Social networks are an invaluable tool for marketing your setting and reaching out to the local community, says Daryl Willcox…
You could be forgiven for thinking that spending time on Facebook or Twitter during the working day would be considered dereliction of duty, but this kind of behaviour is important – possibly even essential – marketing activity for any organisation. Any setting that relies on maintaining child numbers to ensure proper funding needs to be actively engaging in marketing. In a previous article I discussed a range of activities that settings can undertake with a limited budget in order to reach a wider range of potential parents and other stakeholders. Social media marketing was touched upon briefly, but it is such a relevant and cost-effective activity for settings that it demands to be looked at in greater detail.
It’s easy to focus on the risks when thinking of social networking in a childcare setting. At Blackboys Pre-School, a parent-led rural charity pre-school in East Sussex, the prospect of indulging in social media marketing was met with resistance from staff initially. In training sessions provided by the local authority they were told in no uncertain terms to steer clear of social networking altogether, so you could not blame anyone for being cautious. But while there are associated risks, there are also benefits. Rather than ignore it altogether, the sector must learn to mitigate the risks and maximise the benefits of social media, particularly given its potential – not only can it help ‘sell’ settings to potential parents but also fulfil the requirement to communicate with other stakeholders like primary schools, local councils and other local organisations that work with children.
In order to progress with incorporating social media into Blackboy’s marketing, the first thing that had to be done was to establish a more positive approach to the subject. Knowing that concerns about child protection must always take the highest priority, it was decided to lay down some simple guidelines. A basic set of rules was established quickly so we could begin limited social media activity without delay – the central elements of this was to never identify individual children online and to only upload photographs of children from whom we have had parental consent. The latter was achieved by adding a simple line to our existing parental consent form for local press coverage.
A full social media guidelines document is now in preparation. What would make this process much easier would be a suitably positive guidelines template to be offered – perhaps by the Pre-School Learning Alliance or other such body.
Whether you come up with brief set of rules or a full guidelines document, once you have established how you will uphold child protection and you have the support of staff and trustees, the next step is to formulate a plan of action. Rule number one is to decide exactly what your objectives are and write them down for future reference. Do you want to reach potential parents? Do you want to communicate with the local community?
Is getting local business sponsorship important? It is likely to be a mixture of these, or others, but remembering your objectives as you progress will ensure a greater degree of success.
The next stage is to select some activity that you can do well and stick to that. There is no point setting up profiles on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, Quora and Instagram, and starting a blog, when you only really have the time to maintain one. Inactive profiles will hang around forever making you look bad.
At Blackboys, the first social media platform selected was Facebook. Facebook is one of the most well-established social media sites, and many parents of young children use it to stay in touch with the world, so it’s not a bad place to start. The Blackboys Facebook page is maintained primarily by the pre-school staff – unsurprisingly, the youngest member of the team showed the greatest ability, particularly with uploading pictures, and so has become the ‘Facebook jockey’. The pre- school manager and some members of the committee are also administrators for the Facebook page (the advantage of this is that if something inappropriate gets accidentally posted, or we get a negative comment, it can be dealt with quickly – timing is critical with social media!).
Before embarking on any other activity, the Blackboys Facebook page remained the focus, enabling it to become established and the team to get into the routine of updating it. A Twitter feed was then created, but only once it was decided that it made sense to do so. This feed is managed by the chair of the pre-school’s committee, the author of this article, after a bit of research showed that many local businesses and institutions were active on the site. So where Facebook is primarily used for engaging with parents, Twitter is used to engage with the wider community.
It’s still early days for Blackboys. But based on the number of followers and parents engaging with the pre-school online and the relatively small amount of time it has taken to set up and maintain the social media presence, it looks like a good use of the setting’s limited resources and is giving a welcome boost to its visibility in the local community.