The aroma of fresh-baked, homemade bread wafting through my home, which is also my home office, is one of my favorite things. Oh, not just any bread, but freshly ground wheat (or some other luscious, whole grain), which I grind right before baking.
After four decades, at least twice a month, the whole process is still nearly mystical to me. Those beautiful, caramel-colored loaves seem a work of art.
How baking bread is like effective website management
Are you salivating yet? I know I am.
But, what does baking homemade bread have to do with your school’s website management? They both boil down to creating a memorable, inviting, and emotionally engaging experience.
One of the reasons freshly baked bread is evocative across every culture is that it engages multiple senses. There is that malty, yeasty, aroma. The visual beauty of a risen, golden-crusted loaf cooling on the counter. The feeling of its warm, flaky crust and spongy-soft honeycombed center. Oh, and don’t forget the sound as a serrated knife slices through a rustic, crusty loaf into densely packed bubbles of yeasty pockets before you slather on sweet, creamy butter or drizzle on thick, caramel-colored honey.
Do your school’s communication efforts engage in this way? They can. Once you recognize the value of your school’s website, used in conjunction with your social media, you can begin to make those experiences much more memorable. Let’s carry this bread-baking analogy a bit further and help you incorporate ways to engage your audience at a gut level (pun intended).
Grinding the Grain
You have a lot of things going on at your school. Some of it is routine and boring (at least from your perspective). But, is your perspective biased because you live in this world? How would a parent looking for the right school for her kindergarten child see it?
So, recognize that you need to start with quality ingredients. You wouldn’t use stale, rancid ingredients and expect a mouth-watering outcome, so don’t expect any less from your communications efforts. Your website content and social media posts should be fresh as well.
The information should be current, accurate, and engaging. How up-to-date is the information on your website? Is it accurate or have things changed and your website doesn’t reflect those changes? Is the copywriting interesting or just regurgitated facts filled with jargon and education buzz words that only someone with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction could love?
Is your staff information interesting to your audience? If so, it must be less of a professional bio of qualifications and more about the people who will be teaching and supervising their children. What do they care about, what drives them to this career, or what are their personal goals? Try writing a friendly staff profile blurb on your school website staff page or teacher website or sharing weekly staff spotlights (or videos) on your website news page via social media posts.
Your focus should be on the needs of your customers, primarily parents, and often that means providing answers to their questions and alleviating their concerns. It is likely you don’t know what those concerns are unless you understand what the parents you are targeting want and need.
You might begin gathering those quality ingredients by conducting surveys of parents in your geographical boundaries, talking to parents who have chosen to send their children to another school or are homeschooling, and doing some serious self-evaluation of your school’s current image to see what your perceived weakness are.
Mixing the dough
In breadmaking, the reason the dough is mixed (or kneaded) is to develop the weblike gluten strands that expand and cause the bread to rise as the yeast produces carbon dioxide during the fermentation process.
To implement effective website management and build a strong communications strategy, you must also develop a network. There is a bit of kneading that must take place, and when done well, you’ll see a rise in loyal supporters and an increase in trust for your school and its staff and administration, and in time, you’ll enjoy other benefits, including increased enrollment.
Creating a network includes using a deliberate communication strategy that supports your school’s agreed-upon goals (your mission). Integrate your social media efforts with your website content, your media relationships, and your marketing efforts. Every post, story, press release, video, and website update should support your communication efforts (which supports your school’s mission). Nothing is haphazard. Everything has a purpose.
This may be easier than it sounds. Does the news article you are posting on your website highlight one of the educational goals of assuring quality programs to your students? Did you link to that encouraging story from your social media and ask parents to share it in their Facebook and Instagram feeds? Did you offer to have the local media share an interview with the staff or students involved? If so, you just did a great job of developing your network. You integrated social media and gave parents and the community a reason to visit your website and see what kinds of great things are happening at your school. You involved your staff and students and provided kudos where deserved.
Letting it rise
This is the stage in both breadmaking and website management that requires patience and an awareness of your environment. For the magic to happen—the bread or your school reputation to rise—you knead (oops!) to recognize that it doesn’t happen instantly. If you expect it to, you’ll be disappointed.
You can’t just post an interesting story on your school website and expect you’ll suddenly enjoy increased enrollment, strong parental support, and committed students. It will require a consistent and deliberate communications effort, instilling a customer service mindset among your staff, a willingness to listen to feedback, and making ongoing improvements based on that feedback.
This stage requires a long-term plan and patience. It means being aware of your environment. Is the room too cold? The bread won’t rise, and your parents won’t feel welcome and will be less engaged and fewer students will thrive.
If the school culture is always in a state of chaos (environment is a bit too warm), not only will your bread’s yeast die, but your school culture will become toxic, and you’ll have trouble getting and keeping good staff or attracting students who enjoy learning and can be examples for other students.
Baking the loaf
In baking bread, timing matters. If you put your rising bread in the oven too soon, it won’t rise evenly, and the crumb can be dense and heavy. Too long a rise, the bread can fall when baked, and the crumb will be uneven and even a bit fermented.
In website management, it is also about the timing. If you don’t keep the information flow steady and appropriate, this communication resource will be considered unreliable. If it is unreliable, it will not be used as a resource at all by the very customers you hope to inform, and it only takes one or two visits for people to make that determination.
Another process that affects the long-term success of all your communication efforts is transparency. To build trust, you must be willing to respond to questions from your public and proactively explain your school’s “why behind the what” for decisions and plans. You will eliminate many potential problems by making a habit of using your website and your social media to tell parents and community members the rationale behind changes that affect their children, school hours, bus schedules, school policies, elimination of programs, and much more.
Sharing the “why behind the what” for common events or activities that seem routine to you as a school employee, can go a long way toward developing trust and improving communications. For example, we know that your school applies reason and value to every activity from lesson plans to school assemblies and field trips. So, share that rationale and those values with your audience.
Rather than just posting a school assembly on your calendar, write an article about it on your news page. Be sure to include the topic, what your students gain from the experience, how it adds to their education, and a few quotes from students from their perspective. This kind of information, provided consistently and in support of your school’s goals and mission, are the hallmark of great strategic communications.
Enjoying the fruit of your labors
Now the hard work and your strategic planning and consistent follow-through is done. But don’t quit now! The joyful efforts of your work are about to pay off in more ways than one.
If you’re baking, the benefits are evident since your home is now filled with the sweet-smelling fragrance of wholesome bread just waiting for you to tear off and devour a thick, warm chunk. However, since we’ve carried this analogy to extreme tummy rumbling lengths, spread some sweet cream butter on your bread, and let’s talk about the benefits of a well-managed website.
If you have followed the previous stages of managing your website, you can already see the benefits. Gradually your customers will be influenced by your communications efforts, especially the reliable information available from your website and social media channels. They will be impressed by the stories and successes you share. You’ll strengthen your school’s reputation, and your transparency will be respected and appreciated. You will build trust and confidence with your community, and parents will go from being critics to advocates.
When you make mistakes, which is bound to happen occasionally, be honest, apologize, and let your customers know what you are correcting to avoid future mistakes. This is an aspect of communication that leaders try to avoid, but avoidance does much more harm than sincere honesty provides.
Finally, be sure to recognize and show your appreciation for the staff who gather the stories for you to share, the employees who demonstrate the customer mindset you are encouraging and modeling, and give kudos to all those who are supporting your goals. Share examples with your staff when you see these desired behaviors modeled, and reward the behavior in a variety of ways (awards during governing board meetings, thank you notes, recognition at staff meetings, gift cards of appreciation).
The steps we recommend to manage your school website are:
- Gather data from your customers. (What needs do they expect you to meet? What do they value most? What challenges does your school solve for them?)
- Establish your annual communication goals. (Tie your goals to your school mission.)
- Evaluate your current website. (Is the navigation intuitive? Is your website mobile-friendly? Is it current? Is the content tone friendly and inviting? Is it informative and engaging?)
- Develop update processes. (Involve staff by assigning topics and deadlines for news articles, success stories, staff or teacher spotlights, events—and all news should include an explanation for the “why behind the what.”)
- Schedule frequent website updates. (Schedule daily or weekly content updates to keep the website current, accurate, and engaging. Maintain a friendly, consistent tone.)
- Coordinate social media posts with website content. (Integrate your social media channels with articles and news on your website to drive customers to the more detailed, informative, and inviting website information.)
- Schedule regular website checks. Look for and fix broken links, layout errors, outdated content, website accessibility compliance, spelling and grammar errors, etc.)
- Recognize, reward, and repeat. (Find good examples of staff who are providing engaging articles and stories or keeping the website and social media content current. Recognize these examples and honor them publicly. This will encourage more of the same!)
All your website management is tied to good communication. Your website is the most valuable resource available for improving customer service, marketing, public relations, reputation management, and parent engagement. Put it to good use, and then enjoy the many rewards that strategic communication brings!
If your school needs website management services, please remember that School Webmasters specializes in just that—and we have for 16 years! Let us help you manage your school website and social media (whether on our system or yours). Contact us today and find out more, or request a quote and we’ll contact you!
Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.