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Education marketing and social networking: is it worth it?

No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about social networking lately. And you’ve probably admitted to yourself by now that it’s more than just a passing fad. Your kid has a Facebook account and a Twitter feed — probably so do you — and you’re noticing that every up-and-coming firm is getting in on the action. But can it work for education marketing ?

We’ve already covered the basics of using Twitter as an education marketing tool . But there’s another elephant in the room when it comes to the intersection social networking and education marketing: Facebook.

In the past, Facebook was considered the slightly-less-popular cousin of MySpace, one of the first social tools to make it big on the Web. But MySpace’s most popular feature — the ability for users to personalize their pages — became its downfall, and soon the Web was littered with chintzy-looking MySpace pages, which looked even more terrible when compared to Facebook’s clean design aesthetic. Today, MySpace is used primarily by filmmakers and musicians, so it’s found its niche on the Web. But it’s hardly a tool for education marketing professionals.

But Facebook is a fairly valuable resource. There was a time when teachers wouldn’t be caught dead on Facebook, since their students frequent the site as well, and could potentially glean useful scads of information about their instructors’ personal lives. But things have changed; because it’s such a panopticon, most folks keep their Facebook pages relatively free of incriminating photos or status updates.

For education marketing purposes, there are two big ways to use Facebook: Create a page, or create ads. Or you can do both.

Creating a page is a great way to keep in touch with regular clients, and get the word out to potential new ones. Think about it: Teachers and professors become “Facebook friends” with other teachers and professors. So if you’re friends with five former clients, and each of those clients has 10 friends who are teachers, that’s 50 potential new clients who are exposed to your page. You can use the Facebook “status update” feature to announce new product launches, talk about classroom success stories involving your products and services, or link out to other stories that mention your products by name.

Of course, you should be careful not to get too cute with your Facebook persona. Avoid commenting on friends’ status updates or other posted items. Doing so may come off as weirdly aggressive or cheap, since you’re technically a company and not someone’s actual, real-life friend. It may earn you some lost friends. Remember: Having a Facebook page is a soft-sell technique. But if you’re looking for a more hard-sell education marketing technique…

Creating Facebook ads is a great way to get in touch with people all over Facebook — whether they’re your friends or not. Facebook has roughly 200,000,000 users — many of whom are the teachers, professors or even students you’re trying to reach. And while it’s useless to try to become friends with that many users, you can easily reach them with Facebook ads — and you won’t even have to do any market research.

You can target Facebook ads using a wide variety of relevant criteria, including location, education level, specific languages, profession, and any keywords you happen to choose. Thus, if someone mentions in his Facebook profile that he’s a teacher, your ad will show on his page. Google can target specific Internet searches, but it generally doesn’t target people based on their interests. Facebook does that.

To make a Facebook ad, you’ll need three things: A link (in most cases, your company website), a photo (relevant and tasteful), and a short swatch of ad copy to pitch your products. But beware: Users have the ability to rate ads based on whether they’re offensive, misleading or irrelevant to their lives. Facebook will take care of the relevance issue, but you’re in charge of how honest and tasteful your ad is.

So explore your options. This is hardly an exhaustive list of the ways you can use social networking technology for education marketing purposes. So keep your eyes open… and never stop considering the possibilities!

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