Enrollment & Financial Aid |
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.
“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:
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 ChapmanThe Village School of Naples
“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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Find all COVID-19 Resources for the Independent School Business office here.5 Minutes With Liza Fisher Norman and Rob Norman, InspirED School Marketers (Nov/Dec 2017)Independent Voices: Rob DiMartino of FinalSite (web-only, Nov 2015)
7 Seconds to Shine: School Website Redesign (Sep/Oct 2015)
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