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Digitally Communicating Your School’s Value

By Net Assets posted 04-15-2020 10:08 AM

  
digital comms

Enrollment & Financial Aid |

With campuses closed at the height of admissions and advancement season, independent schools need to communicate more clearly than ever via digital channels.

By Rob DiMartino, Finalsite

In the wake of COVID-19 school closures, many independent schools have pivoted quickly to a new digital experience, with a virtually connected community and enhanced digital learning. But the digital transformation does not stop with academic continuity — school communications are rapidly adjusting too.

Schools’ digital communications strategies should always focus on four areas: purpose, people, platform and process — and these four areas have never been more critical than now, a time of national and global crisis.

Purpose

“During this time of uncertainty, distancing and isolation, it is imperative that the school’s brand and mission are aligned in a way that you are effectively telling your institution’s story,” said Pat Coyle, director of marketing at Georgetown Preparatory School, a grades 9-12 all-boys school in North Bethesda, Maryland. “Given that your physical campus is most likely closed, your digital identifiers — your website, social media platforms, and other new media tools — need to be your channels to articulate your brand promise and to show your mission at work,” he advised.

For Georgetown Prep, that meant developing a weekly, system-wide communication point from the school president that shows the school’s mission at work, that learning continues and the community remains united. The school is working on series that features alumni on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis.

When sharing content — via your website, email, social media or blog — consider the following questions:

  1. Does this align with our school’s mission?
  2. Does this convey the value of our school?
  3. Which target audience does this message align with and is it delivered effectively?

If you answer “no” to any of these questions, ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing, confirm your desired outcomes and adjust course as necessary.

"We need to capitalize on the strengths of our people and have a flexible mindset to move them around to various positions within the school so it is able to thrive, not just survive, this public health crisis."

Dennis Chapman
The Village School of Naples

People

“Leaders should be reflecting on lessons they are learning now during this pandemic and how they will apply them in the future,” said Dennis Chapman, head of school at The Village School of Naples, a preschool-grade 12 school in Naples, Florida. “We need to capitalize on the strengths of our people and have a flexible mindset to move them around to various positions within the school so it is able to thrive, not just survive, this public health crisis.”

Chapman sees the move to remote work as an opportunity for school leaders to, “empower faculty and staff by offering just-in-time support with the tools they need to effectively deliver content in a [previously unfamiliar] space.” The Village School has developed new virtual communication capacities that should continue when everyone returns to campus. These include virtual open houses, nighttime stories read aloud to our younger children, and a Sunday fireside chat series called "Leading from the Lanai."

When there is so much on school leaders’ plates, auditing school staff’s roles and responsibilities may not seem top of mind. However, assessing who is doing what and why can help leaders understand where resources may be best deployed, especially as schools face the potential of shrinking budgets in the coming fiscal year. Questions to consider:

  1. What skills are absolutely essential to help the school fulfill its purpose?
  2. Are the tasks we’re asking employees to complete within their skill set?
  3. If yes, do they have too many tasks on their plate that prevent them from focusing?
  4. If not, how can you help them gain those skills?

Platforms

Because your constituents are receiving more information than usual, you will need to look for creative ways to cut through the noise.

Because your constituents are receiving more information than usual, you will need to look for creative ways to cut through the noise. As head of school, Chapman sees it as his responsibility to ensure communications remain calm, factual and are delivered in real time.

Are your school’s current communication platforms, such as the website, social media channels, email marketing, learning management and databases effective? If your school has multiple platforms, which, if any, platforms can be integrated for enhanced communication?

Data and web integration allow schools to personalize information and deliver it to families in ways that are timely, relevant and digestible. Examples include parent portals, targeted emails, calendar feeds and social feeds. The goal is engagement. You cannot recruit, retain, communicate, cultivate or educate without it.

Making the user experience easier or seamless in a digital world is a huge differentiator. "In ensuring that our new and existing tools play nicely in the sandbox in terms of single sign-on (SSO) and integration, we make it easier for our constituents to participate freely and to feel continually connected to our community," said  Tye Campbell, director of technology at the Gilman School, a K-12 boys’ school in Baltimore.

To that end, consider the following:

  1. How does the website integrate with your school’s learning platforms? Do you have a student portal that functions as a hub for learning to connect to Zoom, Google Classroom, Canvas, Seesaw or your age-appropriate learning platform of choice?
  2. How does your admissions software integrate with your digital marketing platform? Consider using admissions data to deliver more personalized communications and connections at the right time in the “buyer’s” journey and ultimately drive conversions deeper in your admissions funnel.
  3. How does the school’s communications platform leverage the student information system (SIS) or fundraising data (Master System of Record)? Now more than ever, having a seamless data integration with marketing and engagement platforms is paramount.
  4. Does social media integrate with the school’s website in real-time, inspirational ways to show connection in the current social distancing environment? Physical distancing doesn’t have to mean social distancing. Schools can leverage social media to enhance engagement, share stories and stay connected while the physical campus is closed.

Schools should also consider how they can use digital engagement to connect with their alumni, many of whom may be worried about the hardships facing students right now and asking for opportunities to assist.

Process

What are your school’s current processes across marketing, admissions and development? And are they effective in this time of crisis? Consider what is working well, what isn’t and what approaches might be appropriate to adapt or pause during this period.

Three key components to consider are key audiences, messaging and frequency.

  • Parents tend to want frequent communication and look for well-organized and easy to use platforms.
  • Students often look for timely and relevant news that shows student experiences via images and video, social posts and digital signage shout-outs that acknowledge events like birthdays or special occasions. They also appreciate a smooth digital experience through their student portal.
  • Alumni likely want less frequent communications and look for outstanding content that will build a culture of connection. That may include career advice or parenting tips, for example, and highlights of the school’s strongest programs.

Iterate and Move Forward

Now is the time to analyze your school’s digital transformation and advance it. Remember, mistakes will happen. We are all moving at the speed of light while trying new things to teach, learn, connect and inspire. Learn from your mistakes, iterate and keep moving forward. 

Outside of COVID-19, auditing the purpose, people, platform and processes behind your school’s digital experience is essential, and should be on your calendar once a school year. It can help align digital strategy with strategic goals, optimize engagement, and build a connected learning environment, revenue growth and a sustainable financial future.

Rob DiMartino is co-founder/chief evangelist at Finalsite, a marketing and communications software company that serves independent schools. Find more information about school communications during COVID-19 on Finalsite’s dedicated resource page.
#Pandemic
#Communication
#Leadership
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