Social Media 101: How to Successfully Promote Your School Nutrition Program

I’ve got a fun little topic for you today! We’re going to be getting down in the social sphere! Today, I’m walking you through the ins and outs, dos and don’ts of marketing your school nutrition program through social media platforms.

Sure, your district has its own Facebook page, and I bet some of your schools have one too. But your own social media profile just for your nutrition department? YES! It’s actually a great method to help boost participation, build relationships, increase trust, and drive excitement about school meals. Numerous school districts all across the country are already doing it (see links at the bottom of this post for examples).

Before Creating Any Social Media Account

Do a little soul-searching within your school nutrition program. Who is your target audience with your social posts? Are you trying to reach more than one group of people?

Are you are more concerned about reaching the parents of the children you serve, so they’ll be more likely to influence their child to eat meals at school? Or would you rather target students attending your schools, in hopes that they might take a vested interest in your nutrition program?

Whoever your target market may be, you need to consider which social media platform is right for your goals. Let’s break it down.


Figuring Out Facebook

This is the crème de la crème of social media platforms for school nutrition programs. Facebook is the one social platform that is a solid go-to, no matter who you are trying to target.

Facebook is especially useful if parents are your primary audience. The majority of parents (especially mothers) are on Facebook, and check it at least once a day. This presents a golden opportunity for nutrition programs like yours to make your content appear on the newsfeed of interested persons.

Facebook can still be effective at targeting the students in your schools, although engagement levels from the student audience will most likely not be as high as with parents. Most middle school and high school students have Facebook profiles, but they aren’t as glued to them as some of their older siblings. This younger generation is more interested in visual and interactive social platforms, which I’ll get to later in this post.

Things to Know About Facebook:

    • Visual posts perform very well on Facebook. They will typically be seen by a much higher percentage of users than posts without a visual element. So, whether you include a photo, an album, or a short video, get that visual content out there!
    • It is recommended that you post 1-2 times per day when using Facebook. Any more frequently than that, and you run the risk of annoying your Facebook “fans” by overloading them with content. If you’re posting more than 3 times per day, chances are everything you’re posting isn’t necessarily “post-worthy.” It’s good to be selective here!
    • Engage with your fans! This tip is so important and one that is often overlooked by some organizations that jump into social media. Facebook is not simply a place where you can place ad after ad, promotion after promotion. It’s a place to build relationships and get to know those people who have an interest in your district’s/school’s nutrition program. Someone commented on your status? Great! Reply back and keep the conversation going! A little effort goes a long way toward building positive associations with your school nutrition operation.


Tweeting through Twitter

Twitter is a unique platform, and can be extremely beneficial when used correctly. In general, your typical follower on Twitter will showcase different characteristics than those on Facebook. Twitter users are traditionally younger (think Gen X, Gen Y), interested in technology, and enjoy being among the first to know about anything happening in the world today (news, technology, sports – you name it!).

On Twitter, you’re likely to find a mixed audience of parents and students, with neither group taking an overwhelming majority. My suggestion: Use Twitter if your district has found success with it in the past through other accounts. It can be a trickier social channel to crack than Facebook.

Things to Know About Twitter:

    • Twitter is all about short and sweet thoughts. All tweets must be 160 characters or less, including links, photos, emoji’s, etc.
    • Your primary source of information on Twitter comes from your timeline feed. Depending on how many people you follow (and subsequently, how many people your followers have following them), your timeline feed can change quite rapidly. That’s why when using Twitter, you will want to post multiple times per day to increase the likelihood of your tweet being seen by your target audience/group. Five tweets per day is a good recommendation.
    • Similar to Facebook, building relationships is key on Twitter. One of the great things about Twitter is that it’s perfect for holding short, direct conversations where each person feels connected and engaged with the other. Use this aspect of Twitter to your advantage! Engage not only with those who reach out to you, but seek out people who have similar interests (search #realschoolfood and #schoollunch to find some of the great people tweeting in our industry!)


Visual Social Platforms

So, after reading through the details of Facebook and Twitter, you’re still not convinced those are right social platforms for you. You are committed to target your district’s students in a hip, innovative way that they will connect with. Well here are platforms you should use!

Instagram – My best recommendation for connecting with today’s teens and tweens. In a recent survey by Piper Jaffray, an investment bank and asset management firm, they found that 76% of teens are using Instagram daily, and that number has been consistently increasing. That number is higher than any other social platform, and by a wide margin.

This mobile-only social network is simple in its design – post a square photo with a comment and add hashtags. Liking a photo on Instagram is equally as simple – just double tap the picture. It would be a great platform to display beautifully crafted school lunch trays (food pictures are a popular category on Instagram) or the behind the scenes prep that goes into school meals.

Snapchat – Another extremely popular visually-centered social platform. This one however, is based around users sharing quick ph
otos or videos with one another that disappear after they’ve been viewed. Businesses have tried to start advertising to consumers through short snaps, but it’s still very new. I would steer clear of using Snapchat for your school nutrition program.

What Do I Have to Promote?

This is a question that I feel like is quite common among nutrition programs taking the first steps into social media. You may not think you have much to post, but you do!

Posting pictures of the lunch trays that you are serving that day is a great way to share visually appealing content and build trust with your audience. School meals are healthy, and you’re here to show it!

Additionally, posting pictures of the weekly menu at all school levels can be a great way to offer informative content to parents and kids alike.

Have a special promotion going on in one of your cafeterias this week? Tell your followers on social media about it! You’re sure to get more participation in the cafeteria just by spreading around the information.

Finally, it’s always a good idea to spread interesting articles and news from the child nutrition and student wellness industries. Chances are if you found something informative and useful, others will too!

“But Starting is the Hardest Part!”

Creating a social media presence out of thin air can seem overwhelming, so that’s why I absolutely recommend laying out a plan before-hand.

Key Elements to a Successful Foundation:

    • Be sure to ask the right people the right questions.
    • Make sure you have the authority to spearhead this project, or find the person who does.
    • Set ground rules on posting; who is allowed to post, and what types of content will be acceptable.
    • Gain buy-in from the higher-ups in your district, and create a cross-promotional marketing plan with other established district social profiles to help your new social account gain a following.


Resources to Get Your School Nutrition Program Started with Social Media


Shining Examples of School Nutrition Programs Using Social Media


I hope that you will consider giving social media a chance with your district’s school nutrition operation, if you aren’t already utilizing it. The value it can add is immeasurable!