Dear School Social Media Clients, Followers, and Managers:
Despite what you may have heard, the Facebook world is NOT coming to an end. Still, with a term like “Facebook Apocalypse” being thrown around, we felt it best to spend a little time chatting with you about what Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement concerning the changes Facebook will be making to their algorithm means for you. Does it mean the end of Facebook’s usefulness when it comes to school communication and public relations? No. Does it mean school social media managers will have to change some of their strategies when it comes to post content and interacting with their communities on Facebook? You betcha.
If you’re already a School Webmasters social media management client, we’ve got you covered! (Aren’t you glad you don’t have to keep up with all the constant changes in social media yourself?) We’re reaching out to management clients to touch bases on the ways you can help us keep your pages running as smoothly as ever, but we’ll be doing the heavy lifting for you when it comes to implementing changes to post content. If you’re a district/school administrator or staff member who manages your own school Facebook page, you might want to take a few notes. Your school page can still succeed at reaching your learning community where they are; you’ll probably just have to make a few changes to your Facebook strategy.
First, if you haven’t heard anything about this yet, please take a moment to pop on over to Mr. Zuckerberg’s FB page to read his announcement from January 11, 2018. After a little background information about what matters most to the Facebook creator (“to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us”), he says he’s responding to feedback that “public content—posts from businesses, brands and media—is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” Now, while we know you don’t normally lump your school in with businesses, brands, and media—Facebook does, because using the “pages” option (just like businesses do) is the best way for you to tell your school’s stories on their platform. Not personal pages. Not groups. Pages.
If you’d like to read up more on the business world’s take on the announcement, please check out these resources. While these videos and articles approach the change to the Facebook algorithm from a marketing perspective, many of the points they make about the ways using Facebook pages will have to change are just as easily applied to schools.
- Social Media Examiner video: This explains the “open letter” from Mark Zuckerberg. It’s a little on the alarmist side for my taste, but they do a pretty good job of going through the letter bit by bit to explain it.
- Recode article: Talks a little about the reasoning behind FB’s decision to move in a different direction with the way they rank content.
- Mark Schaefer: Takes a “this is not as big of a deal as everyone is making out to be” approach that, frankly, I appreciate.
Basically, Facebook has been under some fire over the past year or so about the way their algorithm may be a contributing factor to the spread of fake news and people’s general discontent with the social media experience. I think it’s safe to say that the microscope they’ve found themselves under as a result of their approach to ranking news feed content is a big motivator for this change. They’ve also seen a bit of an exodus from Facebook to other platforms because people are tired of having to scroll through a ton of ads and business posts to get to posts by their friends and family—the reason they joined FB in the first place. From a personal perspective, I say, “Yay!” From a social-media-for-schools perspective, I say, “Don’t panic.”
Posts from pages will likely fall lower on people’s news feeds as this takes effect. Not to worry, though! The secret to your school’s Facebook page success will continue be what it has always been: to post engaging content and train your audience to interact with your school’s page in a way that creates an active, positive online community. School social media managers can follow our lead and take the following, proactive steps to make sure your page followers are still seeing school posts:
Teach Your Followers to “See First”
This is probably the best work-around when it comes to dealing with the new algorithm governing your page’s ranking on your followers’ news feeds. It’s almost like bookmarking your school page, as it puts each new post at the top of the news feed. Since the big announcement, Ridgefield Public Schools posted an invitation to their followers to use this feature along with a screenshot that shows them what do.
We also created a quick how-to video on our own Facebook page, which you’re welcome to share on your school page! Whichever method you choose, make teaching your audience to see your page first your first step in adjusting for this change. And do it today.
Focus on Engagement
This new algorithm will most negatively impact pages that get little to no engagement. This means that we need to be focusing on audience-centered content more than ever, which means more school-specific content that you think, based on experience, will generate likes, comments, and shares. Facebook says that they’re making this change to increase the number of conversations people have with each other, so content that gets your audience talking to one another in the Comments section will get preference over, for instance, a generic reminder about tomorrow’s bake sale. One of the signals Facebook will be looking for to determine where to place your page’s posts will be page engagement. And really, isn’t this what we’ve been telling school social media managers to shoot for all along? Social media is supposed to be, well, social! For schools, your most engaging content is going to include:
- School videos, especially live video. Facebook always favors video, so pre-recorded video is still fine, but going live with Facebook Live will get your post ranked even higher.
- Create events for upcoming events vs. just posting reminders.
- Post school photos—parents LOVE them, and posts with images will always get more attention than those without.
- When you don’t have any specific school content to share, stick with some tried and true FB content—the kind of content we know people are likely to engage with on Facebook—and apply it to your school community. In 2017, Buzzsumo listed the following as some of the most viral FB posts:
- Practical tips/hacks: from studying tips to suggestions for which of the latest box office hits are good for the whole family, many parents appreciate practical advice from their child’s school.
- Awesome, inspiring content: #MotivationMonday posts, especially ones that use your own school students and staff to inspire, can be a big hit with school communities.
- Food & recipes: for schools, things like healthy breakfasts and easy school lunches are safe bets.
- Cute animals: maybe something related to your school mascot?
- Music videos: take some video at your next school band concert and share away!
Remember, aside from hearing about all the great stories and important announcements your school has to share, your followers are on Facebook to have a little fun, so indulge them a little!
Change Some of Your Posting Habits
If you’ve been managing your school Facebook page for a while, you’ve probably gotten into a few management habits that you’ll have to switch up a bit. You might have even developed some of those habits by listening to previously good advice from social media professionals (like us!); but we’re all making adjustments, so here’s our newest advice:
- If you’ve been using a scheduling app like Hootsuite to schedule FB posts ahead of time, stop doing that now. Actually, we’ve always recommended people use the FB scheduling tool vs. a third party scheduler for FB posts, so this isn’t really news to us. We haven’t heard too much about FB’s scheduling tool with regard to this change, so we’ll probably keep using it (sparingly, and not too far in advance) until we hear otherwise.
- The number of posts your page makes per day also seems to play a factor. Believe it or not, some social media marketers were recommending posting up to 10 times per day on FB. Even some of our school social media competitors posted five times per day for their clients. I hate to say “I told you so,” but yeah—fewer, more meaningful posts will be the key here as well. Aim for one Facebook post per day, or two if you have something really spur-of-the-moment to share.
- Spend more time telling your audience what they need to know right from your post and less time directing them to external websites. It looks like the new algorithm punishes pages that use their posts to tell people to leave FB to get the information they’re looking for. You can still use your social media posts to drive traffic to your school website, blogs, and other social pages, but try to find a more creative way to direct people there over simply providing the link and directing people to follow it. Obviously, we know our goals are SO much different than the tabloid-like sites that use “clickbait” to try and trick people into clicking on their ridiculous articles, but FB won’t know the difference between our intentions and theirs. An example of typical clickbait phrasing might be something like, “Our students expected cupcakes at the bake sale, but what they got was MUCH more amazing. You’ll have to follow the link to our website to believe it!” You might think you’re just being playful, but headlines like that could make your post a target to the filters they’re using to weed other kinds of less-helpful content out of people’s news feeds.
- Finally, use Facebook’s page analytics tools to monitor what your audience responds to and what they don’t, and adjust accordingly. If you try something new that gets great engagement, add that type of post to your regular strategy. Likewise, if you notice a post gets zero engagement, skip posts like it in the future.
Basically, this change will only affect school pages negatively if we aren’t doing all of the things we already knew we needed to be doing: creating engaging, audience-centered content and communicating with our followers about the best ways for them to engage online with our schools to nourish a happy, healthy social media culture. After all, school social media is all about building community, and that’s what this change to Facebook’s algorithm is supposed to be about. Make your posts reflect Mark Zuckerberg’s goal of “focusing on bringing people closer together” and “make[ing] sure that Facebook is time well spent,” and your school page will be just fine.