Teach For America is a nonprofit that works in partnership with communities to expand educational opportunity for children facing the challenges of poverty. Lauren Sanders is their Senior Managing Director of Digital Engagement, and Stacey Jaffe is the Director of Social Media and Community. They are specialists of the "content loop": creating content, conversations, and community on a national scale.
Lauren, what are you focused on when it comes to Teach For America’s content initiatives?
I’m focused on the move toward brand publishing and content strategy as the center of our engagement efforts. This involves creating a strong North Star for content that breaks down into two streams.
One stream is editorial, creating and producing the best content out there around educational equity.
"...I’m focused on the move toward brand publishing and content strategy as the center of our engagement efforts."
Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Upworthy do great teacher content, but at Teach For America we have access to better teacher stories and better teacher resources than they do. So we should be pushing out our own content and bringing people back into our own world, to our own website, to our email lists, not to these sites with millions of visitors. People will go there anyway.
The second stream is the content marketing piece -- getting these messages out there on a consistent basis, meeting people on the channels where they want to consume. That creates an affinity with our brand. It’s not a new concept to the marketing world, but it’s tricky for a lot of non-profit organizations because you need resources.
Image from one of three Teach For America blogs: Pass the Chalk.
Stacey, you provide strategy and counsel for Teach For America’s seven or so social media platforms and three blogs, with the goal of creating communities who want to converse about education.
You also help decide how to engage with the media. How do you go about creating these strategies and what challenges do you face?
The catch-phrase for which I’m known at Teach For America is, “social media is one giant focus group.” For me, it's all about the social listening.
I think that when you hone your metrics and listen to your audience well, you understand the types of content that they seek out and that personally speaks with them. When the content resonates well, the audience will jump in to discuss and share.
The New York Times discusses this idea best when they talk about why people share on social media: and it’s all about aligning with your personal set of values and beliefs. This idea of listening as a focus group allows us to align with our audience.
In a way, it’s predictive marketing. You’re giving your audience what they always knew they always wanted. I purposely did a turn of phrase there… I don't think it's about giving them what they never knew they wanted. I think people always know what they want and the trick is using your metrics to hone in on that.
What I love about working in social media is that there is an overall strategy and a channel specific strategy, which makes everything seem like a truly great chess match. I think if you are listening well, the overall strategy easily follows. The challenge comes more from the channel specific strategy.
"What I love about working in social media is that there is an overall strategy and a channel specific strategy, which makes everything seem like a truly great chess match."
Audiences come to specific channels for different reasons: for example, they go to Pinterest expecting to find one type of content and LinkedIn to find another. The challenge then comes from algorithm changes.
We need to be paying attention to the announcements coming from the application makers themselves, because those changes affect how the audience interacts with the content. Which, in turn, alters the audience’s expectations which requires even more social listening. And then we are back to that great content loop.
Teach For America is a recipient of the Searchlight Grant from the Conductor Foundation. Learn more about the Foundation here.
Could you share some of the content resources you love and consistently turn to?
I love everything the Content Marketing Institute does, particularly their weekly podcast. Contently is another site that consistently gives great resources and so is the Marketing Profs site.
I also love the Coca-Cola content 2020 video – it makes a great, compelling case for content marketing.
I am going to give you three books. The Digital Crown by Ahava Leibtag is phenomenal. I talk a lot about social media as focus groups, so clearly Measuring the Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter is a must-read. Finally, read Content Everywhere by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. We read that as a team and it has paved the way for us to think entirely differently about stories on websites and the audience experience across devices.
As someone who nerds out on data, Jon Loomer’s blog on Facebook is one of my favorites. He’s incredibly forth-coming in talking about how he uses data to shape strategy.