Every day, it seems like another social media platform pops up. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Snapchat to TikTok, the pressure to have a business presence on them all can get overwhelming. Marla Sanford, the Chief Marketing Officer at Spring Arbor University, argues that it’s better to pick and choose your social networks judiciously than to spread yourself too thin trying to be on all of them.
Plus: How to reach people under the age of 18 when there are laws that forbid you from targeting them.
[00:00:00] Seth: Hello, and welcome to the Bad Marketing Advice podcast. This is the show where we invite marketing professionals on to tell us about the worst marketing advice that they have ever received. I’m your host? My name is Seth Wesler. I’m also the founder of Community Marketing Revolution. We produce branded podcasts and virtual events for companies and organizations. If your company has been sitting around saying, you know, guys, maybe we should do a podcast. The answer is yes, you should. And I can help please go to community marketing, revolution.com. And I would love for you to reach out to me and say, Hey Seth, can you come help us with a podcast? Yeah. Yes. Let’s make that happen.
[00:00:44] Look, our guest on the show today is the Chief Marketing Officer at Spring Arbor University. Spring Arbor is a Christian liberal arts university located in not surprisingly Spring Arbor, Michigan. It’s kicking off its hundred and 50th year of education this fall. I wanna welcome to the show. Marla Sanford.
[00:01:02] Marla: Hi Marla.
[00:01:03] Seth: Hi Seth. Thank you so much for having me today.
[00:01:05] Marla: Oh, thank you for joining us. So for people who don’t know. You know, in Michigan, the way we show everybody where everything is is we hold up our palm, you know, and we point to a place on the hand to show where Spring Arbor is. If obviously this is an audio podcast, but if we were holding, if you were holding up your hand, where would Spring Arbor be?
[00:01:24] All right. So hold up your hand, everybody. And then down toward the base of your thumb, right toward the middle of your palm, that is where Spring Arbor, Michigan is.
[00:01:33] Seth: Oh yeah. right there. Look at that. And I think that means I’m gonna get married 27 times and live to be hundred go three. Yes.
[00:01:40] Marla: Your lifeline goes on for infinity.
[00:01:42] Seth: So tell me a little bit about the university itself. How many people are there? How many students are they grad students? Is it undergrad?
[00:01:50] Marla: Yeah, we, well, we have about 1000 undergraduate students on our campus, and then we have way more than that in graduate and adult studies programs. Most of those meet virtually and align. We have over 70 plus undergraduate programs. Tack on that, a bunch of graduate and adult studies programs. Plus we even now have our first doctorate degree and we just graduated our first doctorate of nursing class this spring. It was so exciting.
[00:02:18] Seth: So when you are a university that has this large online component, but also has students who actually, uh, you know, attend in-person, do you market to those two audiences differently?
[00:02:29] Marla: Oh, absolutely. Actually that’s what makes this job so much fun. I actually spent the last over decade in the financial industry. And so switching over to higher ed has been a blast because there is so many different varieties of markets that we have to target. Obviously, our undergraduate market’s gonna be completely different than somebody who is a current professional who’s looking to get a graduate degree. Um, they’re completely different strategies, completely different target audiences. And it keeps me on my toes and it’s a lot of fun.
[00:03:03] Seth: So what are the metrics? I mean, what are your key performance indicators that you are measured on that you, you know, your boss is looking at and going, Hey, if this number hits X we’re doing well?
[00:03:13] Marla: It all boils down to enrollment. The people in the seats is where the that’s where my, my cabinet, my P. That’s the number they really want. Of course, I’m looking at all the different metrics. I wanna see, you know, our website traffic. I wanna see email opens, especially when we’re talking about our adult and graduate studies. I wanna see social media interaction for my.
[00:03:34] My younger audiences. Um, so I like all the numbers, but on my, my cabinet, they care about who’s enrolled and who’s coming to class.
[00:03:41] Seth: Got it. And did enrollment change with the pandemic? Did you see fluctuations in obviously in-person enrollment, but also online enrollment?
[00:03:49] Marla: Absolutely. I mean, across the board, if you asked any institution of higher education, We all saw some dips in enrollment. Um, and a lot of people reevaluating what they wanna do with their futures, whether or not they want to go in-person to school if they want online education. But now we’re seeing like most other industries, a nice rise as people are looking past the pandemic and looking toward the future. It’s exciting.
[00:04:13] Seth: So give me an example of how you would market differently to in-person undergraduate students versus online graduate students.
[00:04:23] Marla: Oh yeah, absolutely. So my undergraduate students, technically, this is like my hardest group to market to, because they’re all under the age of 18. So we’re trying to get them where they’re at without targeting them, because there are so many specific rules about targeting people under the age 18.
[00:04:42] So we wanna be where they are so that they can hopefully organically find us. So that’s on TikTok and Instagram and Twitch, places that we know that those teenagers are hanging out. And then of course, we’re talking to their parents. So, uh, we’re, we’re trying to reach their parents where they’re at to influence their students, to look at Spring Arbor University.
[00:05:01] And then on the flip side, we’re talking about professionals who are already in the workplace. So we, uh, are doing a lot of digital ad placement. We’re doing a lot of things to specific audience groups, depending on the degree type. So for if it’s a social work degree, we’re looking at social workers, et cetera.
[00:05:17] So, you know, the name of the game is try to find your audience where they’re at.
[00:05:21] Seth: So that’s fascinating to me. I never would’ve thought of that, but now that you bring it up, you have an audience that is under the age of 18. And so there’s more restrictions on how you can target them. And then there’s an audience that’s over the age of 18. And so there’s less restrictions. So what can you not do with that age audience that’s under the age of 18?
[00:05:41] Marla: Well, technically you’re not supposed to be able to target them. There are restrictions in place so that you. There’s so much great data out there that we can pick out what income level and, and you know, what education level that someone has. You can’t do that with people who are under the age of 18. That’s just off the table. That’s not even possible.
[00:06:00] Seth: So does that take social media ads off the table? Does that take pay per click ads off the table?
[00:06:05] Marla: It doesn’t. I mean, we can still do social media. We just can’t target that age group. You’re relying a lot more on organic reach than you are when you can actually target.
[00:06:16] Seth: Got it. So it’s a lot more about content creation and hoping that they find you.
[00:06:20] Marla: Absolutely.
[00:06:21] Seth: Oh, that’s interesting. Uh, that’s very interesting. All right, let’s get into it. Let’s get into the worst piece of marketing advice that you have, uh, experienced.
[00:06:31] Marla: So the worst piece of marketing advice that I keep getting is that to be a legitimate business, you should be on every social media platform. And that’s just crazy.
[00:06:43] Seth: It’s impossible. I mean.
[00:06:45] Marla: It’s impossible and it’s completely nonsense because like, we were just talking about different audience groups. If I have a target audience who isn’t on a certain social media platform, why would I take the time and energy required to do a social media platform well, if my audience isn’t even there?
[00:07:04] Seth: Right. So you think that, uh, you should be selective about which give me an example again and again, let’s go back to that same dichotomy. You’ve got these older grad students who are gonna, you know, enroll in online classes. You’ve got these younger in-person undergraduates, are you on or focusing on different social networks for those two groups?
[00:07:22] Marla: We are. And, and you mean for the different audiences, you have to focus in different channels. Like for instance, I’m never gonna try to reach my undergraduate students on Facebook. They’re not there. They don’t, they don’t go to Facebook. Their parents and grandparents are on Facebook. So if I wanna talk to their parents, I’m gonna focus on Facebook.
[00:07:42] If I wanna talk to the student themselves, I’m gonna look at Instagram. I’m gonna look at TikTok. I’m gonna look at Snapchat. I’m gonna look at the places that they are, and they’re not gonna be on Facebook.
[00:07:51] Seth: Do you ever face challenges, persuading other people in your organization in general, and whether that’s because you know, maybe it’s a higher up who is on Facebook because they’re of the generation that’s still there. Or maybe it’s, you’ve got younger people working for you who are like, ah, it’s all about TikTok, you know? And, and how do you persuade them of this?
[00:08:10] Marla: You know, it’s not the argument over which channel for my inside sources. It’s how it should look. And I always come down to social media is social media. Meaning you need to actually be social and have a relationship in conversation. It’s not a platform for you just to push out ads or just to post about a current, uh, campaign that you’re doing. It is to engage with your audience. And so you need to use social media as a social platform where it’s a relationship builder, an interaction, not just a platform to talk about yourself.
[00:08:47] Seth: Got it. So when somebody walks in with a hot new social network that has popped up, you know, Clubhouse just popped up. And are you quick to embrace those and jump on those? Or do you like to wait and see?
[00:08:59] Marla: We will wait for a hot second. We wanna see just for a little bit to see where it’s going. Like for example, a hot new one in the, the higher education industry is Zeemee. And we wanted to watch that for a second, but now we’re on it and we’re embracing it with gusto. So it’s kind of a mix of both. We wanna look and see if it’s actually going to be embraced. And if it is, we’ll go there. If our audiences are there.
[00:09:23] Seth: So I’m gonna confess I don’t, I don’t even know what Zeemee is. What is that?
[00:09:26] Marla: It is, uh, just a new social networking app for specifically for colleges and universities. So, you know, prospective students are going on there to chat with each other, other possible incoming freshmen for the next year. They can all link together and start creating relationships before they even make it to campus.
[00:09:44] Seth: So, uh, we had one of those when I was in college, it was called Facebook.
[00:09:47] Marla: I know, right, so it’s the new Facebook.
[00:09:50] Seth: To be honest, I’m, I’m even older than that. I’m old enough, but I do remember a time when Facebook was only open to colleges.
[00:09:57] Marla: I remember that too.
[00:09:58] Seth: Yes. So when you brace a new social network, do you leave one behind or what makes you, you know, at what point do you decide? All right, because you must have been using Facebook at some point to reach the undergrads. What was the criteria that you used to say, eh, this isn’t it anymore?
[00:10:13] Marla: You know, that’s something that we’re facing every single day. I think. Is evaluating whether or not you’re still getting reach. If you’re still being able to reach the audience that you’re looking to target. And you know, like you said, whether or not it’s time to leave it behind. And I think that that point is if you can honestly say I’m not reaching my audience, or I can’t do this well anymore, I’m spreading myself too thin across my platforms. Then it’s time to leave it behind. You know, Twitter is one of those ones that it is very time intensive to do it well, you need to be part of the conversation. A lot. Um, and if you’re only interjecting every once in a while, it might be time to leave Twitter behind.
[00:10:50] Seth: Okay. So I like this advice, not spreading yourself too thin, knowing what your resources are. And at the end of the day, it’s better to do a few social networks really well. Uh, particularly if they are the right social networks for the target audience, uh, rather than trying to do all of ’em not so well.
[00:11:07] Marla: Absolutely. And I mean, most marketing teams are smaller. You know what I mean? If you’re looking at the average business and organization, you may not have the manpower to, to correctly and, uh, effectively handle all of the social media platforms you wanna be on. So it’s picking the ones that are best for your audience that, you know, you can do well with the resources you have.
[00:11:29] Seth: You know, and we’ve talked about this largely in terms of age, you know, people of this generation are on this social network and, and so on and so forth, but are there other factors like psychographics or other things? I mean, you know, do you tend to see a certain type of people on Instagram and a different type of people on Twitter?
[00:11:46] Marla: Oh, absolutely. I think it completely depends on your industry. There are certain industries that are gonna succeed, uh, a lot better on Instagram because they’ve got beautiful visuals. Food does phenomenally on Instagram. Um, especially if you can do food, uh, visually very well. Uh, but if you have something that’s, you know, like wedding type business, you might succeed really well on Pinterest, which is crazy that there’s still a lot of activity over on Pinterest, but you, you just have to know your audience and you have to do the research on the different platforms.
[00:12:18] Seth: So can I ask, what platforms are you using today for the university?
[00:12:24] Marla: Oh yeah. We’re currently on Facebook to, again, to reach the, the older populations. Uh, we do some Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok. We are on LinkedIn and YouTube. Zeemee I might be forgetting one.
[00:12:39] Seth: Wow. So, so I mean, that’s a long list, but, uh, but Zeemee is the one that I was, uh, unfamiliar with. I’m gonna have now I, you know, I must be showing my age. I’m gonna have to go look into it.
[00:12:48] Marla: Oh, it’s brand new. Don’t don’t kick yourself sad.
[00:12:50] Seth: Okay. All right. All right. Are there any others that you’re looking at that you think maybe be large down the road or a place that you need to be?
[00:12:58] Marla: Not yet. No, we’re still keeping our eyes and ears open. Zeemee was the one that popped out at us that we, we just joined it in the last couple months.
[00:13:06] Seth: Got it. And I don’t wanna throw anybody under the bus, but, uh, I, you know, who have you left by the wayside and just saying, eh, we, we don’t need to do this anymore?
[00:13:14] Marla: Uh, at one point in time, not in, in, not in this industry, but back when I was in the financial industry, we did leave Twitter behind. But that was one of those situations where it’s not because it’s not a good platform. It’s because we didn’t have the manpower to keep it up the way it needed to be kept up.
[00:13:28] Seth: Got it. All right. So I love this advice. Uh, you know, the advice is, look, your business does not need to be on every social media platform. Take the time to figure out which one is right for your audience and which ones you can do. Well, I think that’s great advice. Uh, well, Marla Sanford, Chief Marketing Officer at Spring Arbor Universitythank you so much for coming on. This has been great.
[00:13:47] Marla: Thank you so much. This has been fun.
[00:13:50] Seth: I am Seth Resler of Community Marketing Revolution. Once again, we produce branded podcasts and virtual events for companies and organizations. If you’ve been thinking about podcasting and you wanna jump in, please head to communitymarketingrevolution.com until next time. Thanks for listening.
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