1. Why Sell Your School?
Marketing and branding are words most associated with businesses, but whether you know it or not, schools are already doing a healthy amount of this. For instance, do you have a website, a logo, school colors, a mission statement, and branded clothing? If so, you are already branding your school. We may have learned these lessons from the business world, but they are more relevant today than they ever have been in education. Here are some reasons why selling your school is so important today:
- If you don't tell you story someone else will. It is becoming a cliche, but it's true.
- It can boost parental engagement and lead to a great home school connection.
- Schools can model appropriate uses of social media for students (and parents).
- Bond issues and PPEL votes may be more likely to go in your favor if you have a connected, engaged community that understands and believes in your mission.
- Partnerships with local businesses can be fostered through exposure online. Everybody wins.
However, perhaps the most important reason to sell your school is to share the awesome things that happen in the classroom every day! It can provide a window into the learning and success that teachers are having with students and finally provide a real answer to the one question that parents really want a better answer for - What did you do at school today?
Before you venture out too far with new technologies, take stock of what you already have and get it ready for your new mission. The school website is an excellent "home base" for all the sharing and storytelling that you are about to embark on. However, not all school websites are really set up to do this. Many are very traditional and are focused around essential information like calendars, lunch menus, links to service logins, and so forth. They have the potential to be so much more. Take a look at the website that the CCSD59 school district in Illinois uses and you will start to get a feel for what I mean. It is dynamic, clean, and easy to navigate. It tells stories. Does your school website do all this?
Blogs are a great way to share long form content that may not be meaningful on social media. It is a great medium for telling stories, and for embedding images and videos that sell the great things that are going on in your school. The more people that contribute, the more stories you can tell, and the more connections you can build with your community.
And, if you are serious about your website, as you should be, it really has to be mobile friendly. Smartphones are almost ubiquitous devices these days and with up to one third of all web traffic estimated to be carried out on a mobile device, you can be sure that your parents are going to hit your website on their phones at some point. So, save them the pain of pinching and zooming and make sure that you have a responsive web design that will adapt to the screen size of the user.
While it is tempting to just jump in with the social media sites that make sense to you and your staff, it is always a good idea to survey parents and see what they are actually using. This will give you a better idea of the networks you will want to spend the most time on. Instagram is great, but if your parents are not using it, you won't get the same benefits as using something like Facebook where you may have a more a greater percentage of your families. Can you try to introduce parents to networks they may not currently be using? Absolutely, but start with something familiar and build from there.
Next, look at the accounts you already have and decide which ones you want to keep, which ones you want to retire, and which ones you might need to start. Typically, there are five different types of social media accounts you might want to consider:
- District level
- School building
- Classroom accounts
- Staff member accounts
- Activities (Sports, Arts & Drama, PTO, etc.)
Hashtags are an important part of modern social media. They started on Twitter, but Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+ all use them now as ways to track and promote specific content. Schools can create their own hashtag so parents, staff, students and more can help tag and curate posts that are relevant to the community. Your hashtag can be whatever you want it to be, but try not to pick one that is already in use elsewhere. Also, shorter is better, especially when characters count. Check out the #solonstrong hashtag from Solon CSD to get an idea of what that looks like when everyone contributes to a common, memorable hashtag on Twitter.
Video is something you should never underestimate. It has the potential to evoke emotions that text never will, and it can provide a very visual and unique insight to what goes on in your classrooms on a daily basis. It is a hugely persuasive medium and one that shows no signs of slowing any time soon. YouTube has over a billion users and boasts that 300 hours of video are uploaded to its site every minute!
Video is not as hard to produce as you might think, and it doesn't need to perfect. All it needs to do is help tell your story in an interesting way. Apps like Touchcast for the iPad take a lot of the hard work out of movie production and automate large amounts of the process for you. Principals likeTony Sinanis and Brad Gustafson take advantage of it frequently and have some great things to say about how easy and effective it is. Just need some ideas? Take a look at what CCSD59 does on YouTube to sell their school.
Here is a video I filmed for the Center Point-Urbana School District as part of their Kindergarten Roundup. The administrators decided that they wanted to give parents who came to the meeting a chance to see what it was like to learn in one of their Kindergarten classrooms. So they contacted me and together we worked on ways that we could showcase the learning and help parents see more of what they can expect when they enroll their children in the district. The video below was one of three videos that highlighted different aspects of life in Kindergarten.
All that is left to do is to start spreading the word and sharing the great things you do on the networks that you decided to focus on. This might sound like the easy part, but it takes time, effort, and dedication to consistently post and share the things that you are doing, but with the right strategy, and some time-saving tips, you can be up and running in no time.
Integrate as much of it as you can on your school website. Remember, this is home base, and will ultimately serve as a digital hub for all your communications. Share the links to your networks (and school hashtag) on your school website. Embed posts from Twitter, Facebook and Google+ in your blog. Add Twitter widgets to display your latest tweets. Include links to your channels in email signatures, on posters around the school, on newsletters and anywhere else that you can promote and push the fruits of your labor. Have classes for parents who are interested in getting started with social media. Involve students, local media, local businesses and anyone else in your community with access to a computer or mobile device. Get your message out there, and reinforce it often, and before you know it, you too will have sold your school in the best possible way.
- Jonathan Wylie, Technology Consultant, Grant Wood AEA (@jonathanwylie)