When did school and social media become so compatible?

May 13, 2024
Emmy Liederman
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Foluke Denis and Taylor Chapman (right) run the social media accounts for Success Academy Charter Schools.

When Taylor Chapman and Foluke Denis curate a post, they’re not promoting a tangible product packaged in a neat box. Instead, the social media marketers are responsible for representing a brand that spans 53 locations,  20,000 kids and a city-wide ecosystem of parents, alumni and staff. 

“We’ve really had to tap into our creative abilities to sell an idea and a mission, and not just a linked product,” said Chapman, social media manager at Success Academy Charter School in New York City. “We’re finding fun and creative ways to share educational and informational assets.” 

Chapman and senior social media associate Foluke Denis have garnered over one million organic monthly impressions across platforms for turning announcements that would have previously lived on a school bulletin board into content series. Instead of listing the benefits of charter schools in a pamphlet, Denis and Chapman hand students the mic to moderate segments, offer their New Year’s resolutions and share ideas for planet preservation.

@sacharterschools Happy Earth Day! Today, our future environmentalists are sharing their visions for a greener, cleaner world. From saving trees to picking up litter, these scholars are full of inspiring ideas on how to make a difference! #earthday #protectourplanet #reducereuserecycle #kidssaythedarnestthings #environmentallyfriendly ♬ original sound - SACharterSchools

Through recruiting students as in-house creators while relating the brand to New York City at large, Success Academy has turned apps that have historically served as schoolyard distractions into key educational marketing assets. While social media has long proven profitable for categories like entertainment, fashion and beauty, brands in the education category are tapping into viral trends and mapping out their own spaces in pop culture. 

Rewriting social media marketing 

The association between social media and mindless content is diminishing—people want more from these platforms than to just be entertained. One in four TikTok users use the social media platform for educational purposes, and 69% of those users have stated that TikTok videos help them do their homework. A 2021 Brandwatch study found that 83% of prospective students  turn to social media to help them pick a college. 

In its 2024 education playbook, TikTok spoke to the success of university search engine UniCompare's AI filter, which quizzed users on university knowledge like "Which University has a Jedi course?" The campaign drove the brand 38% more app installs, 43% boost in recognitions and 54% lower cost per install.

For Denis, success on social platforms like TikTok means combining education and entertainment to boost community and school value. 

“We try to have our kids be the ambassadors and show that they are reliant and autonomous,” said Denis.  “A lot of people know us by our scholars’ uniforms, but we don't want to just be a charter school in New York City.” 

Celebrating New York City at large 

 Instead of solely engaging with prospective students and parents, Denis stressed the best approach to brand awareness is creating a stronger association between the charter school network and New York City at large. A recent post of kids in their uniforms eating ice cream reads “Scholars and the Mister Softee ice cream truck? Name something more New York… we’ll wait.” 

To support the school’s connection to the city and paint a more engaging picture of academia, Success Academy has also partnered with brands like the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. The school has also recruited Brynn Whitfield, a cast member in the Real Housewives of New York and an apparent chess enthusiast. 

“It’s a great way for us to show ‘We are so New York’ instead of just saying we’re a school in New York City,” said Denis, who said partnerships with brands like Adidas and Foot Locker also challenge what educational content traditionally looks like.  “We want to showcase the fun part of education on social, since these are recognizable brands that people can align with.” 

@sacharterschools Select middle school basketball players got the ultimate experience at Madison Square Garden as the openers to the @New York Knicks vs 76ers game! They got to watch the pregame warmup, play on the court in front of fans before the game tipped off and they got to watch the game - all for free. 👏 #nyknicks #knicks #basketball #nyclife ♬ original sound - jawanta

Rethinking standard metrics 

Instead of honing in on likes and comments as a classic vanity metric, the focal point for Chapman and Denis is post shares, as they said a viewer’s inclination to take content elsewhere is the best way to track real community impact. 

“We know that word of mouth is the best form of marketing because you trust your friends the most,” said Chapman, pointing to the network of families that stems from more than 20,000 students. “Having parent advocates who are posting about how their kids are succeeding and developing on their own channels is a great way for people to know who we are.” 

Promoting diverse opportunity  

Beyond engaging prospective parents and students, Success Academy uses platforms like TikTok to recruit staff members. Chapman and Denis are also focused on driving career inspiration and positioning education as a feasible career—they said charter school jobs don’t require a teaching degree, and Success Academy pays teachers to get their masters. 

@sacharterschools Spend a full day with one of Bed-Stuy elementary schools lead dance teachers, Ms.Bower! Did you know that at Success, non-academic subjects are essential? This is why we hire full time scholar talent teachers to lead instruction in several different co-curricular categories - dance, theater, music, art, soccer and so much more! If you’re passionate about any of these, check out our open roles. #ditl #ditlvlog #teachersoftiktok #teacherlife #teacherdayinthelife #applytoday #openroles #workinnyc #teachertok ♬ original sound - SACharterSchools

“We’re showing achievements inside the classroom, and a lot of community and individual joy,” said Denis. “Because we have such a large community, there is always something to celebrate.” 

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