Arizona is a school choice state that uses Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tax-Credit Scholarships to allow parents a choice of where their child receives an education. And school competition is fierce. In fact, Arizona has a higher percentage of students enrolled in charter schools than any other state in the nation (source).
School choice doesn’t necessarily mean that public schools have to suffer. Several schools in Queen Creek, Arizona, are setting an excellent example of how to succeed and excel in a school choice environment. Even if your state is not a school choice state at this time, there is something to learn from these public schools that are stealing enrollments from charter schools.
What’s Different About The Queen Creek Unified School District
The city of Queen Creek is a rapidly growing community. The new, affordable housing developments make Queen Creek a desirable area for young families. Queen Creek is served by six public school districts as well as numerous public charter schools and private schools. The Queen Creek Unified School District serves the greatest number of students, comprising eight schools and approximately 7,000 students.
Jack Barnes Elementary School is one of their schools. A quick glance at JBE’s campus or website doesn’t inspire any out of the ordinary impressions. Their campus is clean and inviting. Their website is bright, organized, and easy to navigate.
So what makes JBE standout?
The answer: their school social media.
Don’t believe me?
Our very own project manager, Judy Bittner, tells this story about her daughter-in-law:
My daughter-in-law has been researching the options for her children’s education ever since her first child was two years old. Would she send her children to a public, private, or charter school? Or would she decide to home-school them? All the above were viable options, but the one she felt was the least likely, was sending them to one of the local school district’s public elementary schools. She wasn’t happy with the direction she saw the entire public school system going and was determined to find a better option for her young and growing family.
With a job change and new opportunities, her family, including her now four-year-old son who will be entering kindergarten in the upcoming year, began building a home in a new neighborhood in the Queen Creek School District (QCUSD). Now it was time to get serious. She had already applied and been accepted to a local charter school she felt great about. But she felt she had to be sure, and since she was moving to a new school district, she began researching what would be her children’s new school in their new, public school district, Jack Barnes Elementary School.
She reached out to “people who knew people” whose children attended schools in the QCUSD district as well as those who specifically attended JBE. She became intrigued as she followed her would-be new school on Facebook. Conversation after conversation, I heard her say things like, “I love that they’re really active on Facebook,” “It seems like they do a lot of fun things,” and “I keep hearing and reading good things about them.” The more my daughter-in-law followed them, the more impressed she was, and the more she wanted to be part of their community—their family.
By the time the house was built, she had turned down the charter school acceptance and was ready to register her son for kindergarten in Jack Barnes Elementary School. JBE’s social media marketing was the main factor in this important decision.
JBE is marketing their school. You might not see it right away as marketing, but their presence on social media is not only a great school marketing tool, it’s also a game changer in a school choice environment.
How School Social Media Can Change the Game
Word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best forms of school marketing because it’s organic, trustworthy, and sought after. You saw it in action as Judy’s daughter-in-law sought out “people who knew people” and asked about JBE. She also kept reading good things about them—on their website, yes, but primarily on their Facebook page.
In a sense, schools have little control over word-of-mouth; there is no way to identify “influencers” and provide those people with “talking points” they want them to cover when asked about their school. But by marketing your school, you can influence how people perceive and feel about your school. Social media is a hot spot for word-of-mouth marketing, and one thing Queen Creek Unified School District is doing right is allowing the opportunity for reviews on their schools’ Facebook pages.
Understandably, many schools shy away from allowing comments or reviews on their school Facebook page. Another QCUSD school is Francis Brandon-Pickett Elementary School. Of the 15 reviews on FBPE’s page, they have 5 out of 5 stars. Let’s look at some of their testimonials:
- “By far a great school. My son attends kindergarten and is learning so much. And I love teaching here too. This is certainly a special school full of loving staff members who love their students and their school.”
- “We just moved to [Queen Creek] in mid July and are super impressed with FBPE staff. Special shout-out to Mary and Connie for a wonderful school tour and step-by-step help with the enrollment process. Talk about professionalism and communication skills! We are also delighted with [my child’s] kindergarten teacher, Helen Litle. Right away you can tell that she is passionate about, dedicated to, and proud of her work. We love how well-organized the classroom is and how well-informed parents are kept about their children’s progress as well as school-wide events. Looking forward to a wonderful school year!”
- “Pickett is a rare find. Awesome school with awesome staff. We moved out of the schools (sic) boundaries but quickly moved back in. There isn’t another school like this one!”
That is high praise from key stakeholders! These are the kinds of comments that will influence other parents. Social media turns your stakeholders into ambassadors for your school. Every time they share a post, comment, check-in, or tag your school, they are increasing your reach and visibility in your community. In fact, when Judy’s daughter-in-law registered her son for kindergarten at Jack Barnes Elementary she posted about it to her own social media page, and her post received 80 likes from parents and friends—she’s already an ambassador for the school, and her son hasn’t even gone to his first day of school!
Of course, leaving your reviews and comments open to the public can be a little scary, but negative comments are notoriously few and far between for schools, and there are smart ways to handle negative comments and reviews that can help save your reputation. QCUSD deters negative comments right from their Facebook homepage with a message that says:
“[Our school] is proud to share the great things happening on campus and upcoming events. If you would like to share a concern, please contact the office.”
This simple message does two things—first, it lets parents know the goal of the school’s Facebook page is to communicate good news and event information, and second, it directs parents to the appropriate place for concerns—the office.
Aside from being a great place for testimonials, social media does something that schools have struggled with for ages—it offers a real glimpse into your classrooms. Maybe your school sends out a newsletter. Maybe your teachers send classroom emails. Maybe your teachers have teacher websites. These are fine communication tools, but they only reach your enrolled audience. Nothing opens windows into the everyday life of your schools quite like social media. With social media, parents can see their children working on projects; they can see the activities and programs in action. And it’s not just your current parents looking; it’s prospective parents too.
If you’re skeptical about social media’s place in schools; you might be thinking, “We hold school tours,” or “We have a great website—isn’t that enough of a window into our schools?” In all honesty, no. Can you imagine Judy’s daughter-in-law? She had preconceived notions about public schools, and they weren’t positive. She had applied and been accepted to a charter school she felt good about. The school’s website wasn’t her first stop for asking about the public schools in the area—she turned to referrals and social media. And she never scheduled a school tour—she looked at the school’s Facebook activity and “loved” what she saw there. Social media changed her mind about the public school.
What To Do If You Don’t Have a School Communications Person?
Queen Creek Unified School District is lucky because they have the budget for a full-time marketing/PR specialist. However, the individual schools are still responsible for their own social media—and school social media is time-consuming. In fact, most professional marketers spend eleven or more hours a week on social media. Does your staff have that kind of management time?
Here are a few tips for what to do if you don’t have someone to manage your school’s social media communications:
- Create a communications calendar to plan your posts. Include things like school events, holidays, athletics scores, meetings, and important updates.
- Drive traffic to your website. Your school website should not be ignored in favor of social media. If anything, your website should be kept more current with news and events, and the posts on social media should guide your audience to the website for more information.
- Schedule your posts. Facebook lets you schedule your posts within the platform, but with Twitter you either need to use their ad tools or use a social media management tool like Hootsuite.
- Be consistent. The key to social media is a steady stream of communication. That means at least once a day on Facebook and twice a day on Twitter. Share your communications from your communication’s calendar, but also post student achievements, staff innovations, and classroom projects.
- Engage a team. Don’t try to tackle social media on your own. It will just pile more “to-dos” onto your already jam-packed schedule. Ask a few staff members to help you. Or, better yet, ask us about our social media management services; it’s an affordable, stress-free way to amp up your school’s presence on social media.
In a school choice environment, it’s vital to market your school. Let social media be your game changer and help your school stand out as the school of choice in your community.
Katie Brooks, Public Relations Specialist