Go online to boost your business, says Kathleen Quirke…
Digital and mobile communication has already significantly changed how we communicate and engage with our families in recent years. The initial lockdown period and more recent easing of restrictions has simply pushed us forward along the digital path even more quickly.
Today, marketing is much less about obvious promotion of your service. It is more about creating authentic connections with potential new customers and working to retain the loyalty of your current families.
There are so many advantages to using these digital technologies, even after the current situation eases. If you are unsure of the best way to start embracing digital marketing, here are just a few ideas to help you gradually move your business and promotion online.
Not being able to physically connect has not stopped us continuing with friendships or relationships. We can still see and connect with each other or share or show things visually using technologies like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
It is easy to arrange a virtual tour to parents interested in placing their child at your setting. Simply set up a meeting via a secure app such as Zoom and invite parents to join and experience your virtual show-around.
Do try to make the empty space as inviting as possible by asking children who are attending or planning to return to create or send in some nice pictures to freshen up the reception area.
It is important to plan an informal ‘script’ to predict parent questions. You should explain how you are managing the current restrictions including what you would do if someone in the setting is experiencing symptoms or has been tested positive for the virus.
Parents are likely to look for reassurance, so it is important to explain the specific processes you have in place to ensure your space remains safe and secure, such as regular cleaning throughout the day and limiting access for adults.
It will play an important role in reassuring parents (virtually) that your setting or home space is safe and secure.
In the early years sector, personal recommendations and positive reviews from parents using your service are a hugely important factor in attracting new enquiries. Evidence also supports the view that parents are most likely to find out about a childcare service through personal recommendations.
Over the past few months, there have been few physical opportunities for parents to catch-up and share their experiences of childcare, however online forums and social media continue to be popular ways to do this.
Digital childcare search engines such as Daynurseries.co.uk and Childcare.co.uk are vital platforms for helping parents to find you and to review your service.
Registering your early years business on these sites should be integral to your digital marketing plan. The more reviews you receive, the higher your setting is registered in the search. This means that you can easily be found by parents who may not be aware of your service yet.
Make sure your website also shares positive parent quotes on the home page. Often childcare search platforms will enable you to install a widget on your website that displays your review rating from their site on your home page too.
Social media, particularly Facebook, is a popular way for parents to keep in touch – and this is even more true now. If you do not already have a Facebook page to promote your service, you should consider setting one up.
Facebook offers an easy way to create an online presence which encourages families to engage with you in a more informal way. It will give natural, relaxed insight into what makes your service special.
For example, you can share pictures showing what children enjoy doing at your setting, how happy your team is, what kind of learning through play activities are available and you can showcase your lovely outdoor area.
In response parents can quickly post reviews, share posts with their friends or just simply ‘like’ your page.
Do use Facebook to bring existing parents together, to create a supportive online community or forum and to encourage interaction via comments, ‘likes’ and ‘shares. This helps to raise your profile and reach potential new families in your local area.
It is important to post useful and interesting information rather than relying on obvious promotional plugs. Use different formats to communicate such as nice images, video and infographics. Short videos work particularly well online.
You should always add links to your posts to drive traffic to your main website. Source relevant news and views from recognised and well-respected early years experts. Encourage interaction by asking for reactions or comments to your posts.
Facebook also gives parents an easy way to get in touch with you. You should encourage parents to feedback positively about your service by leaving reviews on your page, and make sure you keep track of messages from parents both old and new.
To make it work well, monitor every day, respond quickly to comments, choose interesting things to share and post regularly – three times a week ideally.
You should ensure that you have a clear Facebook policy in place with secure login and password process limited to few trusted individuals covering issues such as who will have access to the account and what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of content.
Every marketing strategy should include success measurements against each marketing activity chosen. This helps you to accurately review how well the marketing activity is going and where further improvements could be made. Digital marketing is incredibly effective in tracking engagement and interactions.
Facebook and website analytics can provide you with considerable insight into what your customers are interested in, what they like and dislike, where they go after reading something online.
Make sure you make it as easy as possible for them to contact you or ‘take action’ by using ‘call to action’ buttons such as ‘Get in touch’ or ‘Register now’.
Your review should not happen at the end of the marketing strategy. It would be too late to refine and keep your plan on track.
Put simply, agree success measurements against each activity at the beginning and monitor constantly. This gives time to tweak and improve at key stages which minimises overall risk of failure.
Further details on the various elements of the ‘sustainability jigsaw’, from effective leadership and financial management to marketing and developing high-quality provision, can be found in Operating a Viable Early Years Provision (Early Years Alliance, 2019). Social Media Marketing for early years settings and Marketing your early years setting online CPD-recognised EduCare bundle is available free to members. Special offer for non-members, only £13.50.
Follow the ‘7 Ps’ and make sure all your digital communication including your website, social media and childcare search engine entries describe what you do as effectively as possible.
Kathleen Quirke is Marketing and Communications Manager at the Early Years Alliance.