If you are anything like me you may have struggled to embrace all the good that we can find in the use of social media both in our personal lives and more importantly, for me at least, in our business environment. I think it's an age thing to some degree, my children were part of the social media revolution where they had to embrace new ways of communicating and socialising in rapid succession if they were to have a fulfilled life with all the social contact they needed both online and offline. So for them in their early teens this was normal and fun, but for me not so, and for a while I resisted.
But now whilst I just have fun with friends on Facebook and Twitter, it has become critical in my professional life and my business would not be as successful without it, so how about the use of social media for the Early Years sector?
We find in our work with childcare providers that the views on social media are often polarised, ranging from those who totally embrace it to those who are strongly against it. When we question those who don't use social media the main reasons given are either, "It's unsafe" or "we don't need social media to fill our places" or "our parents don't want it". In reality it doesn't matter what personal view you take because your target market, (i.e. young parents), ultimately dictate how they look for childcare, how they evaluate a childcare provider and their communication preferences so if you don't meet their criteria there are likely to be consequences for your business.
1. Why Bother?
For those who are not using social media for promotional purposes or are just using it to post general updates, why should you bother to use it as a way to ensure good occupancy, healthy waiting lists and future sustainability?.......well because....
• The vast majority of your customers use social media as a primary communication tool with friends, family and organisations
• Your customers are from a generation where it is normal to research online, FIRST, before any other method, this includes talking to friends online and getting referrals
• It is such a powerful tool, it's difficult to ignore the business benefits....(Don't believe this, just Google the statistics on Facebook usage daily and be amazed!)
• Social media is here to stay!
2. Concerned about Safety and Safeguarding?
It's all about CONTROL!
Everything we do in life has some form of risk attached, but by defining risks we can eliminate the negative effects, so don't fear the use of social media just control it! It is our duty to protect children, families, our staff and our businesses so if you want to use social media for promotional purposes, set clear rules, policies and procedures in a Social Media Policy. This will allow you to control how social media is used in your setting and ensure posts are controlled, images or videos comply with your rules and parental permissions fully honoured.
Making a list of what can or cannot be posted online can feed into your social media policy and help you control and edit content in your posts, identify what can be posted, shared or liked and outline image guidelines like whether the child can be identifiable from the image or not, (to concur with parental permissions). Your social media policy can also dictate levels of information to be shared, who has editorial responsibility and set guidelines for staff around their use of social media, separating workplace posts from personal posts. All of these guidelines sit naturally alongside your safeguarding policy and procedures.
3. What are your ultimate aims?
Social media can be an absolute "time stealer" so be sure to control it by defining; why you are using it, when you use it and what outcomes you want from it. There are lots of reasons as to why being on social media will benefit your setting but the main ones are:
• To promote your setting and ensure you are always filling your empty places
• To share great things your childcare setting does
• To build and engage with your current and future customers and your business community
Posting wonderful things about what your setting does in terms of activities, days out, successes and developments keeps people interested and engaged with your organisation and is the main aim of your social media presence. However, social media allows you to go further and involve parents, families and the local community in your social media activity, bringing everyone together and this in itself will help you promote your setting through their enthusiasm and involvement.
Q. Want to increase your enrolments and be more sustainable?
A. Use social media more proactively, it works!
CBIS has a "hands on" social media support programme to help childcare providers make the most of their social media and increase enrolments. If you would like to take advantage of this support, or develop your own social media policy email us on firstname.lastname@example.org ..