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Incorporating a visual approach to your school marketing plan

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An Olympian recently visited our local elementary school. Students heard inspiring stories and took turns pole vaulting with the help of the visitors. My daughters came home completely excited, and I thought, “How cool for them.” 

A few days later, while scanning my Instagram feed, I noticed the PTO’s Instagram post with pictures and a short video clip of the activity. As I watched the video, these were my exact thoughts: “What a great thing for us! I’m so glad my children did that. I’m so glad they’re at that school!” Because of those pictures and videos, I felt my connection to the elementary school grow at that moment. 

Why does this matter?  

As a mother of six with a husband whose job transfers us often, my school loyalties don’t come easily anymore. While others feel tied to local schools, we have changed schools enough that we don’t connect to schools because of traditions or histories of excellence. It’s the little, everyday, positive experiences that really matter to my family. How this experience with my daughters and my experience with these pictures posted on Instagram affected me is exactly why schools should never underestimate the power of imagery in school marketing. 

What is imagery and why is it a big deal? 

Imagery is a timeless form of communication that engages audiences in various ways. Whether you recognize it yet or not, seeking to increase your use imagery as part of your school marketing is important, easy, and effective. Let’s look at the value of concrete imagery, such as pictures either on a printed page or screen. 

According to Discover Magazine, the mechanics of sight are “by far the most powerful and complex of the sensory systems. In the brain itself, neurons devoted to visual processing number in the hundreds of millions and take up about 30 percent of the cortex, as compared with eight percent for touch, and just three percent for hearing.” Millions of fibers carry signals inside one of your two optic nerves. In comparison, your auditory nerves only carry 30,000 fibers each. Apparently, we learn a lot through these fantastic bundles of the human eye’s optic nerves.

There was a difference between my thoughts from when I heard my girls tell me about their exciting day at school and then when I saw the experience for myself. Seeing for myself, connected me to the event in a more meaningful way, and I felt proud to be sending my kids to that school.

Why is imagery an effective tool for engagement?

Imagery is powerful. Images convey abstract and complex concepts subtly and rapidly. They are universal, reach across communication barriers, and help tell your school stories. As your school community sees the imagery you use, they will be much more likely to relate and connect with your school. Incorporating visuals into your school marketing plan is a beautiful and effective way to brand your school. 

Increase readability and promote change

Have you seen the acronym TLDR? It means, “Too long, didn’t read.” In all school communication, one of your school’s goals ought to be to increase readability. What can your school do to increase readership? 

Imagery adds depth to the connected words of a story. For example, think about children’s books. Images in illustrated books help convey the message of the text and engage young children in reading. Images can do the same for adults. Imagery allows a reader some creative direction. Similarly, the imagery used in various forms of school communication adds depth to your school brand and message fast. You’ve heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” The truth is, you don’t need a thousand words when a picture will do. 

History has its eyes on us and lessons to share. Florence Nightingale and Abraham Lincoln both used imagery based on gathered data to inspire themselves and others. Nightingale created a historical pie chart to display the correlation between mortality rates during the Crimean War and poor sanitary conditions. While she may not have been the first to use statistical graphs, she may have been, as historian Hugh Small writes, “the first to use them for persuading people of the need for change.” 

Abraham Lincoln used a three-foot parchment paper to display counties of the southern states. It visually represented the number of slaves by county, in varying degrees of tone connected to the number. He referred to this map many times. These two historical figures understood something we sometimes forget in our communication: people don’t have all day. 

Images allow the “reader” to glean information at a glance and have the power to persuade. In all of history, it has never been easier to include images in our communications! 

Embrace technology: practice digital citizenship 

Thanks to advances in technology, it’s easy and economical to use visual images in your various school communication settings. While using imagery has become easier to implement into the everyday, the technology of our world has become increasingly intimidating because of it’s potentially long-reaching effects for better or for worse. While this is true, remember, your school exemplifies digital citizenship to your community as you choose your policies of engagement regarding online communications about school activities. As you face this task carefully and bravely, your school models pro-social, responsible, and creative social media use. 

What pictures and images should you consider using? 

Parents and guardians of current and prospective students will always be your audience when considering decisions regarding your visual approach to school marketing. There are a few simple, vital ways to engage your students and their families that can be easily overlooked, especially when we live in a time of an overwhelming amount of sources seeking our attention. 

Think of your favorite moments that inspire you and make you happy. Show current and prospective students and their families what you care about through the visuals you use in school communications. Perhaps it’s watching the class engaged in a lecture, attentively listening to their instructor or students enjoying free time at recess or working together on a project. Maybe you enjoy seeing them gathered and participating in a school assembly. Sharing pictures from the school that inspire you will likely be met with a positive response by the school community. 

How to use imagery to benefit your school marketing plan

Thanks to technology, it has never been easier to engage your current and prospective school community. Here are some ideas:

  • Welcome students and other guests to your school with relevant images on the walls of your front office.
  • Consider what the walls of your school say with the imagery represented on them.
  • Expand your back-to-school nights by recording a message from the principal to play for everyone in the first class of the evening. 
  • Make video rather than an email to introduce a specific school program to your targeted audience.
  • Encourage your team to Include imagery (photos, clip art, charts, etc.) in the following forums: classrooms, weekly newsletters, and emails to parents.
  • Actively share your school’s stories using images shared via social media sites. (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.)
  • If your school has a fundraiser, use pictures connected to the fundraiser.
  • Don’t forget to include close up photographs of students smiling—they love their school!
  • Invite faculty and parents to use class, PTO, or school social media activity. Have them share regular posts and contribute their favorite pictures from latest events.
  • Update your school website with pictures of current students and faculty. For ideas, see some of the websites School Webmasters updated most recently. For tips on what and what not to include on your school website, see School Webmasters’ inclusive list. 
  • Consider more options with the production of school videos (video marketing), a powerful use of imagery for reinforcing your school brand.

Making decisions regarding your school’s online communication and social media activity can be daunting. Fortunately, as time goes on, there is more and more information at your fingertips to help make informed decisions. 

Nervous about how to approach social media? Consider researching an informative list of do’s and don’ts about safe sharing in your school as well as ways to protect privacy. At the beginning of the year, many schools include a media permission slip among the forms provided to parents. Permission to use pictures of students at your school is vital to your school marketing. 

Can the use of imagery help strengthen your school brand similar to that of commercial brands who choose to use little green geckos? Absolutely. One action item for any school marketing plan ought to be specific plans to give your school’s visual approach a facelift. As you share visually compelling images, you reinforce your school’s message, mission, and values. Oh yeah—one last thing: don’t forget that abstract imagery, storytelling and other ways of sharing your stories, is just as valuable. Using a variety of imagery connects your families. It is truly a reformative mode of school communication and marketing. 

For great tips and guidance on using images on your school website, visit School Webmasters’ blog post on the topic, and download the free photography checklist for schools. For all you Marketing Your School toolkit owners, this checklist has been added to the online resources under Week 36—ENJOY! 

How Successful Schools Market Themselves eBook

Emily Boyle, School Content Specialist