When social media marketing first came on the scene several years ago I was slightly in awe of it. I’d heard all about the complex algorithms and the incredibly data-driven targeting, and attributed it with almost mystical qualities, and compared to the impenetrable complexity that was social media advertising, email marketing seemed extremely unsubtle and just a little bit outdated in comparison. How many of you also hold that perception today?
However, the more I understood social media marketing (we've a team of social media experts here at Sprint Education), the more I realised that it wasn’t quite the brave new world I had assumed it was. Certainly not when it comes to marketing to teachers anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, we offer email and social strategies to our clients and there is certainly a place for both in your marketing to schools strategy. However, there are quite severe limitations to social media marketing that some agencies have used a combination of smoke and mirrors to deflect attention from over the years.
How many times have you heard agencies that deal only in inbound and social media strategies say, “Is anyone really still buying email lists in this day and age?”. The inference is clearly that emailing a so called ‘cold’ list of teachers is outdated and something to feel dirty and even a little ashamed about.
But should you really feel guilty about outreach email marketing to teachers? Just because the concept of sending an email to a database of schools and teachers is much easier to wrap your head around than the mysterious algorithms of social media, does that mean it’s any less elegant or intelligent?
My answer to that is a categoric ‘no’.
Am I really to believe that creating an email campaign send list of ‘Heads of Maths at schools with children aged 11-13 with a requiring improvement in their maths in this county’ is inelegant when compared to the guesswork involved when trying to run a similar campaign in Twitter (‘Twitter, please show my advert to Twitter users who are similar to followers of these 10 Twitter accounts in this area’)?
With the above Twitter campaign I’ll inevitably end up targeting a very large number of people who aren’t even teachers, let alone Heads of Maths working at that very specific type of education establishment. A similar common issue with Facebook PPC marketing also, is that you end up paying to display your advert to people with a job role of "Head Teacher of Me", a term many "Facebookers" use to hide their true (non-education-based) job role.
Yet, agencies who can’t send an email to such a highly segmentable database of teachers will tell you that you shouldn’t go anywhere near such an email campaign. I wonder why.
"But email marketing just doesn’t work anymore" these agencies tell us. “It’s simply inbox clutter that teachers haven’t got time for”.
Again, as an agency that does both social media and email campaigns for clients, I can say that email will always deliver a better ROI for our clients. Even when we launched Teacher Perks to the education sector (which had an incredibly simple target audience of ‘Any teacher working at any education establishment in the country) the amount of sign-ups generated by social media was tiny compared to email.
So, why is it that social media adverts have less impact than email even when the targeting is so straightforward? Well, the answer I suspect is that adverts on social media are simply too easy to ignore; a fleeting reminder of your workaday world when your mindset is more often than not elsewhere.
And what about that other accusation you’ll have heard levelled at email marketing countless times; that it’s unethical or even in direct contravention of data protection laws?
Personally, I don’t think that advocates of a channel that openly admits to only showing your posts to around 10% of your followers in order to entice you into paid advertising have any place lecturing us about ethics. However, even putting that aside, the claim is nonsense perpetuated by agencies who have no choice but to push businesses down another avenue.
Email, just like any other channel, is only unethical if it’s done badly, or approached with a reckless attitude towards the regulations that you should be adhering to.
And here is probably the crux of the argument.
It’s hard to do email marketing to teachers right. It’s hard, it’s time-consuming and it’s expensive. From building and maintaining the database, to ensuring you have a legal basis for emailing every teacher, providing them with access to a preference centre where they can manage their marketing preferences, and building the technical infrastructure to actually deliver messages through increasingly sensitive filter systems.
It’s only really possible if you’re able to dedicate the necessary resource and financial investment to it. No wonder social media marketing is the first choice for most agencies out there.
Again I would stress that we can do both email and social at Sprint Education. And, in many ways, it would make our lives much easier if more of our clients focused on our social media strategies. However, I know that they wouldn’t grow so quickly and would be less successful if they focused on social at the expense of email.
In my expert opinion social media certainly has a place in your marketing mix, and that is as a support channel to its more powerful bigger brother - email.
So, the last thing I would say to you is to question anyone’s motives when they’re painting you as a dinosaur for wanting to send an email to a ‘cold’ list of teachers. Why are they really trying to make you feel like that?
It's time email marketing was celebrated for what it is: the most powerful way to connect with your target audience and grow your education business.
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Marketing to Schools