Better Beginnings, a program of the Arkansas Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Early Child Care and Early Childhood Education, connects Arkansas families with child care (“daycare”) and information that helps their children experience a safe, happy, healthy childhood from birth to age 5 (when children start kindergarten). The focus of Better Beginnings is on improving quality of child care providers and early learning for children. Better Beginnings has a robust and interactive website with an extensive variety of tools for parents/guardians of children under five. The ongoing challenge is how to keep visitors coming to the Better Beginnings website year-round.
Driving traffic to the website has always been a product of traditional advertising methods with a heavy emphasis on parenting magazines throughout the state, along with education at professional conferences. Better Beginnings had a Facebook page, Twitter account and a YouTube channel that were established, but not actively nurtured by anyone on their staff. To learn more about our target audience media consumption habits we conducted the following research:
- Focus Groups – We conducted primary focus group research with parents from varied socio-economic backgrounds across the state to learn how parents picked daycare for their children and to find out the sources from which they obtained most of their parenting information. Our findings indicated that when selecting a daycare provider, two consistently criteria rose to the top of the list: cost and convenience to their home and work. Notably, “quality ratings” and “learning environment” were at the bottom of the list. Sources of parenting information were varied, but digital resources were the top sources cited, including blogs, YouTube, Facebook posts, articles shared by friends and popular parenting websites.
- Data Review – We also reviewed daycare voucher enrollment data from DHS to look at the demographics of the parent/guardian audience. We learned from this data that 25 percent of voucher-eligible children are under the guardianship of their grandparents, who are subsequently making their daycare decisions.
- Channel Audit – We conducted a channel audit that included a review of last year’s social media analytics, a review of fan/follower metrics, post volume and a content analysis. We learned via website analytics that social media posts were the primary method of referral to the Better Beginnings website. We also learned that the most frequently shared social media posts were the ones we produced that recognized when a provider earned a new star rating (providers are categorized as “licensed,” 1-star, 2-star and the highest level, 3-star). Highest post engagement was achieved when we uploaded and promoted new parent resources.
At the beginning of the state’s fiscal year, ComGroup led the Better Beginnings staff through a strategic planning session to determine objectives, strategies and target audiences. The planning session included a diverse group of management and staff members from DHS Division of Child Care and Early Learning. During the planning session, we shared our research findings and recommended implementing a more robust social media campaign with a regular, consistent schedule of content creation and upload. The goal of the social media campaign was to generate a healthy flow of monthly visitors to the website, keeping the Better Beginnings messages and resources accessible to parents and providers. The target audiences were 1) parents and guardians, including grandparents of children under age 5, and 2) licensed child care providers in the state. The objective of the social media campaign was to create 12-months of audience-oriented social media content, posted on a regular schedule each month, in order to increase engagement with the organization and increase traffic to the website by at least 15 percent.
The timetable for the social media campaign included 30 days of research, 30 days of planning and 10 months of implementation beginning in September 2017. We provided year-end reporting at the end of the campaign. Tactics we utilized to build this campaign included:
- Monthly Content Calendars – We committed to producing a monthly calendar that coincided overall with the multi-channel, integrated communications plan. Content calendars allowed for a structured schedule that was flexible enough to allow for timely content to be added as it became available. Social content aligned with other paid channel messages, like print and broadcast. We integrated social content support across paid, owned and earned channels to reinforce the messages and support the client’s objectives. Posts across the channels included tips teaching parents how to identify high quality child care, links to the online tools such as Finding Child Care Tool and the Family Resource Library, which includes a collection of family-oriented content from fun activities to answers on health topics to help parents keep their kids healthy and learning at home as well. Social post content was also created for recognition of Better Beginnings providers across the state. Designed to improve the level of quality in child care and early childhood education programs across the state, Better Beginnings distinguishes the quality of each Arkansas child care facility by a 1, 2 and 3-star rating system. We created social media content to highlight the efforts of each individual child care facility when joining the Better Beginnings program or when moving up in status level. Content created included animated gif images with the child care facility’s name. As one of the targeted audiences, these provider centers were able to engage with these social media posts and share with friends and family to spread the word of their new program offerings included with the Better Beginnings program.
- Channel personas – We analyzed current follower/fan activity and built audience personas for each social media channel. Personas allowed the content creators (writers and graphic artists) to build audience-focused content by social media channel.
- Monthly content production – Each month, we worked with the client and our creative team to develop a new “tool” for upload to the website and promotion via social media. Previously, the content additions to the website had been fairly random and not scheduled or posted with any consistency.
- Daily monitoring and response protocol – Because we were producing so much content on social media for Better Beginnings, audience engagement increased. Anytime there was a report in the media about a daycare worker that had been arrested or if a facility was cited for an infraction, post engagement increased and inbound questions increased. We developed a daily monitoring schedule and response protocol for the social media specialist to use when responding to questions.
- Sprout Social – We subscribed to Sprout Social to provide automation and reporting in a single platform. Sprout Social allowed us to show the client the entire monthly calendar in “draft” form, and then upon client approval, simply toggle the posts to “publish” for automation.
- Monthly reporting and review – Sprout Social also allowed us to include monthly audience engagement data to the client at each monthly meeting. The monthly review of engagement revealed surprising insight into what posts performed best. Each month, we worked with the client to produce more social posts that aligned with top performing content. This data-driven approach was a departure from prior methods of the client periodically posting conference photos or randomly adding new education curriculum or parenting tips.
A writer, graphic designer and a digital media specialist worked together each month to review the client’s overall communications plan along with seasonal calendars (to include conferences and integrate school year-oriented content). Each month the team worked with DHS to get the list of new star-level provider achievements so those accomplishments could be promoted and those high-quality providers recognized.
Producing 30-days of content required quite a bit of monthly client review and approval. Initially, it took a little longer to have the client review a whole month of content, make revisions, and then get a final version back to them for signoff; but once we got the campaign going, the client became more accustomed to carving out the time for review. Another unexpected challenge was increasing the amount of “dad” and “grandparent” content, including images, to accompany each post. We realized that previous years’ content had been somewhat skewed toward “mom”-style content and images, so we made a point each month to include a wider variety.
Our measurement used analytics from Sprout Social reports, Google Analytics, Facebook Insights reports, Twitter analytics and YouTube reports. The reach for all Better Beginnings social channels surpassed 3 million impressions in the campaign year, a 71 percent increase over the previous date range. Total followers for all channels rose to 2,215, 52 percent more followers over the previous date range. Over 950 messages were sent out over Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This was 41 percent more delivered social media content than the previous date range. As a result, over 470 total messages were received inbound from our audience, a 77 percent increase over the previous date range. Those impressions included families and child care providers in Arkansas. Across Better Beginnings social channels, analytics indicated 10,225 engagements, an increase with content by 14 percent. The social media campaign resulted in website traffic page views increasing by 16 percent over the previous date range. New users to the website saw an increase of 20 percent over the previous date range; with a 22 percent increase in the number of website sessions.
The curriculum supplements section on the website for providers has seen a 55 percent increase in pageviews, and a 19 percent increase in pageviews to the parents and families section of the website. The Adventures in Learning resource section was shared multiple times across social media to prove a 300 percent increase in page views. Analytics also showed an increase of 45 percent in pageviews to the Help finding childcare assistance guide on the website over the previous date range and a 743 percent increase in page views from social media traffic to the Kindergarten Readiness Checklist guide on the website over the previous date range.
The social analytics reports indicated two types of posts that performed best: parents wanted tools and providers wanted recognition. We already have plans in place for the coming year to produce posts accordingly. We also learned that animated content and video content performs well, so we are decreasing the number of “static” posts gradually in favor of video and animation. We also found that social media content related to Spanish language resources was popular. We have already begun the process of translating more posts and more tools and resources for use in content this year.
 Vouchers for payment of daycare are available to lower socio-economic parents and guardians who meet certain income edibility criteria.
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