How Teach For America’s Social Team Boosted Signups Through Targeted Marketing

Teach for America had a problem.

The organization that places college graduates in teacher roles in struggling schools had fewer signups and conversions from college students and alumni via online outreach, despite placing a strong emphasis on its use of social media and digital marketing to connect with students.

Perhaps, if they were more hands on, this might change. So Teach for America took a leap of faith and moved all digital marketing in house.

By monitoring students’ likes on Facebook and listening to social buzz, they were able to craft timely custom content that drove conversions. Using Facebook’s gender segmentation, they boosted Facebook captures by 30%.

“Your audience always knows what it wants,” says Stacey Jaffe, vice president of digital content and channels. “They’re always leaving breadcrumbs for you and if you’re really smart you go seeking them.”

Since launching in 1990, Teach For America’s numbers have swelled, both in applications and in positions granted. In 2016 they had a 46,000 strong alumni network, and 82% of their graduates work full-time in roles that impact education. But in 2014 applications fell 12%, and one of the most concerning shortfalls for the team was the drop in signups and conversions in their social space.

Here’s how they used social media insights to change their strategy:

Separating by Sex

The gender of your targeted audience can impact how your message is received. Teach for America closely analyzed how people responded to their messaging and used those insights to change their strategy.

“When we started segmenting by gender, we saw a 30% lift in numbers of leads captured, just by showing males images of males and females images of females,” Jaffe says, during a marketing presentation at the ClickZ marketing conference in San Francisco.

Realizing that high conversions were based purely on showing users images that featured people of the same gender, Jaffe looked for other places she could apply this insight. Instagram, bought by Facebook in 2012, uses the same measurements as Facebook to target users, so that was an obvious place to start.

When she delved deeper into Teach For America’s data about user behavior on their social channels, including Pinterest’s analytics dashboard, she realized much of their Pinterest content was designed to appeal to both genders, with men and women represented equally in the images. However, as they had a majority female audience on Pinterest, this wasn’t converting well.

“It starts with listening, and for me that’s going out and looking at all the data that’s been left behind for you,” she says. The pins were changed accordingly, into images that tested well with women on Instagram and Facebook. This led to an increase in conversions, a good example of how insights on one social channel can be applied company wide.

Platform Agnostic Social Buzz For Content Creation

Most marketers know that social listening is important to help them see what topics are on trend with students, but many focus purely on Facebook and Instagram. Stacey Jaffe believes this is a mistake.

“If the New York Times can quote Reddit, you too can use Reddit forums,” she says. “Then you create content on the insights learned.” Her social listening team monitors chatter on the #teachforamerica hashtag and scrolling through subreddits and forums discussing relevant content, such as r/TeachforAmerica and r/education. One tool that helped that keep track of sources and see what alumni were discussing was Radian6, now called Salesforce Social Studio.

Jaffe explains that if her team saw threads about students’ feet feeling painful, you’d probably soon find a blogpost on Teach For America about this, as they want to resonate their demographics needs. Another blog post featured former NFL player Ricardo Silva, who gave up football to teach. When the team met up with him on Super Bowl weekend, they posted a follow up, boosting engagement with the student football fans in their network.

When you’re working in social media, Jaffe warns that it’s important to concentrate on the big picture. “Likes are cool, but they’re a vanity metric,” she said. “[What’s important] is that you get conversions.”

Teach For America isn’t the only organization reaching students. Read how Tiff’s Treats, a cookie delivery company started inside a dorm room, conquered the college market. 

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