Yes, we are talking about outsourcing your school's website management. Not just the design of the website, which is quite common for most schools, but to include the ongoing content updates, proofing, copywriting, graphics, and content additions day in and day out.
The most vital work of a school website is the ongoing upkeep. It might look great when you first get handed a nice looking and intuitive new site, but what happens a year or two down the road when you've had a variety of people adding, deleting, revising, and reorganizing it? Did those folks making the changes understand best practices for website design or layout? Do they have a good grasp of public relations and how the school website affects your school's reputation and image? Or, is everyone doing their own thing--or maybe doing nothing because no one has the time to take on these extra tasks?
#1 Your School’s Image
Every parent, student, and taxpayer should be able to go to your website and see evidence of great things happening within the walls of your schools. They should see what quality their tax dollars or tuition are buying. It can also save you money when it saves your staff time by providing answers to those commonly requested questions, making forms readily available, letting parents get the information they need quickly and conveniently--just by visiting your school website. It can cut down on phone calls to your office. It can buy goodwill by making the job of being an involved parent a bit easier while improving communication. It can help you build the positive and respected image you hope to present to your patrons.
Keep your eye on the ball here--if done right you will not only improve your public image but can attract more students, save money, go green (stop using all that paper to get the job done), improve staff morale, and gain the respect that our educators in this country deserve. All this by making good use of that school website and your social media platforms? Yep. It's just good public relations and smart leadership.
#2 Website Management Skillsets
Getting the right skill sets, especially for the areas critical to website management, which include graphic design, copywriting, editing, proofing, public relations, and a solid understanding of website best practices, means requiring much more from typical school personnel who are hired for a completely different set of skills. You also must deal with staff turnover so you will be hiring for those skill sets over and over again.
#3 Saving Money
Outsourcing can save your school money, as compared to paying internal staff to develop and manage a website, especially considering that payroll is the most expensive budget item in any school. It can also provide you with predictable costs--you'll know what to expect each year. A company focused on these specific skillsets can also save money by taking advantage of economies of scale, which you can't do in-house. They must, however, make a profit in order to stay in business and continue to serve you, so depending on what all is included you might not see immediate cost savings. However, if you receive more for the money spent, you are indeed saving. For example, if you get higher quality, consistency, and reliability while spending no more money, you can still count yourself ahead. If your formerly static and out-of-date website is now informative and inviting, you are way ahead financially and in reputation.
Some schools like the idea of more than one person being able to upload content to their website. Their theory that “many hands make light work,” can quickly become “too many cooks spoil the broth” if some oversight for how and where to post this information isn’t managed. When many people have access to upload content, the tone and the message of the content can vary drastically within your website. Inconsistent messaging, tone, and voice, can hurt your schools image and branding, and you can lose credibility. Especially if you have teachers or staff who like to underline, highlight, and bold text, then use exclamation marks for emphasis. Setting clear expectations and establishing style sheets can help reduce this problem, but one or two people should still review content before it’s uploaded, just to be consistent—and that adds time and money to your website management process.
So while CMS might seem like a perfect website solution you can control, there are a lot of other factors to consider that might not become apparent until you’re hip-deep in website issues. Here at School Webmasters, for example, we have about 30 people dedicated to perform your updates on a daily basis (including graphic updates). We have our own style sheets so that your content is always edited and consistent. Have a problem or issue? We fix it. We become your professional, personal webmasters. All for a low monthly hosting fee of $149.00 per site). While managing your own CMS might be what a majority of schools are doing, it may no longer be the wisest use of your staff’s time or skills.
#5 Training Time – recurring expenses
One of the often hidden costs when keeping your website management in-house is that of training. No matter how well designed your CMS system might be, no matter how good the documentation is, training is be required. Anyone who has been requested to provide content will need to be trained—not only on the system you’re using but to include all aspects for keeping your website looking professional and representing your school as you’d like. This means using best practices, having an eye for good design, good grammar and spelling, inviting tone, avoiding passive voice, following a standardized style guide, and much more. And training will be an ongoing cost—with staff changes and refresher courses, it will be at least a yearly project that will take time and money (and possibly resentment by staff who are already wearing too many hats and don’t appreciate being given one more). The more people editing the site, the more the cost in time and budget.
#6 Gaining Commitment
You and your staff are committed to your professions. You’re enthused and motivated. But transferring that enthusiasm to the website means taking time and commitment away from your job to update the website. It’s just not a top priority. Whether it is the IT department or teaching staff assigned the duty, it is not the primary objective for them. There are other duties more important. But by outsourcing to someone whose job it is to keep your site current, intuitive, and informative, you get commitment.