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.
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.
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To get your school website and keep it at a high level of usefulness, you must put processes and ongoing training in place so that everyone involved is on the same page. This is often the unrecognized expense of maintaining your own school website—because to do the job right, the training is ongoing.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?
#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?
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.
Posted by Bonnie Leedy, CEO, School Webmasters, LLC.