Your school’s website is that critical intersection between public relations, customer service, marketing, media relations, communications, and branding. Website management is the process that makes it all work.
In addition, website management ensures that your website servers, software upgrades, site performance, and security are continually monitored and maintained.
Your website goals would, of course, include:
- keeping your customers informed and engaged;
- showing potential customers what you have to offer;
- telling customers why they want or need what you provide;
- building trust and confidence in your services; and
- validating your brand and reputation.
In addition to the aspects of effective school communications listed above, you need the practical applications of an attractive school website design, intuitive navigation, up-to-date and engaging content, and a fully-accessible, mobile-friendly site. And delivering in each of these areas requires various skill sets, skills rarely possessed by just one individual. It often takes a team to make it all happen.
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How does your website measure up?
Sound a bit more complicated than you imagined? Thought you could assign a few staff members to add occasional updates to the website calendar or post a few attachments and call it good? Unfortunately, that is precisely what many schools do.
When this is the case, parents can’t rely on their child’s school website for information. They are forced to call the office, usually in frustration, because they don’t know about something that is scheduled or they don’t know about a policy or requirement that affects them. They complain about the school’s failure to communicate. They feel disengaged and often unwelcome. Far too many schools’ reputations, public schools in particular, suffer from this situation.
There is a better way, but like anything worthwhile, it involves knowing your goals, developing a strategy, and implementing a plan.
Step #1: What is your school’s website purpose?
I imagine you want to use your school website (or any website for that matter) to obtain multiple goals. So, begin by listing and then prioritizing them. You may not be able to put them all into play at once, so what is your top priority? Here is a list of possibilities to get you started thinking about your school’s priorities:
- Contact information (where we are located or how to reach us)
- Parent information (letting parents know what is happening at your schools, including the when, where, and why)
- Attract students (marketing to increase enrollment or finding the students with the interests and goals that relate to your school’s strengths or specialties)
- Recruit staff (finding the most qualified and dedicated team who matches your school culture and goals)
- Change perceptions (correcting negative, maybe faulty, public opinions about your school or possibly education in general)
- Build a strong brand (establishing a respected school brand and a trusted reputation)
- Engage parents (helping parents to feel included and engaged in their child’s education to improve student outcomes)
- Create community support (gaining the respect and support of community members, parents, taxpayers, and local media)
- Fulfill legal requirements (maintaining state and federal laws for notices, postings, access, etc.)
- Establish trust (using communications to earn trust through transparency)
- Tell our stories (sharing your successes and progress through stories, videos, and news to give people a glimpse inside your school)
- Seek donations or volunteers (to encourage donations to worthy efforts and causes or to find willing volunteers to share the load)
Depending on what your school priorities and needs are, you would begin by focusing your website content on the needs and interests of those particular audiences. For example, if you chose to focus on increasing enrollment this year, you would:
- Make sure the strengths and specialties your school offers are prominent on your website.
- Highlight the primary reasons prospective parents select your school.
- Present your school strengths in a variety of ways, including video, stories, testimonials, stats, or infographics.
- Review your enrollment processes, streamlining the application steps to make it easy to submit.
If you do all of this and then share your great content on your school social media channels, the local media, and with local groups like the Chamber of Commerce, real estate agents, and parent organizations, your website is supporting your goal of increasing enrollment. Great!
Now, move on to the next goal on your priority list and tackle that one. Eventually, as you focus on each goal, you will have a website that is helping to accomplish each priority of your school communications and marketing efforts. The key is to begin.
Step #2: Creating a project plan for each website goal
#1 List Goals
List all the school goals you hope your website should or could support (even if you aren’t sure how you’ll do it yet).
#2 Prioritize Goals
Now put them in the order of what will bring you the most benefit or is a pain point that you need to remove quickly.
#3 Select and Strategize
Select one of these priority goals, and analyze ways you can deliver on that goal considering each of the delivery methods (story, information, interaction, visual, etc.) and how those ideas would be practical considering the areas of school marketing, communications, public relations, and customer support.
#4 Calendar and track
All of this can feel like a lot to do, but if you take it one bite at a time, you can accomplish it over time. Whether you do it using an hour a week or a project a month, depending on your resources and your available time, schedule the steps into your day.
#5 Determine evaluation criteria
Decide how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your efforts. You might begin by adding analytics to your website to see if traffic to those pages or content increases. Look at conversion, for example. Do you get more enrollments and are they handled more smoothly? Do enrollments save staff time? Are errors decreased, or are parents asking fewer questions about the process? Each goal might require a different evaluation, but decide how you will determine if your changes have moved you closer to your goal.
Step #3: Applying the process
Next, your daily website management processes should support your established goals. That goes without saying. But how does the actual process look? What is a consistent process to keep your school websites effective, informative, accurate, inviting, and accessible?
#1 Gather stories that support your goals
Every member of your school’s staff, from the custodian to the superintendent, sees successes, improvements, and examples daily. Create ways and establish expectations (even if it means making assignments to your staff) to submit these great happenings. Then turn them into news, stories, examples, videos, photo ops, and social media posts for your websites.
#2 Recognize and reward those who provide this information
Make it a habit of showing your appreciation for staff engagement. If you do, it will encourage more engagement, more stories, and more great content you can use. You can do this at staff meetings, at governing board meetings, or with handwritten thank you notes, but whatever method you choose, show the staff that you value their efforts.
#3 Create quality website management processes
These include making it simple for staff to submit news, information, events, and photos to your communication channels. Website updates should be checked for quality control, typos, grammar, tone-of-voice, and consistent messaging. Develop a content style guide that anyone who touches the website knows they must follow. Assure that website updaters maintain website accessibility standards for both those website updates and for any document you link to from the website (PDFs, Word, Google Docs, etc.). Remove outdated information quickly. Make sure your website is always current. Schedule regular checks to remove or fix broken links, and review the site layout in multiple browsers and devices.
We realize this is a relatively high-level overview of what effective website management entails. To accomplish specific goals throughout the year, particularly as it relates to school communications, marketing, and school public relations, you’d need to create a detailed project plan or campaign for individual events or goals.
For example, you might develop a campaign for back-to-school events that would integrate the website, social media, video, photos, stories, interviews, and perspectives from parents, staff, and students. It would include details for each aspect of the activities, developing content for parent notifications and invites, wording and images for postings on social media, content to pitch to the local media, assignments for the event itself, and all of this tied to due dates. Here is a simple project plan you are welcome to use as an example.
Here’s a video outlining what goes into the school website management processes we provide to our clients. Feel free to use our methods, or better yet, hit the easy button, and let us do this for you as well!
Server and software management
In addition to the processes you create for managing the website content we describe above, if you host your own website, which is common with open-source platforms like WordPress, you’ll need to establish scheduled processes for website software or server maintenance. All systems vary, so have someone with expertise in this area audit your processes to assure you aren’t missing some critical aspect that could put your website in jeopardy.
For example, typical server maintenance includes steps like: verify backups are working, check disk usage, update your OS, check application updates, check server utilization, change passwords, check system security, and monitor timetables for service packs and patches. Keep up-to-date with the latest security threats and make sure that your systems are patched and current with the latest software releases to minimize vulnerabilities.
Once you have the basics covered, you’ll want to look at some of the new trends in infrastructure, with auto-scaling servers, next-generation disaster recovery, threat protection, and advanced load balancing. Take all the necessary precautions to stay current and secure.
Great school communication = strategic website management
It all boils down to making your school’s online communications efforts a priority. We live in a digital world. Simply put, do not neglect school website management. If you fail to develop and implement a communications plan, of which your school websites are an integral part, you will do so at the risk of your school’s reputation, you’ll hamper parent engagement (which can affect student learning), and you will be creating uphill battles for your staff that can be avoided by implementing these processes. You will also be missing out on those invaluable opportunities to market your school and earn a respected school reputation.
If you’d like to learn more about other topics that affect school communications, check out these articles:
- School social media management 101, Part 1 & Part 2
- 6 things people actually want to see on your social media pages
- 3 steps to improving parent engagement
- From good to great: school customer service
- How to have an ADA compliant school website
Bonnie Leedy, CEO