Salespeople are calling and emailing with the list of great features their “easy-to-update” software platforms include. They have booths at conferences. They mail out brochures. They call again, often at your busiest time of year. If you had the time to take their calls, you’d likely see those touted features are definitely noteworthy and well functioning.
Our technical capabilities have advanced exponentially in the past few decades. It is quite amazing to me that what once took a mainframe the size of the wing of a building to process data can now be done on the small device in my pocket. Our smartphones are now more powerful than the computers used to send the Apollo astronauts to the moon and back. Mind-blowing!
Today’s technology challenges
But, the abilities provided to us in this DIY culture have brought with it a new set of challenges. One of those challenges is that staying on top of all these awesome technology changes can be a bit overwhelming.
The very thought of upgrading to a new phone makes me feel a bit queasy. I know what is involved with transferring everything, learning a new system, and relearning processes for my daily activities. It will take weeks before I’m comfortable again. I have so many programs I use daily that it takes another program just to keep track of the passwords to all those other programs.
Don’t get me wrong. I love all my gadgets and the programs that have revolutionized my life. As a woman in the 21st Century, I can raise a family, manage a busy household, run a small company, bake my own bread, be a professional writer, and sew on a quilt—all in one week. My grandmother had far less free time than I do, and it would have taken her a week to accomplish half of these tasks. And my grandmother was no slacker! She would’ve put me to shame if she’d had the same tools at her disposal.
In spite of all this good news, there is a downside when it comes to your school website content management system (CMS). Actually, it isn’t the CMS system that is the challenge; it is the skills, training, and knowledge required to make your school website as effective as possible—even with a jazzy CMS platform.
What is your school website’s purpose?
Your school website, and basically the purpose of every website, is to serve your customers and your prospective customers. Some of these purposes include the following:
- Marketing your successes and benefits to prospective parents
- Informing, communicating, and engaging existing parents
- Delivering transparency to the public, including community members and taxpayers
- Providing up-to-date information on school events, activities, programs, and curricula
- Serving your customers with the resources they need (forms, contacts, schedules, etc.)
Your website is your primary communications and marketing resource. When used strategically, it builds trust and respect and can attract quality staff and influence parent choices for student enrollment.
However, all of these purposes require information your staff must provide. The value of your website comes from the content on your website and the way it is delivered. To represent your school well, here are a few goals:
- Communications that support your school’s mission and goals
- Information that is timely and accurate
- Grammar, spelling, and layout that is correct
- Content, navigation, layout, and design that is website accessible (ADA compliant)
- Consistent branding and style guide standards applied throughout the site
- Strategic marketing efforts that are integrated (inbound marketing, enrollment forms)
- Writing style and content that matches your school branding and goals
It’s all about relationships!
Communication in all its forms is about relationships. Whether it is developing them, nurturing them, or ending them. In order to be effective, communication should also be strategic and authentic. What does that look like?
This one is simple. Just be honest. You provide evidence of your strengths on your website and in social media communications. Be real. When it comes to your weaknesses, again, be honest and let your audience know how you are working on turning those weaknesses into strengths and how you plan to do that. No one expects perfection in all areas, but your honesty about what your school strives to deliver will earn your school goodwill and trust.
And by strategic, we don’t mean “spin” either. We mean considering your school goals and integrating your communication efforts with those goals. As an example, if you want to earn a reputation as a successful, effective school where all of your students feel valued and inspired to reach their highest potential, your communication efforts should reflect that.
You’ll share stories of student successes (especially those that show overcoming obstacles and achievings goals). You’ll provide evidence of programs, curriculum, and teachers that lead to student success. Your communication will include information to teach parents ways they can support their student’s educational efforts. You’ll want to create an annual plan where you will coordinate content on your website and social media supporting your communication goals for the year. It looks like this:
- Establish your annual goals (these should be tied to your mission statement).
- Create a strategic communications plan to include content supporting your goals for each month of the school year.
- Coordinate content resources by including staff, parents, and students. This may include making assignments to staff for providing stories, descriptions of events and activities, photos, and videos providing interesting and engaging evidence.
- Schedule posts, articles, events, and stories (with deadlines).
- Reward participation. When you get staff, parents, or students who will provide you with the content that helps you achieve your communication goals, reward them publicly, privately, and sincerely. Whether it is acknowledgment at a staff meeting for an excellent news article or story, a handwritten note of thanks, governing board recognitions, or kudos shared over the daily announcements, some form of recognition will encourage increased participation.
In order for this to be effective, everyone must understand and internalize your school goals and mission. Whether this means through annual training or visual reminders through signage, or an annual professional development training topic covering your school’s mission, be sure you are all working toward the same goal—which is to provide evidence of how you are delivering on your promises (your school mission). All of this will impact your school public relations, school marketing, staff and student morale, and even customer service levels.
While you can’t automate relationships, you can create a regular drip of goal-focused messaging that will build and strengthen those relationships. These efforts will have a positive outcome in every area of school communication. But, these efforts cannot be “other duties as assigned” to folks who are unaware of your district goals or your parents’ needs. It isn’t about a CMS platform or technology but about observing, gathering, and sharing the stories that build trusting relationships.
Build a team
A recent school/client of ours wasn’t doing a good job of helping us create content for their website and social media. They didn’t have a plan in place to gather stories that developed relationships or demonstrate they were delivering on their mission statement. We take care of all the posting, proofing, editing, ADA accessibility, and maintaining intuitive websites for all of our clients, but we still need the raw content that will engage parents and community members. However, an effective salesman convinced them that having a new, cool app platform that pushes notices to parents, would be the silver bullet and improve their communication efforts. It wasn’t.
No matter how cool your technology or platform, it won’t have an impact if you don’t have dedicated resources gathering the content that builds a solid communications effort. Spending more money on a new platform won’t change a thing. It might make posting simpler, but without content and a strategy, nothing changes.
So, create a team within your school that drives and supports your communications efforts. Either hire or outsource the skill sets needed. Those communication skill sets should include the following:
- Visually appealing graphic elements that support your content’s message (graphic design skills)
- Engaging content that tells stories and uses a conversational and inviting style (writing skills)
- Website accessibility maintenance with each post, including PDF attachments and required off-site links (website accessibility training)
- Website proofing for grammar, spelling, broken links, layout issues, contrast problems, style guide consistency, and outdated information (copy editing)
- Content and story gathering year-round (everyone who witnesses those great stories worth sharing—staff, parents, students, volunteers, alumni)
If you don’t have the resources (or funds) to hire for the skills sets we listed above, we can certainly do this for you and have been delivering these services for nearly 17 years now. But, as proud as we are of how we help our schools, we can’t do it unless they share the great things happening at their schools with us. That is the fodder fueling great results.
Whether it is to improve a school’s marketing to increase enrollment, build a respected, trusted reputation, deliver outstanding customer service each day, or engage students and parents in the educational process to turn out successful and contributing adults, it is that glimpse inside the walls of your school that will convert and convince. This is what builds relationships, and that’s what matters in the long run.
Whatever CMS system or platform you use, put a strategic communications plan in place. Website management is a critical step in any communications strategy.
If you need help, it’s what School Webmasters does. Let us know what platform you use, and we might be able to support your existing platform. If your website is in need of a redesign, we’ve got you covered there as well. Just request a quote, and we’ll call you to discuss how to affordably and strategically improve your school’s communication and marketing strategies.
Bonnie Leedy, CEO