social networks are still quite new to the scene and are not as popular as the other  platforms we've looked at, but they're definitely ones you should keep an eye on.Basically, they're social apps that allow you to easily broadcast live-streamed videos from your tablet or phone to anyone around the world.Some schools already have youtube channels they use to upload videos about their school for others to see. Youtube also offers live-stream capabilities, but apps like meerkat and periscope have a social aspect to them that allow people to communicate and interact with their streams.

Meerkat Stream

Simon Noakes believes live-streaming is a must have for schools because it's the closest a parent can get to being at the school. In his post, "Why you MUST use live-streaming at your school", he suggests that you can use Periscope or Meerkat to stream school assemblies, classes, tutorials, science experiments and even virtual tours of your school.The opportunities are endless, you could even stream sports matches, for parents that live far away.[Tweet "#LiveStreaming your #BoardingSchool is the future"]Live-Streaming gives members of your boarding community a realistic insight into what your boarders are doing in real time. It allows parents to connect with their children’s education, whilst maintaining their distance and the independence of Boarding Schools.Live streaming is the next step in social media and it’s something you should definitely keep an eye on.

So Which One Should You Use?

Now that you have a better understanding about how to use these social media platforms, you can begin to evaluate what networks will be best for you and your boarding community.I would strongly suggest not trying to use all of them because you don't want to spread yourselves too thin. Instead, it'll be better to just pick a few that you think will work best with your boarding environment.If your boarding house does a lot of activities that are best shared through images, use Instagram or Facebook. If your school has a lot of events that your parents need to be frequently updated about, use Twitter. If you want to connect with your boarders on a more personal level, use Snapchat or Facebook groups.The choice is yours, just keep in mind that building your community online won’t happen overnight. So whatever social network you choose, make sure that you're capable of producing enough content to keep them interesting.Consistency is key. If you struggle to consistently provide content for your community to consume, your social media channels can be left to become a ghost town and can end up doing more harm than good.On a side note:There are also many other platforms out there, such as Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr, Google+, Yik Yak etc. So many that I couldn’t possibly cover all of them in one post. Some of those may be more relevant for your school than the ones which I have covered here. If that’s the case, It may be a good idea for you to consider those options, just make sure you do your homework first.

Does Your School Already Use Social Media?

If your school already uses social media, I’d love to hear your experiences and thoughts on how you use it for your school.Let us know what networks you use in the comments below, or Tweet us @Boardingware with #BoardingwareChat[marketo-fat form="1107"]

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Vincent Paget

I'm a kiwi living in London and who has been part of Orah since 2015. Working in operations, my passion lies in finding efficiencies and scalabilities in all areas of the business. Beyond the office, I'm all about outdoor adventures like football and fishing, along with music, travel, and quality time with friends and family, especially my dog.

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