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Internal Marketing: Critical School Communications Strategies
2021-07-27
happy school staff

Often when we consider our various target audiences, we don’t consider the one closest to us—teachers, staff, and administration. These important people are your “internal publics,” and marketing to them is one of the most important things you can do. 

Benefits of Internal Marketing

Whether or not you know it, your staff members can be some of your best school ambassadors to the community. Much of your school’s reputation is built on word of mouth—so what are your employees saying about your school?

effective school ambassadors

Here are just a few things that positive internal marketing can do for your school: 

  • Establish a strong school culture
  • Encourage teamwork and unity
  • Decrease workplace conflict and improve morale 
  • Increase motivation so that everyone carries out programs and policies effectively 
  • Bolster the satisfaction and retention of engaged and invested employees

When employees speak with pride about your school, it’s a powerful testimonial about your school environment. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting this important audience when formulating your marketing strategies—really, in the end, this is just good internal public relations.

If you’re thinking of “marketing” in terms of selling, think of marketing to your employees as essentially “selling” your company culture. Your goal should be to have employees who join and then stay with your school. 

Here are a few simple tips for ways to accomplish this: 

  • Clearly communicate your school’s mission, vision, and values.
  • Promote a positive work environment and school culture. 
  • Encourage employees to create and contribute to the environment.
  • Ask for feedback and input, and then show you value their opinions.
  • Institute accountability and ownership of responsibilities; this will result in better work production.
  • Recognize your employees’ need to feel valued and respected.
  • Provide validation, recognition, and praise for jobs well done.

Do these things, and your employees will be sold on your school! Some of these tips take a willingness to be open and flexible, and the desire to do things better in order to bring about improved results will benefit your school in the long run. Think about it: employees who understand the school’s goals and values, who feel valued, and who take pride in their work, will be your biggest fans and some of your most effective ambassadors. 

Set an objective to improve your public relations with your staff and teachers (that is, market better internally). We’ll give you some tips and ideas for projects to help you accomplish this goal.

Your school website

Your School Website

Take a moment to review your website. What does your website say about your staff? Do you have an “About Us” page that communicates your mission, vision, and goals? Are you highlighting your staff’s accomplishments and successes? Not only do these things increase employee morale and make people feel validated, but it also shows the community you care about your employees while allowing you to showcase your school’s accomplishments.  

Related to your school website is a school intranet. Make it part of your school communication strategy. In fact, if you don’t have a school intranet, we would like to suggest implementing one for your administration and staff. An intranet is an excellent conduit of communication; memos, staff news, and announcements can be stored centrally and accessed at any time. What’s more, an intranet is a great central place for your teachers to store, share, and collaborate. School Webmasters offers an intranet service; contact our office if you need more information.

school blog

A School Blog

What about your school blog? Ask a teacher or staff member if he/she would be interested in “guest posting” a topic or writing about an event or fundraiser in which they were particularly involved.

Are your employees following and sharing your school’s social media posts? Why not ask them to? At your next staff meeting, make a plea for your teachers and staff to engage with your social media. This small action has the potential to expand your general audience and raise your visibility in the community. 

Putting a Strategy in Place

Now that you know why internal marketing is important and have heard a few tips, let’s get down to specifics of improving morale and retention through internal marketing. 

Choose something (or several things) from the following list, and create a project around it—the effort you put into these internal relationships will greatly benefit your school in the long run. 

Consider starting an employee e-newsletter or article on the intranet. This can be as involved or as simple as you think will fit your needs. The basic goal is to communicate well and often with your staff about how the school is doing and what they can do to help. Feeling connected to the organization’s goals is one way to keep staff mentally and emotionally tied to your school. 

This can also be an opportunity to open up some two-way communication with your employees. Conduct “stay” interviews to find out why employees have remained with the school. Ask for feedback, find out their needs, and be ready to follow up on their input. 

Make sure you have the resources and training in place to empower your employees to realize their potential. Offering training shows your staff you are invested in them and their success; in turn they will be motivated and engaged. A few ideas for training include computers and technology, programs and software to make their jobs easier, mentoring programs, and outside seminars and classes.

Saying thank you

Showing your thanks

When an employee (or group or department) does a great job, extend your thanks. Send an email; mention their success in a staff or department meeting; post it on the bulletin board in the staff lounge, on the website, or through social media. By simply mentioning or tagging them publicly in a status update or tweet, your employee will feel recognized, and all of your followers will see you care about your employees and their contributions. Gratitude is a simple expression but has a powerful impact on how your employees feel about their school and their job. People who feel valued and appreciated are more positive, more productive, and more loyal.

it's worth the effort

It’s worth the effort

Half the battle is recognizing and acknowledging the need for internal marketing. If you make the effort to place your workforce as one of your primary audiences, your school will benefit from higher employee satisfaction and retention in addition to an improved community reputation. 

Good internal marketing may be difficult at the beginning, but once you have a plan and practices in place, good internal communication will become a habit; the work-place culture you’re striving for will be solidified. Sooner or later it won’t be something you have to work on; it will be intuitive and routine. Marketing is never just a one-man job. When your employees are positive, unified, and engaged, you make everyone a marketer for your school.

Need some help? School Webmasters can help you with your website, public relations, and other strategies. Just give us a call at 888.750.4556 and ask for Jim or request a quote and we’ll reach out to you.

For more helpful articles about customer service, check out these blogs.

For articles about marketing your school (both internally and externally), check out these blogs.

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
694105
Are Parents Using Your School Website?
2021-07-13
parent and student looking at school website

Your school website is your public face. It’s how you introduce yourself to prospective families and how you communicate with families who already entrust you with their children every school day. With that in mind, you want your website to serve the needs of both groups. 

Are parents in your community really using your website? If they are, you’ll want to make sure you know what they use it for most often so you can stay on top of those services. If they aren’t, then you’ll want to know why so you can make changes to better serve them.

So, what are parents looking for when they visit your school’s website? Depending on their needs, the parents in your community want to be able to access different information throughout the school year. How well you provide that information may determine whether they ever bother to pay your online home another visit.

Open Enrollment

Prospective Families

In this digital age, parents looking to find a school for their child are likely to visit your website before ever visiting your campus. Does your website provide the answers they’re looking for? Prospective families look for:

  • information about your school’s curriculum, programs, and staff;
  • photos that illustrate the general climate of your campus;
  • self-explanatory, printable online registration forms; and
  • updated tuition/fee schedules.

These days, parents are also likely to want to register for the upcoming school year and pay fees online. Does your website have these functionalities? If not, it may be costing you student enrollment you didn’t even know you were losing.

Enrolled parents

Enrolled Families

When your students’ parents access your website, they are looking for a way to connect to their child’s educational experience. They’re looking to stay informed, so it’s important to provide them with up-to-date, helpful web content that addresses their most immediate concerns. To do that, you need to predict what parents want when they log onto your school site. Most parents are looking for information that will help them plan the following, for example:

  • district and school calendars
  • school menus and the ability to add money to their child’s lunch card online
  • a straightforward way to contact their child’s teacher

What’s more, parents need these items to be up to date and easy to find. If you’re going to refer parents to your website as a convenient resource, then you must update it regularly with easy-to-access information. An active website is a great indicator of active home/school communication.

Using parent surveys to improve your website 

So, how can you find out for sure whether parents are using your school’s website? If they are, what services are they using? If they aren’t, why not? Performing a survey is a great way to find answers to both questions. You can find out what you’re doing right and what you could be doing better. For online surveys, Survey Monkey is a great place to start. You can create your own questions and email the link to your focus group, parents, or PTA to get a good idea of how well your community uses your website.

mobile website

Make sure your school website can be read from any device

In addition to content that your website visitors are looking for, it must be readable on any device they are using. If your content is difficult to read, they’ll be gone within three seconds (really, that’s the average length of modern patience). In 2020, 61% of online users are accessing your website from a mobile device, and that increases yearly. Make sure your school’s website is responsive.

Stay on top of your content

Whether enrolled students and their parents or prospective parents looking for the right fit for their child, they are all looking for information about what is happening at your school. Here are a few vital areas we recommend you focus on:

#1. Calendar events. Make finding dates and times for upcoming events and activities easily available. This can be from an online calendar, a downloadable PDF of your annual calendar, or an iCal that allows visitors to download school events into their personal online calendars. This keeps parents in the loop, students from missing out on important schedules, and prospective parents aware of what your school has to offer.

#2. Upcoming events. Create pages that outline special events, and link to them from your online calendar. Tell why it is part of your school, what value it adds to the students and their educational experience, and what the students think of the recurring or traditional events.

#3. News. Use a news page to promote upcoming events and activities. Be consistent and reliable with your news. Once parents learn to trust that your website provides news that is useful to them, they will return again and again to your site to stay informed. Also, be sure to use news articles to follow up with activities. Let everyone know what a success your school’s events and activities are and how students benefit from them.

welcome packet

#4. Welcome packet. Help new parents acclimate to their child’s school by providing them with a comprehensive welcome packet (available online as well as from the front office). Create a guide to help answer new and returning parents’ common questions in one inclusive guide. You might want to include the following:

  • Welcome letter. Be sure the tone in your letter is personal and welcoming. Let them know your staff will be helpful advocates for parents and their students. Include contact information and the invitation to reach out with their questions and submit suggestions.
  • Important dates. This might be as simple as a link or a copy to your school calendar, but provide information that helps them with advance planning for upcoming activities so they can integrate student events into their own schedules.
  • Volunteer opportunities. Many parents are willing to get involved with their child’s school. Outline the opportunities your school has for volunteering, including the contact information for each type of volunteer opportunity (include time commitments required). You can even include a flyer for volunteers to sign-up.
  • Key contacts. Some school website managers are hesitant to include contact information on their websites (like emails) to avoid spam. But, you can use a welcome packet to provide this type of information returning or new parents need like email lists for key contacts, links to e-newsletters, PTO or PTA contacts, your school Facebook page, etc.

It may be time to take a hard look at your school website and see if you are providing a resource parents are using. If they are not, why not? If it isn’t a resource that provides parents and prospective parents 24/7 access to the information they need when they need it, then it is the school’s job to turn that around. 

An effective website promotes enrollment and retention and improves customer service and school branding. If this seems overwhelming, remember that School Webmasters has the expertise to make it possible while saving your staff time and your school money, so give us a call at (888) 750-4556 and speak to Jim or reach out to us.

More helpful tips to improve your school website:

Using school websites and social media to encourage parent engagement.

Roll out the welcome mat for your school.

How to engage and connect with busy parents.

686821
Pick Me! Pick Me!
2021-06-22
Pick Me! Pick Me!

Unless your school is a boarding school, you are hoping to attract local students. That means you need to show up on the local internet searches parents might use to research local schools whether private or public. If your school doesn’t show up in their search, you are missing out in a big way.

One of the ways to increase your chances of showing up, besides having an active school website, is to claim your “Google My Business” listing. Google My Business (GMB) lets you maximize visibility in an organic search and highlight positive reviews at the same time. It’s like jumping up and down, waving your arms enthusiastically, and shouting at parents, “Pick me! Pick me!” No school administrator, especially those working in recruitment, enrollment, or admissions, would ever want to miss out on such an opportunity. 

If you are serving students within a local geographic area (and most schools are), your goal is to make sure local parents are aware of what your school has to offer. Marketing folks will tell you that you need to “fish where the fish are.” Google My Business is a way to do just that. It is well worth the effort to add GMB to your school marketing efforts. 

Google My Business mobile version

11 Benefits of Google My Business (for your school)

Today’s schools must work hard to attract students because there are many options to choose from. But finding and attracting your ideal students can be complex, time-consuming, and expensive. Wouldn’t it be ideal if a pop-up display provided your school’s location, phone number, website link, and parent reviews when someone searched for your school? Well, lucky you. That’s exactly what Google My Business does.

So, what are some of the benefits of setting up GMB for your school? 

It's Free

1. It’s Free!

You don't need to spend hard-to-come-by budget dollars to start promoting your school, developing your brand, and creating community relationships. The presence of your school on the free GMB platform is a budget-friendly way to strengthen your presence in your community.

2. High-profile display of school information

Your searchers will immediately see mobile-friendly information that matters to them in their research, like:

  • School hours of operation
  • Directions to your school
  • Photos of your school
  • A “call now” button for easy access to your school for mobile users
  • A description of your school
Visibility

3. Search visibility

If you are using Google as your search engine, you will notice there are three local listings at the top of the page (above the organic results and below the paid ads) along with their information. These are the local listings (business or schools) populated by Google My Business listings. By providing a complete and optimized listing, your school can land in this section. It also lets searchers click on the rest of your content, such as your website, or to easily make a phone call to your school.

4. Local SEO boost

Google can be a crucial part of your local SEO and marketing strategy by helping you find students in your area and improving search engine rankings for your school. Google My Business is directly connected to Google Search and Maps. When a potential student or family is searching a school in an “area near me,” Google will find your school and show it to a potential family. By having a Google My Business account, Google will rank you higher in the SEO engine.

5. Provide insights

Google My Business offers insider insights into your business list, giving you useful insight into what's working and what's not working. Insights concentrate on how families locate your listing on Search and Maps and what they do after finding it, helping you make changes to enhance your listing and your school. By having a Google My Business page, you will be able to see who is seeing your page, making it easier to target them with further advertising efforts.

Consistency

6. Consistency

You want your school’s information to be correct on the web—regardless of where your customers find it. Google My Business allows you to enter, monitor, and update the correct information and business data in one directory over the internet so search engine queries provide the right information. Basically, to gain from this Google-powered advantage, you must keep the information up to date, which also makes it very easy to get in touch with the administration for additional information.

7. Review management

Google My Business uses rich insights, review integration, and customer interaction tools to give you an outlook into the online reputation of your school. Knowing how your school is viewed by the public will help you grow and develop. It is crucial to manage your online reputation. You (or your page manager) can easily evaluate these reviews and respond accordingly, showing the community that they are heard and valued. These insights can help you improve your brand and make changes to enhance school customer service, which in turn will improve student enrollment and student retention.

8. Gaining customer insights

GMB can provide your school with analytics you can customize. You choose the status you want to compare, and it shows up on a chart. The three main sections are visibility, engagement, and audience. You’ll use this information to improve your engagement and conversions (including enrollment) by using information from these areas:

  • The visibility section shows you the number of views you are getting on your school profile, photos, and posts. You can view this data to show the last seven, 30, or 90 days.
  • The engagement section lets you see how your audience is interacting with your posts. As in the visibility section, you can select results from the last seven, 30, or 90 days.
  • The audience section shows the breakdown of the people following you, including age groups, gender, and countries.

9. Additional communication channels

The more communication channels you can provide to your potential and existing customers, the more accessible your school will be. Additional channels also provide opportunities to promote your programs and expertise and offer additional educational or other benefits your school offers.

Customer Reviews

10. Encourage and respond to reviews

Reviews are powerful marketing tools, which you’ll get whether you want them or not. Most customers read these reviews and decide whether your school is a good match for their child’s needs or not based on what others are saying about your school. So, it is imperative you make it as easy as possible for customers to leave positive reviews. You can send a feedback request email with a link to your Google My Business page. You can then use GMB’s dashboard to monitor and respond to reviews. Responding to reviews, even negative ones, is important as is responding in a professional way and thanking your customers (parents, volunteers, students, etc.) for sharing their positive reviews.

Stand out in the crowd

11. Stand out from your competitors

As we mentioned, your GMB profile displays the basic information to encourage parents (customers) to engage with your school. It also lets you display a description of your school that will help visitors see if what your school offers matches the needs of their child or their hopes for their child’s education. This description offers a snapshot of your school’s differentiators and values, including relevant keywords. You can stand out from other schools in your area through this description—a benefit  you won’t want to pass up!

To further stand out from the crowd, make sure your school website is top shelf. 

Need some help? Hire School Webmasters!

While claiming and setting up your Google My Business account isn’t difficult, it does take time and a bit of dedication. Often this is just one more thing on your plate you’ve not had the time to tackle. School Webmasters can do it for your school for $499. We’ll gather the information necessary to maximize your account, make customized recommendations for your school, create and post optimized content, and turn it over to you along with instructions and tips to maintain your listing and review your stats. Easy peasy!

Use Google My Business to better connect and understand your audience, generate more traffic to your website, and increase your chances of being found by parents looking for the programs and activities your school offers.

If you can provide more quality information and content even before your viewers click on your website's link, then why not do it? If you’re not already doing so, let us start building your listing on Google. Leverage the advantages of a Google My Business page for your school, and shout “Pick Me, Pick Me” to the next parent searching for the educational services you provide!

700090
School Website Management: It May Be Time to Get Some Help!
2021-06-08
Help button

If you are like many of the school administrators we speak with, you know your website is a critical tool in your communications toolbox. But, most schools don’t have staff on hand to manage communications and public relations. They simply can’t afford it. So, how do you effectively and affordably manage these critical tasks? Consider getting some help by experts trained to manage school websites. Your school staff is busy and often lacks the skill sets to maintain the level of communication that an effective website requires. 

Not just the design—the day-to-day grunt work too!

Most schools outsource the design of their school’s websites. Very few schools have the skill sets among their staff members to get a professionally designed school website with effective layout and navigation. But, there are content management systems that provide templates and editing software to use. Sometimes these are sufficient. (Though sometimes they are ineffective or cookie-cutter and don’t brand your school the way you want and provide the image you need.) But very few supply you with the staff to keep your site current, professional, and informative on a day-to-day basis, which is what really matters, right? Consider another option: you can let School Webmasters become your trained staff of professional webmasters for as low as only $189 a month. 

Get help with the grunt work, too.

If you can’t do that, then let me help you create a process that replicates what we do to help our clients maintain current and effective websites.

  1. Develop your school’s website style guide (the rules anyone who has access to making updates will follow). Be specific, from grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules to tone of voice and font usage.
  2. Determine color choices, and stick with them throughout the site. Don’t let individuals change “their” page to reflect their own interest, but always maintain the integrity of the site’s overall design and the brand image you desire for your school. Be consistent—insist on it.
  3. Train, inform, check their work, and do it all again. We do this by providing monthly PR tips to anyone who might want to submit information for the website. We also provide ongoing training and quality control for those who are trained to do updates, something you will also want to include as part of your process.
  4. Create an easy procedure for collecting information from staff, and then reward their contributions. It is the only way to keep your site vibrant, current, and informative and to turn it into the public relations tool it should be.

But, please beware those hidden costs of the do-it-yourself website. 

School districts are forever trying to trim their budgets. When looking to tighten the budget purse straps, many administrators believe that creating and maintaining the school website would be a perfect project for a knowledgeable computer teacher to do during his or her prep time. Or the job makes the to-do list of the district IT department. While delegating an in-house employee to the project may seem like immediate savings, there are many hidden expenses that can end up costing your district more than you imagined. 

Beware those hidden costs

Here are a few:

#1: Time away from mission-critical tasks

Placing the responsibility of the district’s (or school’s) website onto employees keeps them away from the jobs they were originally hired to do. An effective school website takes time to build, write, and layout, which are only a few of the actions necessary for the site to be functional. For teachers who may be delegated this responsibility, it means time away from lesson planning and preparation, and time away from their class. Teachers are hired to teach our students, a time-consuming responsibility in itself. Robbing students of their rightful teacher time is the biggest expense imaginable.

Likewise, IT directors have vital roles in a school. Making sure the computer systems are operating properly and software is running efficiently, installing programs and firewalls to keep students in safe places on the internet, and handling technology emergencies are just some of the daily responsibilities. 

Let’s be honest—when overworked teachers and IT directors get saddled with the school or district website, unless they let their mission-critical work suffer,  maintaining the website will go to the bottom of the to-do list. Many times it will never even make the radar.

Similar to #1 is the hidden cost of delegating to overworked staff

Those who have worked inside any school system will tell you that most people are overworked and underpaid. You hear people speak of public school as a “noble profession.” There are many requirements and not a lot of recognition, monetary or otherwise. Many times the goals of an administration are not understood by the faculty and staff, viewing them as more requirements, more forms to fill out, more hoops to jump through, and no time in which to do them.

Overworked staff

Delegating a sizable project—such as website maintenance—to an already overworked employee is likely to lead to employee discontent. Maintaining a positive work environment for teachers and staff is key to having a highly performing school, and when employees feel used, the entire dynamics of the school environment suffers. If an unhappy employee is now responsible for the school or district website, it’s a pretty good bet that employee won’t devote his or her personal best to the project, leading to a less-than-effective website. 

Taking these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see that while it may appear to save your school or district money upfront, a website created in-house has unforeseen costs. If your school or district really wants to make their website a priority, hiring School Webmasters is the easiest and best solution. We already have the experts. We already have the time. It’s what we do. It's ALL we do.

#2: Set realistic expectations because Computer experts are not necessarily web design or accessibility experts

There’s a lot that goes into creating and managing a fabulous website. While many people within your school or district may be computer experts, chances are good they do not have all the skill sets required to do the job effectively. School Webmasters employs experts in each area. Our graphic designers create sites that are not just pleasing to look at, but that help the user find things easily on the site. The placement of graphics, sidebars, images, and other text effects on a website is actually a science. Balancing visual elements so they help the user find information rather than distracting them, is something our designers do flawlessly.

In addition to design, the content of a website is one of the most important. It’s not simply about putting information onto a website; if parents and the community can’t access or understand the information, your school or district website is useless. Our content writers make sure the information on your website is not only informative, but they ensure it is also conversational in tone and easy to read. We pare down wordy information to include just what the public needs to know. We take the “education-ese” out and rewrite it to appeal to a larger audience. While volunteers may be great at scanning in documents and newsletters to put on your site, very often your audience is not taken into consideration.

As if this wasn’t enough, a good website requires knowledge of layout philosophy, public relations, branding, proofing, editing, and accessibility. Your volunteers may be good at one or two of these tasks, but are they experts in every area?

Keep it up! Constant maintenance

#3: Good websites require constant maintenance

For the sake of argument, let’s say someone at your school or district does create a fabulous website. It’s beautiful. Easy to read. Easy to navigate. Now the question is, does that person have the time to keep your site current? For a website to continue to be effective, it must be updated regularly. Information at school gets old quickly; meeting dates pass, school fundraisers end, new events have been added to the school calendar. Principals retire, teachers transfer, clubs are canceled, new sports find coaches. Many times that volunteer who so graciously got your website up and running doesn’t have time to continue weekly maintenance on your site, especially if the work he or she is performing is pro bono. 

And the fact is, parents log on to your school or district website a few times and see the same old information, they will quit using your site as a resource. They will start calling the school to get the information they need, which is now a double whammy—it wastes school and district personnel’s time, and now that great website someone volunteered to create is no longer being used by the public. School Webmasters makes it easy to update your school website. We have a staff of updaters who focus solely on keeping your site up to date. Our staff makes thousands of updates to graphics and content in an average month. Does your staff or volunteers have that much time?

Take off the blinders

Once you’ve truly assessed the benefits and drawbacks of outsourcing different components of your website, you may find that this process is a huge benefit to your school. You may also find, however, that a company that can deliver the whole package for you is a better use of your school’s time and money. If you find yourself in that boat, give us a call. Here at School Webmasters we’ve got the blinders off and both feet planted firmly on smooth ground. Do you?

Take off the blinders

It doesn’t pay to underestimate the time and expertise required to manage your school’s online communication successfully. You want everything you put out there for public consumption to reflect the same excellence your school embraces. But do you have the time and expertise to create and manage an online presence that really represents that excellence?

Hiring a professional to manage your online communication ensures quality and consistency. Successful websites and social media pages will always require some kind of cost, whether it’s time or money. The difference in how hard your online presence works for you depends on investing both wisely.

Need more reasons to get some website management help? Check out Nine Reasons to Outsource Your School Website Management.

684975
It Might Be Time to Update Your School Website If…
2021-05-25
Time to update

Ah, technology. Do you have a love/hate relationship with it? It seems as soon as you update your cell phone, TV, or even microwave, there’s a newer, better model right around the corner. Having the latest technology with all the bells and whistles has become not only a  cultural status symbol, but it’s become absolutely essential to many consumers. It’s no wonder cell phone providers have developed creative incentives to encourage you to update your phone as often as once a year! 

Websites also have become essential for all organizations—from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit organizations, and, yes, even for your school

You certainly don’t need to overhaul your school’s website every year, but you do need to make sure you're presenting your school in the best light by keeping up with current website trends. Your school website is the key component to all of your digital marketing efforts and often the first impression prospective parents have of your school and your values. So how do you know when it’s time for an update? 

It’s time to update your website...

mobile friendly website

#1. If you don’t have a mobile-friendly (responsive) website design 

If your website is not responsive (meaning it looks weird on a mobile device), you are definitely long-overdue for a redesign. The percentage of folks who use their phone and other devices most of the time increases daily. So, it is critical that the website is designed with well-thought-out space and navigation. Your website should be designed with “mobile-first” in mind. 

Your site visitors will access information on their phones differently than on their desktop, and your website must address that reality. For example, if there is a lot of information on the home page, they would much rather see a social icon or link to the social media feeds than have to scroll through and past all the embedded social feeds in order to find the phone number in the footer.

In addition to your viewers’ expectations, for several years now, Google has been penalizing websites (with lower rankings and less likelihood that you are found during searches) if your website is not responsive. You definitely want to come up in any search where parents are investigating schools in order to decide which might be the best choice for their child. Being found, and quickly, is essential for increasing your enrollment. It is also important for the convenience of your existing parents and families.

Websites that are 3–5 years old are also likely to have dated coding in the background, which can produce multiple issues, including security risks, accessibility issues, slow loading, and many others.

make a good first impression

#2. Your website’s home page does not make a positive first impression

  • Busy busy: Make sure it’s not too busy with lots of various things going on (many buttons, many different kinds of graphics, slideshows, embedded videos, lots of gradients, etc). Clean and minimalist is king now.
  • Too much is too much: Avoid using too many colors and more than two main fonts. Also remember that anything flashing tends to date your site quickly as does too much texture and too many buttons.
  • Silly slider: A pointless slider in the header serves no purpose for your visitor. No one sits and watches these any longer. If you are going to insist on a slider, at least incorporate important calls of action within them. A huge image in the header with no call-to-action is a waste of space. If the first thing someone needs to do is scroll down to see any kind of information, that makes for a poor user experience. A large picture at the top of the Home page is still a trend, but use the space wisely while including something along with it.
  • Logical layout: On Home pages, if a site only has two columns with a main body and sidebar, it looks dated and needs a refresh. There are so many more interesting ways to present information on Home pages these days. A main body and sidebar are fine on subpages since they are generally there to only present information. But a home page is for at-a-glance info to get you where you want to go. 
  • Quick links: The navigation and quick links should have strong categories but be kept simple and clean. Use them to ease navigation and create intuitive and easy-to-find information. Use them well and keep them simple
  • Hover heaven: Button or navigation hovers and any movement on the page should be cohesive and used sparingly. One to three hover transitions throughout the site is sufficient. Any more than that is just too much.
  • Wise width: If your entire site is still contained within 1200px, it may look dated. The content can still be contained within 1200px, but just stretching the backgrounds, navigation bars, and images the full width of the screen results in an updated design.

#3. If your website is slow loading 

If your website is slow loading, commonly due to extremely graphic-heavy designs, using images instead of CSS for styling, or hosting or development inefficiencies, you put your school at a disadvantage. 

Since your website is often a prospective parent’s first impression of your school, the judgment they form from this experience matters. It is estimated that if your site doesn’t load within three seconds, 40% of your site visitors will abandon your site. When this happens, you defeat the purpose of having a  website. Website speed is imperative for a good user experience. Do a speed check to see how your website measures up. The faster your site visitors can get to the information they need, the more satisfied they will be.

#4: If your site’s colors or photos are dated

Colors and photos make the difference between an attractive and updated website and one that is unappealing and fails to inspire confidence. Regarding photos, out-of-date photos generally look dark and drab, while modern ones look light and bright. The photos that look older may not really be old, but they give that appearance. For example:

dated and modern examples of photos

Another tip: Make sure objects in the photos are still being used in today’s classrooms. For example, chalkboards are seldom used anymore; everyone has smartboards or at least whiteboards. And computer monitors are no longer huge and chunky but sleek and slim (or laptops).

examples of modern and dated computers

Regarding your website colors—avoid those that clash. Use neutral colors that complement main colors. Use bold/strong colors as the main color instead of as accents here and there. Graphic designers say we should ask ourselves if the website feels “heavy.” It’s okay to use bold colors, but today’s sites should still feel clean and light.

Consider your page background colors as well. Avoid using too many colors as backgrounds behind text, and be sure to include enough white space. The white space areas will help keep your site feeling clean and light. It also improves contrast, which assures that your site will be accessible and ADA compliant (at least in the area of contrast).

#5. If your website is difficult to navigate

Your website navigation can make or break the user experience. Having a clear, easy-to-use navigation will provide good customer service, keep potential customers on your site longer, and help visitors quickly find what they seek. The following are some areas to consider when creating intuitive and simple navigation:

  • KISS. Avoid trying to cram everything possible into your site’s primary navigation level. I realize your intention is to provide visitors with immediate access to all your page options, but fewer choices make it quicker to evaluate their choices and make a decision. So, be aggressive in editing your top-level navigation down to the fewest, most popular options possible and “keep it simple, silly.”
  • Frantic flyouts. Your site users are accessing your website from a variety of devices. Touch screen devices technically have no “hover” state, so it is important that you make sure your navigation links are still accessible to users regardless of their device. Along these same lines, you’ll want to avoid fly-out menus with three or more levels. It is more challenging to navigate menu systems that have fly-outs within fly-outs. Avoiding unwieldy menus makes navigation easier on all devices.
  • Be consistent. You sure don’t want to change your navigation menu once your site visitor figures out how to use it. Keep the same structure throughout the entire experience—from page to page and across devices. Your primary navigation should be set in stone to avoid confusion. Your users will appreciate your effort on their behalf.

#6. If your website is out of date

One of the most important aspects of a school website is that it is up to date. Your customers rely on your school website for useful information. Failing to provide them with current, timely information can destroy their trust. Being current and timely builds confidence. Your customers (your students and their parents) will know that your staff and administrators are highly engaged, and they’ll appreciate you for providing well-timed and accurate information.

I’m sure you’ve visited a website where the copyright is 2016 and the latest news article is from last school year, right? How did that make you feel? If their site—the public-facing image for their school—is outdated, you might question what the education and programs must be like. Don’t damage your credibility or put your professionalism in question by letting your site visitors read outdated information and think, “wait, that’s old news,” or “that’s not right.”

Pet peeves

#7: Some pet peeves

We asked our designers what some of their pet peeves were. What screamed to them that a site is dated? Here are a few that didn’t quite fit into the above categories:

  • Fonts. Avoid outdated or overused fonts. They specifically mentioned staying away from Comic Sans (which everyone should know to avoid by now), and now Papyrus is becoming a bit overdone.
  • Coming soon. Just don’t! If the page or information isn’t ready yet, don’t put up a sign saying it isn’t ready yet, and don’t activate the page until it is. It’s just bad form.
  • Flawed footers. Check your website footer. Is the information there still current, including the copyright date? These tend to become overlooked since they remain the same from page to page; when there is an error, it ends up on every page. So, check to be sure all the information there is correct.
  • Dreaded white box. Incorrectly saved logos and buttons so that they are surrounded by a white box are a sure sign of amateurish layout. Save the graphic as a JPG on a colored background that matches the site or as a PNG with a transparent background.

It’s an ongoing process

Because your school website is often your chance to make a great first impression on prospective parents, how you manage it is critical. It is important to put your best foot forward. An outdated website doesn’t positively represent your school or the education you provide to your students. 

Your website, its content, images, and layout should reflect the best you have to offer. Is it time for a tune-up? If so, please contact School Webmasters and let us help you make your school’s website the best example of all your school has to give. Request a quote today or give us a call at (888) 750-4556 and speak with Jim.


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School Websites: Leader, Lemming, or Loser?
2021-05-11
drawing of a lemming

There are always leaders and lemmings in the world. Of course, you want your school website to be viewed as an asset and representative of your outstanding educational services. But often, unbeknownst to many respected educators, their school websites are lemmings, or worse, they are losers, and the school administrators are not even aware of it. 

What is a Lemming?

So, what is a lemming and why don’t you want to be one? 

A lemming is a small rodent from the family including rats, mice, and hamsters and are usually found near the Arctic. There is a longstanding myth that claims these little rodents jump off cliffs and commit mass suicide. Metaphorically being called a lemming means you might be following a leader who is either foolish or just has a lousy sense of direction.

In reality, lemmings have been known to make some bad choices because of their built-in migratory behavior. Some species migrate in large groups when their population density becomes too great. Because they can swim, sometimes they choose to cross a body of water en masse in search of a new habitat. This doesn’t always work out so well (sans Google maps) if the body of water happens to be an ocean or is so wide that the little guys exceed their physical capabilities. Lots of drowning follows.

business men walking off a cliff

What does it have to do with your school website?

So, how does all of this apply to school websites? Because the most common issue we see at School Webmasters with school website development is when administrators (or whoever is put in charge of the school website’s redesign project) assume other schools know what they are doing and blindly follow the poor examples when redesigning their own school’s websites. 

Basically, to be accused of being a lemming means you assume those other schools must know what they are doing because they are bigger, have been around longer, get good press, charge higher tuition (or have more funding), or its the way you did it in your last district, so you follow their lead. Unfortunately, like the poor lemmings, if you don’t know the desired destination and don’t have the right map to take you there, you could be headed over a cliff.* 

Don’t get me wrong; I get it. Schools don’t want to make mistakes and are prone to play it safe and follow the lead of other schools that have managed to stay out of hot water or have received accolades. Often, this works. But occasionally, you will miss out on some valuable opportunities.

Is your school really a “business”? 

School personnel, especially those in the public schools, don’t think of their school as a competitive business. Education degrees seldom require courses in marketing or sales. But the business side of things is a reality in education. If we can’t convince parents to send their kids to our school, we don’t have the funding to hire staff to provide students with an education or the materials and equipment to deliver that education. So, let’s take a look at the differences between business websites and typical school websites. Maybe we can learn from companies whose very existence depends on the effectiveness of their website and the communication value it provides.

business man wearing super her cape

What business websites do well

A business website knows it is selling something. A business site provides proof in the form of customer reviews and testimonials. Effective business sites put a high priority on customer satisfaction and use storytelling, examples, and successes to influence and convince their site visitors. Their websites are a resource to get answers, place orders, and provide frictionless customer service.

A business website understands its customers’ needs and its website markets to those needs. A business recognizes it has competitors and strives to show customers why their services or products are going to meet their customers’ needs and tells them how. They know their products and services and provide proof to win customers’ trust in what they offer.

A business website knows if it fails, the business might fail too. Consumers have lots of choices, and if a business doesn’t give the customer what he needs, and quickly, they can always go elsewhere. This means the site needs to load fast and be easy to navigate so customers can find what they are looking for quickly and get answers to questions they have. They provide contacts and solutions to resolve problems quickly and efficiently.

A business website is reactive to the client’s needs. This is because most businesses are functioning very close to their funding source. As a business owner, if I lose customers because I’m failing to satisfy them, deliver on my promises, or provide poor quality services, the revenue disappears and I’m out of business in short order. The further a school or business is removed from its funding source, the less likely it is to be reactive to its customers’ needs. A businesses’ employees know the service they provide has a direct bearing on the success of the business and their continued employment.

school staff member giving thumbs up

What school websites should do well

A school website must recognize it is selling something. If your school website doesn’t recognize that fact, then you will miss out on a critical aspect of its goal. Your school website needs to highlight what you have to offer and show parents why their child’s needs will be met with your programs and services. Your site should provide proof and build confidence and trust that you can and do deliver on the promises you make. Your site must provide existing parents with continued proof they made the right choice and provide transparency to build trust and confidence and provide evidence you care about your students’ success.

A school website must understand its customers’ needs. Many school websites function as public service announcements. That’s well and good, but this approach doesn’t trigger an action on the part of your customers (parents). It doesn’t generate enrollment, encourage enthusiasm or pride, or build trust. Those must be some of the goals of an effective school website. Your site must provide customer ease and respect your customers’ time. It must make information convenient and accurate and save them time (online forms, access to staff, calendars, answers to questions, and rationale for the decisions your school makes that affect their lives and those of their children).

A school website understands that if it isn’t effective, students’ education can suffer. Schools, at least most public schools, don’t feel the threat of failure if they don’t satisfy their customers. We’ve all heard of school districts that were failing for years before the state or district stepped in to take over and fix what was wrong (or before they were shut down). Unfortunately, such knowledge doesn’t provide much incentive to fix what is broken. Meanwhile, think of the students adversely affected when the quality of education drops. It would be nice if we humans were always motivated to do what was right just because it was the right thing to do, but sometimes the status quo wins—even when it isn’t working. 

A school website should be reactive to the client’s needs. Because school personnel are not functioning close to their funding source (since it comes in the form of tax revenue or tuition), job security is seldom threatened on a personal level. In fact, in some states and institutions, it takes an act of congress to fire school personnel. (Just ask California DOE how long it takes to get a poor teacher removed.) Businesses see an immediate impact to their bottom line when customers are unhappy, but if parents don’t have educational choices in their community and the school has no competition, there isn’t an immediate impact, so poor customer service may continue unabated. School employees tend to be further removed from their funding sources than typical business employees. If a business has a cranky receptionist, she won’t last long. In many cases, we can’t say the same about a school’s front office staff.

So, not to belabor my lemming metaphor, but with 18 years of school website development and writing the content for thousands of websites, when you are doing the next redesign on your school website, don’t merely look at neighboring school sites and focus on the colors and font selection, but consider the actual purpose of your school website. Don’t be a lemming and certainly don’t let your school website become a loser by not keeping it current and informative.

Remember, your website isn’t just for posting emergency notices when you have a snow day or the governing board meeting or agenda because state law says you have to. Let your school website lead the way:

  • You must provide customer service and market your services. 
  • You must market to prospective customers as well as the ones you’ve already got. 
  • You must make sure your site provides the information parents and students are looking for—and make it easy to find. 
  • You must provide parents a way to contact staff and administrators.

Don’t forget, if you want to avoid the whole lemming issue, you can always contact School Webmasters. We haven’t a single lemming on staff, and we strive to make sure your school website leads the way and helps you reach your goals! Call 888.750.4556 and talk to Jim or request a quote!

*One of the most influential (and tragic) examples of suicidal lemmings was the presentation of the myth in the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which even won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature and in which the producers threw the poor lemmings off a cliff to fake footage of a "mass suicide." 

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Using Surveys to Improve School Communications
2021-04-27
Survey

We often think we know what our parents and community think—and sometimes we’re wrong. The only way to find out how people really feel is to ask the right questions. If we don’t know what people currently believe, we can’t possibly improve communication, services, or perceptions. 

The next time you need to implement a change, add programs or services, or just find out what parents, students, or the community thinks about the school already, consider putting a survey on your school website or sending it through your school’s email lists. Even though a small percentage may turn them in, you’ll have a better understanding of the thoughts and perceptions that are out there.

Woman on couch with 5 stars over her head

Creating effective surveys

Here are some tips for developing effective surveys:

  • Keep your survey short. People are less likely to complete long surveys thoughtfully. Select only the essential questions that will get you the information you need.
  • Write questions that will elicit specific answers, not just generic responses. Try to avoid yes-or-no questions, and leave plenty of space for written answers. When you do have multiple choice questions, include “other” with a place for them to expand on their answer.
  • To encourage responses, offer prizes or incentives. For example, send students home with a slip with the URL (web address) to the online survey, and ask parents to sign the slip when they complete the survey. The first class with the highest number of surveys gets a prize. Or you could offer a prize for people who participate—each person who completes the survey gets entered into a raffle to win a gift card.
  • For parents who may not have access to a computer, let them know there will be a computer available in the office (or classroom) to take the online survey. Or, send home a hard copy of the survey if this is applicable (but response rates are lower on surveys that are sent home than those offered online).

Survey topic ideas

You will determine what audience you are targeting, of course, as you will create different survey questions for each audience. So, you’ll begin by selecting the topics you feel you need to understand from your target audience’s perspective. Some ideas you might consider include the following:

  • Parents: preferred methods of communication; topics to be communicated; social media platforms they use; questions regarding their involvement with their children; questions regarding the school climate fit for their child; preschool parent needs, high school parent needs, etc.
  • Students: feelings about the school, teachers, administrators; do they feel supported and respected; have they witnessed bullying or been bullied at school; areas for improvement; course evaluations; what activities or classes would they like to have available, etc.
  • Staff: how supportive is the administration; does the school give too much/too little/about right attention to standardized tests; do teachers collaborate well with each other; how safe do they feel teaching at this school; etc.

Distribution and analysis

When you’re ready to send out your first survey, there is one more important step. You need to do a bit of pre-survey communication. If you alert your target audience that you will be conducting a survey, you can significantly boost participation. This communication can be a pre-survey postcard, an email, a notice on the website, or a phone call, depending on the type of survey you are using.

  • Explain the purpose of the survey.
  • Let your audience know how important their participation is to the school.
  • Let them know when to expect it and when it needs to be completed.
  • Tell your audience that you will let them know the results and how your school plans to use the information gathered by the survey.

You can either distribute a hard copy of the survey (realize, though, you’ll have to have someone gather the data for results) or use a survey program like SurveyMonkey or Google Surveys (they will gather the data for you electronically).

Once your results are in, the next step is to analyze the results. If you used a survey program like SurveyMonkey, the tabulation is a snap; the program will do it for you. If your survey was not online, you will need to tabulate the number of responses to each choice for each question and determine the percentage for each answer. We highly recommend using an online service; many are free for schools. It can improve your accuracy and eliminate the many hours of tabulation required for even a simple survey (especially one with open-ended questions).

survey results

Survey follow-up

Next, you’ll tabulate your survey and let your respondents know how their participation and input will be used. This will also help ensure greater participation with your next survey. It doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, depending on your audience, it probably should not be a bunch of graphs and charts, but rather, a personalized story relating what you learned from their input. If you used an online survey program, you can provide a link to the more technical results as well.

  1. Review your survey results. Where are the strongest and weakest areas? Put them into categories.
  2. Based on the results, in what areas can you implement changes that will make the most positive impact? Is there a problem you can address right away? Is there a misunderstanding you can clarify? List each item in the appropriate category, and then brainstorm some possible solutions.
  3. Create a summary (possibly by category) of the survey results, and write a story around those results. For example, let’s say your survey was about improving communication through the website and social media. Your story might start with why you want to make sure parents are getting the information they want in the way they want to receive it.
  4. Next, if you discovered that many of your parents don’t use the website very often (hopefully your survey also explains why parents aren’t turning to your website), then your story/article will tell them how you are planning to address their needs. Maybe you are integrating social media to push news to them and will link information directly to the website. Then you’ll include the link to join the fun.

Whatever you implement, be specific, and then keep your promises. Not only do you build trust, but you also show you are listening and you care about your stakeholder’s needs.

Remember, school surveys should be used to learn something, and that means listening to the opinion expressed. Then use the information to make the school better, strengthen weakness, and bolster communication channels.

If you have a website with us, we can post the survey directly on the website for you. While you can always choose to send home a paper survey, they don’t have a very good return rate and could end up being a waste of your time. Regardless of the way you choose to survey parents, getting their feedback can go a long way towards making sure your school or district is implementing the programs and addressing the concerns that matter to parents most.

Using internal polls and surveys for improved staff relations 

School administrators are in the business of communication. Reports state that school- and district-level administrators spend upwards of 75 percent of their time communicating—with students, parents, community members, and staff. So it should go without saying that in order to be an effective administrator, one must also be an effective communicator.

Communication is much more than simply relaying information to others. When it comes to staff members, it also involves the careful solicitation of ideas and feedback to make the process that much more effective. And if it’s done well, it’s a win-win-win for administrators, staff, and students.

Enter the staff meeting or Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting. As an administrator, you begin the meeting with the agenda in hand and are committed to “getting through” the agenda no matter the cost. After relaying the necessary information, you leave the meeting satisfied that your staff understands what to do and how to do it. However, your staff may feel slighted because the information was “given” to them. You didn’t seek their opinion; their opinion and expertise doesn’t count.

school staff

There is a big difference between communicating and disseminating information. Communicating involves soliciting and listening to opinions and guiding teachers and other staff members to make decisions, rather than telling and offering your own solutions. Unfortunately, soliciting feedback from others during a meeting can often slow down the meeting itself. But with technology, you can easily keep staff apprised of information they need to know, gather the thoughts of your staff quickly and efficiently, and come to your next staff meeting or PLC with feedback in hand.

Not sure how your staff will react to a campus-wide change? Need some in-the-trenches feedback on whether the new lunch schedule maximizes learning time? Rather than opening a can of worms at your next staff meeting or spending the time picking through emailed responses that mix with your regular email, Poll Everywhere provides a platform for soliciting and organizing staff ideas and opinions. Simply propose an idea, link the poll to your school or district intranet for staff members, and have them respond via the Poll Everywhere widget, a text, or Twitter. The service allows for true/false, multiple-choice, and open-ended responses that can be displayed in an easy-to-read format. Even better, the affordable service can be used in the regular classroom too! You can also set-up a poll or survey using Google forms if your school uses Google.

If you truly need to simply inform your staff of something or want staff to come to a meeting prepared to discuss a topic, group messaging services such as GroupMe and Fast Society allow administrators to quickly communicate information to staff members (or parents) via text. You can also use Google messaging if that is your school’s platform. So propose a question or topic for discussion, and meeting attendees can come prepared and ready to discuss it, saving time and reducing the likelihood you will need a follow-up meeting.

Of course, communication vehicles will change based on your purpose and desired outcome. For example, if you simply need to notify staff members of an important scheduling change, a simple email or a posting on your school or district intranet will suffice. If you’re conducting beginning-of-the-year trainings and meetings or simply want access to PLC meeting archives at a later date, record the meetings and install a video platform on the human resources page of your website or within your intranet. Staff and administrators will have ready access to this information all year long. 

So, whether you are using surveys and polls for your external audiences or your internal staff, take advantage of the knowledge you gather, and use it to improve your school’s communication. 

For more communication and marketing tips, check out our Marketing Your School toolkit and get a year's worth of marketing strategies you can use.

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Collecting Testimonials—a School Marketing Success Story
2021-04-13
Testimonials

In today’s social climate, people are all about sharing how they feel about companies, products, and services. In fact, folks are more inclined to trust another person’s opinion or experience over traditional advertising or marketing materials. That’s not to say traditional marketing doesn’t work; it simply means you also need to start gathering positive testimonials from parents and your community members. 

Businesses do it all the time and usually dedicate a whole page to customer comments or make a place for them on every page. What better way to show other parents what a great school you have than to let them hear it from other parents? Hearing (or reading) a testimonial from someone who has nothing to gain other than from a school employee with a vested interest always adds more credibility. 

Your school supporters want your school to succeed and will be happy to contribute to the school's success by showing their support. So, don't be afraid to ask for their testimonials! 

Testimonials given by people through thought bubbles

Make it Easy to Submit Testimonials

  • Encourage teachers to gather positive comments (they could make forms available during teacher conferences, send home an email questionnaire, etc.)
  • Have forms available to the school office for parents to complete—with a checkbox where they can check and sign an agreement to let you use their comments on the website or in a brochure. 
  • Provide a feedback form right on the website to collect parent, community member, or alumni testimonials. Let them also upload a headshot to place next to their testimonial. This adds legitimacy and a personal touch.
  • When you have an event or program, get a testimonial from parents whose children were involved, and include that with the article. 
  • Involve alumni. There is nothing more powerful than hearing from those who once attended your school and went on to accomplish their goals, crediting a teacher or school with their start on the right path. 
  • Get the PTA or PTO to collect testimonials—and use them on your website. You can turn these into graphic elements to use as part of the overall theme of the design. We do this for our clients, and it adds a professional touch to the school website. 

Just a brief one or two lines is ideal if used graphically; longer testimonials should be placed on a page of their own.  

Your opinion matters

Gather Testimonials With a Survey

With a simple survey or form on your school’s website, parents, teachers, and students can create a testimonial that you can use on your social media pages, website, school flyers, and even your marquee. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best), how would you rate our school?
  2. What are three things our school does exceptionally well? (Provide a list of programs you offer as well as space for respondents to write in their own ideas.)
  3. What is one area where you would like to see our school improve? (The point here is that your school isn’t perfect. And wouldn’t it be great to find out what is of value to your families so you can improve upon it?)
  4. How has your child benefited from attending our school? (Here is where you’ll get the meat for your testimonials!)
  5. May we use your responses on our website and social media pages? (You want to get permission to use someone’s words and name.)
  6. Be sure to ask for the respondent’s name and the grade level(s) of children at the school.

That’s all there is to it! A form embedded into your website provides a vehicle to gather testimonials year-round. Or, hold a drive for responses and offer classes a reward for the most completed surveys. Even if not all the responses are positive, you’ve taken a huge step in making your families feel valued—just by asking their opinion! School Webmasters can help you create a form for your website, or search online for one of the many online survey applications.

Increase your enrollment

Growing Your Enrollment with Testimonials 

Whether yours is a public or private school, chances are you would like to grow your enrollment. After all, more students mean more opportunities to make a positive impact on our country’s future. And higher enrollment numbers give your school more funding, allowing you to provide more services and resources to all of your students. 

But do you feel like you’ve done all you can do to try to market to new families? You’re using social media to build engagement, hosting events at your school to build community, networking in parenting groups and neighborhood events, and even advertising in the local news channels and on social media. While these are great ways to publicize and, as a result, grow your school enrollment, don’t underestimate the power of your current and former families to help. Studies show that there is far more influence from reviews and referrals than from any other form of marketing. Testimonials are a respected and valuable resource that schools don’t often incorporate into their marketing efforts—but they should. 

Testimonials are a great way to prove that your school climate is nurturing and effective. They provide first-account endorsements for your teachers, your curriculum, and your leadership abilities. And even better—they’re free. 

What better way to show other parents what a great school you have than to let them hear it from other parents? Your school supporters want your school to succeed and will be happy to contribute to your success by showing their support. Don’t be afraid to ask for their testimonials!

Get started using testimonials today. Oh, and encourage parents to also post their positive comments on parent evaluation sites like Great Schools. Invite those who provide positive testimonials to share their comments by giving them links directly to sites that review your area schools. New and prospective parents often use review sites to decide which school is best suited to their child’s needs. Make sure your school shows up and shines! 

Interested in more school marketing ideas? Check out these blogs:

Inbound Marketing for Schools, Part 1 and Part 2

51 Ways to Market Your School

Storytelling: Your School’s Secret Weapon for Successful School Marketing

How Do I Market My School?

Looking for more school marketing ideas? Purchase our Marketing Your School toolkit for a full year's worth of marketing strategies!

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10 Brain Training Tips—rewiring for an attitude of gratitude
2021-03-23
Gratitude is the best attitude

It’s been a tough year. We can all agree on that. So, it’s probably time to look at what we can do to turn things around. We can’t control the world around us, pandemics, weather, or most economic conditions, but we do have some control over our perspective on our world and our lives. Gratitude is just such a control mechanism.

Gratitude is a powerful gift we can give to ourselves (and our staff and our children). Yes, it is not easy, at least initially, to rewire our brains for gratitude. It is complex. According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, our minds are Velcro for negative information but Teflon for positive. We have to make a concerted effort to wire our brains to default to gratitude. But like other brain training efforts, it takes practice and mental discipline. 

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), people who experience gratitude have more positive emotions, such as happiness, love, and joy, and fewer negative emotions, such as bitterness, envy, and resentment. Their relationships are improved. They have better physical health than people who don’t take the time to notice and appreciate the good things that are in their lives. 

One study shows that practicing appreciation adds 6.9 years to your life (That even beats the benefits from exercise!). When you focus on gratitude, it will shift the focus away from what you might feel is missing and onto what is already present—to notice what is right instead of what is wrong. Gratitude, proven scientifically, is as powerful as antidepressants and therapy and can even give you more energy. 

Periodically, we should pause to take a look at the things and people in our life we feel grateful for.  And since there’s no time like the present, now is an excellent time to incorporate some intentional gratitude within our personal and professional life. So, let’s get to it!

Always start with yourself first

First, start with yourself! 

1) For two weeks, look at the gifts you already have, not just the intangible ones like good health or love or your family or career, but the material ones—look closely at your cozy home, feel the comfort of your favorite T-shirt, or recollect the joy in that treasured dog-eared book you’ve read so many times. Give mental thanks for the objects in your life that bring you joy. Notice how it negates your desire to buy more ‘things’ you think you need. Or as Lao Tzu said, “He who knows enough is enough will always have enough.” 

2) Make recognizing your personal gratitude a habit. One way to do this is to simply list 10 things every day that you are grateful for. For example, it might look like: “my family is healthy; I have a job; the meeting today went very well; I ate homemade pie last night; my car runs….” Don’t believe it will make your day go better? Try doing the reverse for one day—list 10 things that went wrong and decide which day you felt more alive, more enthused to face the day? 

10 things you are grateful for every day

3) Focus on what’s right. We are trained to mark the wrong answers, not the right ones. We study our mistakes to prevent them from happening again. But what if we marked the right answers? What if we spent our energy in relationships noticing the other person’s talents and strengths? What if we spent an equal amount of time looking at what is working and doing more of that? 

4) When difficult things happen to you, ask yourself: “If something were right about this, what would it be?” You’re looking for those hidden blessings in your challenges and how they are helping you grow. 

5) Start and keep a gratitude journal (2x weekly is actually better than every day). The stats for people who do are impressive: 25% happier, sleep one-half hour more per evening, exercise 33% more per week, lower high blood pressure by 10%, better at coping with stress, and enjoy increased feelings of energy, alertness, enthusiasm, and vigor. 

Gratitude journal

Now, share with others! 

6) Avoiding regret, as in the kind that makes us grieve over what we wish we would have done or said, is possible. It means simply expressing our appreciation now, while we can. Have you ever wished you would have told someone how much you appreciated them but now it is too late? Don’t wait. Make a commitment to communicate your appreciation to those around you—as often as possible. This is a valuable component of establishing outstanding school customer service and internal support.

7) Teach gratitude to your children. Simply teaching them to say thank you isn’t teaching gratitude (although, I certainly encourage you to teach politeness as well). One idea is to create a bedtime ritual of asking your child to tell you one thing they did that they appreciate themselves for and one thing someone else did that they are thankful for. You may need to help them discover something to appreciate in themselves and others at first, but soon the thought process will become a life skill that will increase their optimism and hopefulness. (Don’t forget to do this yourself as well!) This is an idea that could also easily be incorporated into the classroom experiences.

thank yous

8) Count the number of “Thank you’s” you say during one day. The fact that you are turning your attention to them will likely increase your use. Skip the toneless, flippant “Thanks,” and keep your eyes open for opportunities and feel it when you say it, which will come through as heartfelt along with the spoken words. A great school leadership tip as well.

9) Every staff development meeting should end with a few minutes when staff can express gratitude for each other. Encourage teachers to include this in their classes as well, and watch the willingness to express gratitude spread. Be sure you are setting the example, of course. 

10) Create an “Appreciation Tree” for the staff lounge with the invitation for anyone to write a note of appreciation on a leaf to post on the tree. This can also be done in classrooms and in a family or on the school’s website where students, staff, and parents are invited to submit an appreciation via a website form that is then posted to the gratitude/appreciation page. 

Gratitude is the memory of the heart

At the core of practicing gratitude is memory. In fact, there is a French proverb that states that gratitude is the memory of the heart. Gratitude enhances nearly all aspects of your human experience. It’s simply a matter of learning to manage our mental and emotional states and feelings. So, start developing a grateful disposition today, and watch your world change before your very eyes. 

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Communication! It's All About Customer Service
2021-03-09
5 star customer service

Communication is the bedrock of customer service. Good customer service requires effective communications, and that requires listening to your customers' needs as well as communicating your own.

K–12 schools are far from exempt from this expectation. If anything, parents expect more from their child's school than they do from the local retailer. It's time to take inventory of how you are doing, especially with all the changes and challenges this past year has brought. Let's begin by looking at your strategy for school customer service for all segments of your audience.

people clapping

Consider all audience segments

Your most concentrated customers, of course, are your students. They are the reason we are all here, and meeting their needs is the priority of all educators. What do you have in place that identifies and responds to their customer service needs? How could you improve the various touchpoints with your students?

But your students aren't the only customers you have. Their parents are often the ones who make the decision about whether a student attends your school. What do you have in place to assure that their experiences with your school and your staff are exemplary?

Next, consider the customers who can have an impact on your school's reputation, like vendors, community members, extended family members, governing board members, community organizations, and local businesses.

Be sure to put customer service goals in place for each audience segment, as each has slightly different needs that you must understand and address.

Offer multiple support channels

Today's customers expect multiple ways to get the assistance they need from your school. 

people holding up cell phones

Phone support:
Make sure your school mans your office phones and that when you set-up your phone messaging service, it is working and intuitive. Be sure your staff understands that they need to respond to voice mail messages within 24 hours (or whatever standard you set) and that parents know what they can expect when they leave a message. There are few things more frustrating to parents than getting stuck in a never-ending phone system where no one ever returns a phone call or where the voicemail box is full. Stress the importance of good maintenance and set-up of your phone systems. For more tips on how your school’s front office can improve customer service enjoy, Is Your Front Office Staff Helping or Hurting School Enrollment.

Email response:
Make your email system available (whether you use a website form to provide email access to parents or you share email addresses). While IT departments don't enjoy dealing with spam issues, it is poor customer service to make it impossible for parents to reach the staff through email. Not all parents have questions only during school hours, and email is convenient and provides a copy of the answers. As I mentioned earlier, be sure to set school-wide standards for how quickly staff responds to emails.

social media

Social media:
It is helpful for parents to stay abreast of the latest news and upcoming events via your school's social media posts. But remember, these posts don't remain active and will scroll down in their feeds, so your website must be the reliable, current resource parents and the community can always access via your social media links. For more tips on improving your school social media check out Six Things People Actually Want to See on Your Social Media Pages.

Websites:
Your school website should include access to all contacts (including departments and staff) and be accessible from any other page of your site. This could be in your main banner navigation or in the footer of your site. Also, be sure to include links to your social media platforms, phone numbers, and email addresses for your main office and establish time-frames that your staff should respond to requests. For example, ask that your office staff answer the phone rather than letting it roll to voicemail (nothing is more frustrating than being dumped into a phone tree hell and then waiting days for someone to respond). Request that staff responds to emails within 24 hours, etc. Stress to your staff the importance and value of their response time toward improving your school's customer service and your customers' experience.

To further facilitate good customer service, be sure your website is current and informative. Put a priority on keeping the information easy to find (using intuitive navigation and keeping it simple). Encourage your staff to funnel information and content to the site (or to whomever manages the content on your site) and to include events, photos, successes, goals, and news regularly. Find ways to encourage these contributions, and the benefits will be improved communications, increased school spirit, and a strong school brand. Check out School Websites: What’s the Big Deal.

happy woman looking at school website

Surveys:
Once you have established these channels of effective customer service, you'll want to evaluate how they are working regularly. One effective way to measure your success is to survey parents and staff and use their feedback to improve or revise your customer service efforts. Surveys can be created and shared at parent-teacher conferences, on the website, in parent groups, and at PTA/PTO meetings. Be sure to share with those you've surveyed how you've used the information they took the time to provide, and you'll encourage future participation as well.

In addition to the usual channels of phone, email, social media, and the website, you may want to consider adding a chat feature to your website. There are free options available; you could assign office staff to monitor this feature during school hours. It isn't likely your chat feature would require much of your staff time, but it would add a valuable convenience to your customers.

positive school customer experience

In summary…

While schools aren't precisely businesses, there are similarities, one of which is the requirement of a customer-service mindset to have happy customers. Our customers are parents and students who have many choices about where to receive an education. Whether we offer public or private instruction, maintaining and increasing enrollment is essential. To succeed, we must have students, which means we have to continually look for ways to improve our services, including our customer service. So, take a look at each touchpoint in your school, whether the face-to-face opportunities or the online ones, and see where you can raise the bar.

Need some help? Remember that School Webmasters not only manages school websites, but helps keep the content customer-focused and intuitive. Let us help you get and keep this primary customer service channel in top form. Contact us today for a quote!

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook
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