Margaret Adams MA FCIPD, former college manager and staff development officer in FE

The question is worth considering. These days people use the term “social media” to mean lots of different things. They also use the term differently to how it was used fifteen, or even five, years ago. Some FE organisations value their social media presence. Others are less interested. Here are some issues to consider.

What Has Changed?

In the early days of social media, say in 2003, there were fewer people online, fewer blogs and fewer online platforms. Thus, if things were posted, they were more likely to be found, commented on and shared. It was relatively easy to become well-known by putting updates online regularly, replying when questions were asked and sharing “good” articles.

People, FE included, were keen to get contacts, friends and followers on the various platforms they used. FE users and others were often able to build lots of interest in themselves and their organisations just be posting regularly.

There is more of everything to do with social media in 2020, more platforms, more users and so on. For example, Twitter, a micro-blogging site, came into existence in March 2006 at which time the platform was seen as just a novelty. Now there are 330 million monthly Twitter users. If you think about Twitter you will soon note that it is now a source of news, customer service statements and lots more.

Two things are worth knowing about developments. First, Facebook is still the market leader in the social media world, with YouTube in second position. The second point is that people are more likely to be users of social media if they are under thirty. “Baby boomers” (people born between 1945 and 1960) make less use of social media than does any other group.

There is more to be said. Will people notice what you have to say on social media in prose, via images and infographics and via video content? The answer is that it is more difficult to be noticed on any social media platform in 2020 than it was ten or fifteen years ago.

Example:

One FE organisation asked why there were fewer people interested in their work and why their social media accounts seemed to be languishing. When an analytics package was installed on their website, it was revealed that there had been zero interest in what was posted online. No one had visited their site. Statistics from social media platforms said much the same thing. No wonder that this organisation was having problems with its online presence and online branding.

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Today, if you want to generate a lot of interest in what you do, you will probably need to advertise online and do so regularly. That means spending on adverts and especially on clicks on the advert. Every time someone clicks on your advert, you pay. You keep paying until you have used up the amount of money you have allocated to this task, or until you stop the advertising campaign altogether.

The days are long gone when having a social media presence was enough to help your organisation to succeed and you could manage without using your marketing budget. In fact, many organisations in FE did not allocate a budget to work on social media platforms, and some still do not.

Does Confusion Reign?

Early social media users were enthusiastic about what they did online. They were learning about something new and how to use it, which they valued. They spent hours, including much of their own time, online. Users’ accounts often covered personal and professional issues. Strategies for how best to use social media applications effectively were few and far between.

In the last ten years it has become more likely that FE organisations will have their own social media accounts. This is probably a good idea, but once something has been said about dates of terms, open evenings, enrolments, changes in staff and dates of examinations, what else will be said? Social media users want more, much more, if they are to visit a platform regularly.

Many social media comments are uninteresting. FE often complains that their social media experts want to post more but they can’t. They often have to contact senior people to obtain permission to upload statements, questions, opinions and more. As a result, FE organisations often struggle to find material to post via social media platforms.

Whoever has responsibility for social media in an FE organisation, he or she is likely to have other roles, too. Social media may just become a small part of the marketing department and a small part of the marketing responsibility. This matters.

What About Social Media Today?

The obvious answer is that things said on social media platforms can reach audiences world-wide. Information is available 24/7 and 365 days a year.

Success with social media is all about adding value to the people who read your organisation’s uploaded material. You want your organisation to be recognised and remembered in a positive way, You also want people to seek you out. You need to go out of your way to make what you upload interesting and useful. Do that, and visitors will come back again and again. They may decide to “follow” you or become “friends” or connect with particular elements of your online FE brand.

You need to ask yourself:

“Can our social media updates, be found easily by search engines? If not, there will be problems getting your messages out.

“What does our organisation hope to achieve using social media platforms?”

You must find answers that are relevant today.

Finally . . .

Ask yourself if your organisation has kept up with developments in social media. Think about how you use social media to add value to those who follow your accounts. Consider, too, if there are plans in your organisation to make good use of social media in 2020 and beyond.

Remember that FE still needs social media and there are still lots of opportunities in this field.

Margaret Adams MA FCIPD is a former lecturer and college manager. Today she spends much of her time helping professionals to use LinkedIn and other social media platforms well. Find her on LinkedIn.

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