What’s the Catch?!
Growing up, I was taught that there is no such thing as a FREE LUNCH. As a young kid, I didn’t completely understand what that meant metaphorically, but I did understand that if I had no money, I couldn’t buy myself school lunch. If I had time, though, I could make a lunch with the food my parents bought for me!
This same principle applies to building brand awareness in the education and edtech market. Limited budgets can make creating and implementing a PR and marketing campaign seem daunting, but brand awareness doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are four ways that companies can expand their brand awareness by investing time rather than money.
1) Leveraging the Media
You certainly can look to hire a PR expert, either a firm or an internal team member, but that isn’t always a necessity if you have a good story to tell. If one school or district has a challenge, you can safely assume that many others do as well. Do some research on local media outlets in that school or district’s backyard.
When you’re first starting out, maybe look for media markets outside the top 25, as this will increase the chances of a reporter or editor responding to your pitch. While you’re at it, be sure to find the education beat reporters, since they’re the most likely to be interested in your story.
Once you’ve fine-tuned your story strategy, look for education publications that target your ideal buyer. And remember to keep the focus away from your product and more on the success of your customers or true thought leadership.
SEO has and will continue to play an important role in your brand awareness, but maybe not in the way you traditionally think about awareness. Oftentimes, we think about brand awareness as articles or press releases we put out to the world for people to see, but what about awareness of your brand for potential customers who are actively looking for a solution? Google, Yahoo or Bing may be their most effective tool. If they can’t find you, they’ll surely find your competitor. Start with on-page SEO, because you have full control over this aspect of optimizing your website. Build keyword and linking strategies and ensure that each page of your site is optimized.
Don’t forget off-page SEO! This is where PR and social media come into play; getting backlinks to your site is critical to increasing your domain authority in the eyes of search engines. If your content is good enough to be linked back to, search engines will place a high priority on your content and your page ranking will increase. We have also seen a rise in how search engines prioritize social interactions with the content you are sharing. Likes, shares, comments any type of engagement on your social posts signals these search engines that your content is of high quality and should be treated as such.
3) Social Media
This can be a black hole if you aren’t careful! Do your homework and determine which social channels your target audience is using and for what reasons. This will help inform the type of content you create and share, as well as where you focus your efforts.
For example, Twitter is widely used by educators and administrators alike for professional development, whether that means informally sharing ideas or taking part in focused Twitter chats. Facebook or LinkedIn, by contrast, are better suited for starting your own community of educators that fosters more in-depth conversations.
Become a trusted partner and contributor to the conversation rather than another noisemaker. Research the correct hashtags and pay attention to what people are sharing so you can chime in appropriately. There are a number of free tools such as Buzzsumo, Hootsuite and TweetDeck that you can use to get started. We recently published this checklist to help keep your social posts on track as well.
4) Brand Advocates
This one can be a little tricky, since many of the influencers in education and edtech have monetized their influence, but not all of them! Some of your best advocates will do it for free — they’re otherwise known as your customers. Identifying and developing a brand champion can take time, but it’s well worth the effort. Be sure you help these educators understand that they need to check with their school and district leaders to approve them advocating for your brand or company if you are looking to enter any type of formal agreement with them.
There are also many, many influencers who are still looking to increase their influence, that haven’t quite hit the “celebrity” status yet. They’re often eager to take on content projects or help share content on social media without being paid, because it helps them increase their profile (and SEO!).
There certainly are other ways to get your “free” lunch, but these have proven to be some of the most effective ways to get your story out there without spending a fortune.