By Brett Hoover
A Promise program should easily be a “golden” brand. After all, how many complaints can people have about organizations that give away money and ask little in return?
Well, nothing worth doing is ever complaint free. Some people don’t like the eligibility rules while others think the requirements to maintain a scholarship are too demanding. Some simply don’t like that private funders elect to apply their gift as an exclusively “in-state” opportunity while others just don’t think that they are getting enough free money.
This means that even scholarship programs must work to maintain a “golden” brand in the face of naysayers, who are all too often hiding anonymously behind a computer screen.
Thus in addition to creating enthusiasm, developing strong messaging, managing the scholarship and championing students, one of the best payoffs will be an investment in social media. It is there that you can establish and grow your identity, demonstrate your commitment to the city and its students and prove your organization to be responsive and fair.
After looking at all of the social media efforts for the Promise programs across the country, I am offering five suggestions that can have positive returns to your perception from the community at large.
• Have a professionally produced video — posted to YouTube — which either tells your organization’s story or serves to show a measure of success through anecdotes. I’d recommend an upload to YouTube through an organization account (instead of a personal account). Make it a public video, which would allow any website to embed it or include it in a playlist.
• Build a base of support on Facebook and feed that audience something positive about your students, your city, your program or your partners nearly every day. Facebook is best used as a ‘feel-good’ place, where photos and celebratory moments are best shared. Also, I recommend carving out a social media budget which would allow you to “boost” both your Facebook page and important posts. If you can effectively engage your followers, they will begin to do the work of the organization with you. They will also be cheerleaders for your scholars and, in sheer volume, will completely overshadow any detractors. But also make sure that you be responsive to those who show enough interest to comment.
• Invest in photography for your key events. At New Haven Promise, we’ve posted more than 1,000 high-resolution photos each of the last two years on our Flickr account. For the annual Scholar Celebration, we’ve hired multiple photographers with the goal of getting excellent images of the new cohort of scholars and their parents. We also create Facebook galleries of lower resolution images. Not only does this help engage with our followers, but it also has been a successful way to gain new followers. Posting to Flickr also allows us easy access to thousands of high-res photos for use in a variety of ways.
• Join the chaos that is Twitter. This is a great place for announcements, linking, event information, live photos and posts and information about things going on with your other social-media channels. Twitter is also a place to make connections and learn from other organizations, businesses and even leaders in local government. Twitter can also be one of the best ways to flow into a regional or national stream of information specific to your organization.
• Instagram is dominated by a young and mobile crowd and the platform is designed for beautiful and compelling photos. This is not the place for press releases or formality. For college students who are away from home, seeing shots of a well-known eatery or any familiar venue or person can bring them back to their hometown, if even for a moment.
Invest resources in social media, believe in the experiment and have some patience. I guarantee it will deliver positive returns.
Brett Hoover — who founded Cities of Promise — was formerly the Associate Director of the Ivy League