Education Higher Ed K12

Fake News and Marketing Hype: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The best way to get education decision-makers’ attention is to create content that clearly demonstrates how you can help them.

fakenews-top Fake News and Marketing Hype: Two Sides of the Same Coin

By Jacob Hanson

You can’t read or watch any form of media these days without seeing a mention of “fake news”—whether it be from our president, various watch-dog groups, or the general public. Most of us can agree that fake news isn’t a new trend, but one that has been brought to light ever more brightly by the infinite channels of news outlets, bloggers, (and trolls) who make their living by publishing and sharing content online that is designed to attract eyeballs, whether or not it’s true.

To me, marketing hype is a lot like fake news. Most of us see right through it, but there’s so much of it coming from so many sources that even the short time it takes us to dismiss it can add up. This is especially true in the education industry. Our space continues to become more and more crowded, providing decision-makers nearly infinite possibilities of solution providers to purchase from, avenues for obtaining information, and yes, marketing hype to sift through. Today’s interconnected world has made educators’ lives much easier, but at the same time, it’s become more difficult to cut through the “noise” and determine which companies and solutions are credible.

Marketing Hype and Fake News

Traditional marketing efforts such as cold-calling lists or running impersonal email campaigns just aren’t as fruitful as they may have been in the past. Like fake news, they are seen as unwanted and unwelcomed disruptions. In these situations, everyone loses. A company misses out on a potential future customer, while a prospect misses out on something that could truly help them.

Instead of using 20th-century methods to reach 21st-century decision-makers and influencers, ed tech companies should be providing their prospects and customers with content aimed to build trust, be helpful, and demonstrate that you, as a company, truly understand their pains and have the ability to help solve them.

Today’s savvy consumers look beyond the bells and whistles of marketing hype. Don’t get me wrong: showcasing the capabilities of your solution is important, but demonstrating that your company has the internal expertise to help solve educators’ overarching challenges is even greater. The best way to get an educator’s attention and earn their trust is to be authentic.

A few months ago, EdWeek published a video called Why K-12 EdTech Companies’ Pitches Fall Flat that touched on this very topic. One of the decision-makers said, “Don’t try and sell us. Shoot it to us straight. Tell us what you’re able to do with us, how you can partner, and then how your product can help improve whatever we’re looking at.”

Contributing to the Conversation

As we all know, education is very much a relationship-based industry. Educators listen to what their colleagues say they’re using, how it’s working, and what impact it has made. Instead of getting excited about a new tool or new features, educators are much more focused on how a solution can help them improve teaching and learning (and make their lives easier). To become part of this conversation, ed tech companies can produce case studies or success stories, but it’s often better to have customers share their stories in guest blog posts, on their own social media channels, or in short spotlight stories that demonstrate how your solution or service plays a role in the bigger picture. Remember to create content for someone, not just anyone.

Educators love to share their successes because they want to help each other succeed. Your content should embrace this idea by showing decision-makers why working with you will help them succeed. Tell the story of your product, why you created it, your experiences, and most importantly how it has helped others.

Providing real-world examples of how your solutions are moving the needle for your current users is essential, but your content doesn’t always have to be in the form of a case study. You can create helpful, useful (and branded!) content like checklists, ebooks, infographics, relevant blog posts, micrographics for social media—all of these are parts of your company’s tory. Using internal resources like former educators, former administrators, or team members from academia, will show the ed tech marketplace that your company understands their pain points and genuinely has a stake in your current and future customers’ success.

This style of content creation demonstrates to educators that you want to become a partner, rather than another vendor to throw in their spam folder (or completely ignore). Providing educators resources allows them to attach the benefits from that content back to your brand, and keeps them coming back for more. It may seem like a roundabout way to get to a sale, but once you earn that trust you’re able to get them on the phone, get one-on-one meetings, and eventually earn signed a PO. The more you give, the more authentic you become, the more you will get.

Social Media Changed Storytelling Forever

Can you name every social media channel in use today? Yeah, me neither! There are so many different ways for us to connect, which has provided educators across the globe so many options to meet, collaborate, consume and share. Their personal learning community is no longer limited to the people they see on a day-to-day basis or at conferences. Educators are sharing ideas and best practices through groups on LinkedIn, Twitter chats, or other social channels, and putting what they’ve learned to use in their classrooms. In other words, they are looking to those they trust for help.

Understanding what channels influencers and decision-makers use and for what purpose should shape your content strategy. For example, LinkedIn may be a strong outlet to reach administrators, while Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest may be where you find your classroom influencers. Before reaching out, make time to listen to their “conversations” in order to determine the best ways to interact and contribute. Remember, you want to add value to the conversations they are having rather than throwing your company or product information into the mix. Interrupting the conversation makes you a nuisance, but becoming a trusted contributor to the conversation makes you a colleague.

After years of being bombarded by traditional marketing methods, educators are looking past the marketing hype and are increasingly driven by their need to demonstrate ROI. Vendors are catching on to this trend, and learning to create content aimed at helping educators solve their problems on their timeline. This approach allows educators to filter through the marketing speak and see the value vendors can bring to the table.

The shift in marketing and storytelling has helped companies grow at exciting rates. Focusing on telling the right story at the right time to the right person will create strong leads and differentiate you from companies whose marketing hype promising “the fastest, easiest, and best” rings as hollow as the latest fake news. Here’s the real news: once you show educators the value your company brings to the conversation, you will earn their respect, and maybe—when they’re ready—their business.

Jacob Hanson is the managing partner of PR with Panache! Follow Jacob on Twitter @PRPanacheJacob.