Horses, students, parents, volunteers, lesson planning,….and the list goes on. Those things are usually the topics that have priority in our brains. Not to mention so much of what we do in the Equine Assisted Activities and Therapies industry is outside away from technology.
Your professional presence on social media may be the last thing on your mind at this point or it may be something you want to jump into doing or improve on but just don’t know where to start. I do not have a formal degree in marketing, but the tips below are from firsthand experience of almost a decade in the EAAT industry and learning on the go how to bring the branding, marketing, and image of the center I work for to the next level.
Below are a few tips to get you rolling on social media or to help you improve your current online presence.
Tip #1- Define/Refine Your Branding
Consistent use of terminology, fonts, colors, etc. all play a key role in that first impression people have of you or the center. Often times people will do some research before they reach out to you to inquire about programs, volunteering, or donating. You want that first impression to be impeccable and professional. Even if you have amazing programs, your image and the first impression to people seeking out your services could have an impact on if they choose to reach out to you or reach out to another local center.
Tip #2- Focus/Refocus Your Efforts
Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are just a few examples of platforms for you to utilize to grow your presence. If you are new to the whole online and social media marketing thing I would highly recommend picking one or two things to start off with that fit the needs of your center depending on your demographics and who you want to reach. Once you have a good presence on those platforms add in another if you have the time and knowledge to do so. You don’t need to be a social media expert to get started! Like I mentioned above so much of what I have learned over this past decade has been through trial and error, research, observing the specifics of what other successful businesses do on the same platforms, and seeking out advice from others with different experience.
Tip #3- Write/Fine-Tune a Schedule
I know firsthand how overwhelming building your online and social media presence can be. Sitting down and laying out a simple schedule can help simplify things and streamline your efforts (I will give some ideas below on what you can feature on your social media accounts). The platform you use willimpact WHAT you post and how long the post is (video, photo, etc) but there are some great resources out there to help outline the basics. Same thing applies to WHEN you should post on a specific platform. Once you are familiar with the basics and you start posting you can fine-tune what works specifically for you and those you are reaching depending on how you see people respond. The EAAT industry is a wonderful combination of horses, special needs populations, children, adults, volunteers, donors, and many other pieces that make it so unique…..our presence on social media needs to be fluid and adaptable depending on your circumstances.
Tip #4- Constantly Analyze What Works
There are several articles on social media best practices….google them and start reading! Figure out what hashtags, links, tags, etc are working well for your page(s). Remember to regularly check back in and see if what you are doing is working and don’t be afraid to change something or try something new if you are not happy with your current results.
Tip #5- Don’t Compromise Quality
Don’t compromise quality of your posts, videos shared, or any other things that will go out and represent your center. Thoroughly screen all photos to make sure they fit your center standards and are not breaking any rules or have safety issues. Choose high quality, professional photos (if you don’t have any make it a quick project to get ‘great’ not just ‘good’ photos). Double check all wording and terminology that goes out aligns with your mission, vision, values, and program explanations. Planning ahead (make your schedule!) will help you predict what photos and videos you will need so you don’t find yourself in a pinch an post a not so great photo or video.
Social Media Content Ideas Specifically for EAAT centers:
Volunteer Recognition: interview a volunteer (live stream or video upload), photo with
name and bio, celebrate volunteer accomplishments in their everyday lives. Don’t forget to do thank you’s and spotlights on the one time groups that come out to volunteer. TROT does some great volunteer recognition pieces on their facebook
Meet a Horse: Video (live or uploaded) of a horse working out in class, video a horse in turnout, cute ‘just because’ photos of each horse, video of the donor or a sponsor saying why they chose to donate their horse to your center, photo with a caption including the horse’s bio. Video of a student/family saying who their favorite horse is or why. Hearts and Horses has some great ‘meet a horse’ posts
Meet a Student: Video (live or uploaded) of a student riding in class, interview a student/family on why they like your center. Before and after video snapshots of a rider’s progress (thank you to PATH Intl. Master Instructor Amy Sheets and PATH Intl. Advanced Instructor Michelle LaFleur for mentioning this idea that they have seen at other centers). JF Shea Center has some beautiful photo/video posts about their participants
Donor/Sponsor Highlight: video (live or uploaded) of why they chose to support your center/a program horse/ a rider, link a photo to the donor’s website/social media. ROCK does a wonderful job featuring their donor’s sponsors online and in person
Staff/Instructor/Therapist Spotlights: ‘get you know you’ video interviews with instructors, fun non-work related photos of instructors and their bios, celebrate instructor accomplishments inside and outside of work
Industry Links: horse management articles, saddle fitting videos, fun equine or human trivia, diagnosis specific information and articles, resources for special needs families, resources for military families.
‘Did You Know’ Info– what important information that is unique to your center or the EAAT industry can you share with your volunteers, participants, families, and those who follow you?
Just Because Photos/Videos: Feature a photo or video just because it is awesome! Check out Loudon Therapeutic Riding and their ‘just because’ photos.
Budget Friendly Marketing/Social Media/Online Resources:
Canva– Create and design professional looking brochures, flyers, cover photos….and so
much more! There is a free version or a ‘pro’ version. I have functioned off the free version for over a year now and it was wonderful! I just upgraded to Pro and it is even more amazing and worth the few bucks a month!
Ripl- Eye catching short videos/gifs for social media. I have only used the free version and it has been more than sufficient!
PicsArt– my go to for photo editing, creating collages, etc. I only use the free version (although the adds have significantly increased lately)
GoDaddy– Great for website, blog, and domain needs. Super affordable and the website and blogs are so easy to edit!!! I’ve worked on a few other website editing platforms and their version has so far been the easiest for me to work with.
Google Analytics– Helps you analyze what is and is not working for your website, social media, etc.
Google Adsense– monetize your online presence
Other Important Notes:
- Define your center’s Social Media & Print Marketing policy
- Triple check photo/video consents of everyone in the photo/video you want to use. Remember that PATH Intl. Center Standard state that you need to give a ‘Does not Consent’ option for photos/videos and you need to honor that!
- Be cautious of who is in charge of your online and print materials. Are they aware of what to look for in a photo to make sure it meets standards and polices? Are they aware of the proper terminology and descriptions to use when talking about your programs? So much of what we do in the EAAT industry is unique and foreign to people who have not been immersed in it…be sure to thoroughly train your marketing person.
Written by Saebra Pipoly. Learn more about the author by clicking here.