John Wilford, Managing Director, Rave Communications

Advocacy is speaking up for, or acting on behalf of, yourself, a company or a brand. In a college context, advocacy is when your existing students become your best sales people.

People trust friends and family way more than advertising. A Neilsen survey in 2010 found that only 61% of the population believe TV advertising, 69% trust editorial content in newspaper but 90% trust the recommendations of friends, family and peers.

So how can we encourage existing learners to promote your college more extensively?

Colleges leverage advocacy through case studies in prospectuses and press releases, but few have truly embraced social media as a tool for promoting advocacy. Social media is word of mouth on steroids.

Advocacy will happen organically, but it is much better to have a strategy and plan for encouraging advocacy. Any strategy should have clear purpose with well defined objectives.

A fair objective would be to recruit at least 50% of the current cohort of learners as Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

A good plan will identify ambassadors from each department / faculty and put these ambassadors in a competition with each other to generate the most social media activity, with the most active winning a prize.

For an ambassador advocacy programme to be successful, it will require the buy in of department heads and teaching staff.

Ambassadors can be attracted using a variety of mechanics, including posters, leaflets, moodle, existing Facebook fans and Twitter followers and direct recruitment by teaching staff.

Ambassadors should be selected based upon their familiarity with social media and their affinity with the college. Once selected, ambassadors should be trained on the type of content that should be released.

A set of ground rules for ambassadors would be useful. Clear performance expectations should also be set out (i.e. 5 posts per week, 4 video uploads per term).

Selecting the right social media platform for the campaign is essential. The ‘power three’ are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with location based platforms like Foursquare are gaining popularity.

YouTube is hugely popular with youth audiences. In fact, YouTube is the second biggest search engine on the planet after Google. Getting students to produce video content and uploading to YouTube will help to spread the word.

Colleges may consider introducing a viral film competition designed to encourage success stories. Entries should be uploads to a private YouTube channel, with the best 2 or 3 being uploaded to the college’s public YouTube site.

The winning viral will be the one that gets the most views. This mechanic will result in teams competing to get maximum exposure.

Often college leaders are afraid of social media, due to the lack of control of this medium. This fear to some extent is well founded. Social media by its very nature is unregulated, free and open.

But these negative comments will happen anyway, and simply ignoring the medium will not make adverse comments go away. Colleges must embrace social media, respond to negative comments quickly and politely, but more importantly colleges should create a presence on social media with positive, good news stories.

Rave uses a number of sophisticated control and measurement tools to monitor activity effectively and to protect clients from misuse.

Advocacy through social media is an important tool in attracting new students. An advocacy programme needs to be owned and managed, but the results can be spectacular.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view a business graduate, an MBA, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors.

He is managing director of one of the UK's leading education marketing agencies. He is also a co-founder of the Campaign for Enterprise, a director of the Small Business Bureau, former parliamentary candidate and a college governor. He can be contacted anytime for an informal chat on 07748 114444

Read other FE News articles by John Wilford:

A critique of government policy on the college sector, by John Wilford

The demise of the EMA: Not such a NEET idea - but what can marketing do?

Measuring advertising effectiveness

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