Your website is your school's most valuable marketing asset, so hiring the right person (or team) to manage it is no easy feat. There are set skills to look for, annual budgets to consider, goals you need to meet, and a lot of individuals you need to make happy and impress.
As a web design company, we get the opportunity to meet a lot of different webmasters and marketers who manage their school's website. We've seen teams of ten, and teams of one — and in some cases, teams of ½, as the website is just something someone at the school must manage on the side amongst 84 other responsibilities.
But regardless of team size, there's often a bit of debate (and sensitivity) of who makes the best webmaster: someone from the IT team, or someone from the marketing team.
The Great Divide: Do we hire a marketing or IT professional to manage our website?
To answer this question for your school, it's important to consider the following three questions, first:
- Are you looking to hire someone to build our website from scratch or are you looking to hire someone to manage your website content?
- What is the goal of your website? Is it to recruit and retain students, or is it a basic means of communication?
- What is your yearly website management budget?
When you're looking to build a website from scratch on your own — say from an open source provider or something in-house — you're going to need someone with an IT background to build and manage it. But, this can be extremely costly, and has numerous set-backs for schools.
It not only means that you'll be paying an annual salary and numerous other annual fees — but it means that it will be up to someone, who specializes in coding and technology, to manage your brand and messaging online — something that truly belongs in the hands of the marketing team — especially if your primary goal is recruitment and retention.
To get a little more insight into this topic, I reached out to a few of our schools to get their thoughts on the subject. Kristen Kerwin, Associate Director of Communications at Avon Old Farms School, summarized this concept perfectly:
"Our marketing team is trained and talented in graphic design, coordinating aesthetically pleasing elements, and most importantly communicating the message of our brand. It takes time and energy to strategically craft a website page for its intended purpose. It also takes time and energy to be up-to-date with network security, hardware and software capabilities, and programming education. Two totally different, yet equally important jobs. So, when it comes to the first impression our prospective parents have of the school, I trust our marketing team — that has been educated and has experience to communicate effectively — to tell the story in a remarkable way on the website."
Beth Stefanik, Director of Communications at St. Anne's-Belfield School echoed these sentiments:
"Hands down the website should be the responsibility of the marketing team. It is very often the first thing people find out about your school and community, so content creation and making sure it is visible in search results are just two very basic levels that it should be hitting. I look at the website as a front door to the School, it's where people find out our contact information, read our news, fill out our inquiry form, and so much more — of course we would want our messages to be as clear and engaging as possible there, so it makes sense that those of us who think about this all day every day be the people involved in website strategy and maintenance."
The last consideration of website ownership is budget — how much of your budget can you annually allocate to website management? In most cases, schools can save money and improve their digital marketing by hiring a webmaster with a communications/marketing background and investing in a great website partner.
Sarah Gordon, Assistant Director of Communications for Web & Social Media at Choate Rosemary Hall made it clear that choosing the right website partner can make a big difference for schools trying to make this decision:
"If a website is built with Finalsite, you should put it in the hands of marketing. With Finalsite, the need for someone with a web development/ITS background isn't as strongly needed since there is support offered and they can help you fill in the gaps with the IT responsibilities. No one can reproduce your knowledge of your institution or of your target audience. Communications professionals with marketing and advertising backgrounds would be the most valuable if you could only have one person manage the website."
All things considered, when someone is managing your school's website, they are managing your most important marketing tool — and therefore should be in the hands of your marketing team.
This doesn't mean IT staff don't have a place. They are really (really!!) important to the success of your website and marketing. In an ideal situation, you'd have your marketing and technology teams working hand-in-hand on different parts of the website.
"Management needs to be a shared responsibility, as there are content and marketing decisions as well as technical integration and functional issues," said William Stites, Director of Technology at Montclair Kimberley Academy. "There are different skill sets in play."
All-Star Qualities to Seek in a Marketer to Manage Your Website
Let's move forward with the notion that a professional with a marketing background should be managing your school's website. I've been using the term "website manager" loosely to define the individual who does the bulk of the website updates, as the title varies from school to school.
Regardless of title, when hiring someone to manage your website, there are a few key qualities to look for depending on the size of your team. If your budget allows for a complete web team or three or more individuals, you'll be able to split these qualities among several individuals.
However, if your web team is a single person, you'll be on the hunt for an all-in-one all-star who can has all the following qualities:
The ideal webmaster and digital marketer has a strong voice and storytelling capability. In addition to copywriting, he or she knows how to write for the web — including value propositions and eye-catching headlines.
"A team member that manages a website should be flexible, creative, quick, and on target with current trends," said Kristen from AOF. "Additionally, a website manager should have the ability to craft a message in a succinct and visually stunning way — given that the information was more than likely submitted in a string of emails or jotted down in a meeting along the way."
A level of creativity
Having an eye for what looks good, how to incorporate modern trends, and being able to see the "big picture" is key.
While the ideal webmaster is a marketer first and techie second, having some understanding of basic website coding, HTML and CSS can alleviate some dependence on your IT team or CMS support.
A basic knowledge of SEO and PPC is essential. However, we know this skill set and requirement often overwhelms school webmasters — which is why we offer numerous service packages for it. (So, don't make it a dealbreaker).
"I definitely look for people who have some knowledge of web design and html, have experience with a CMS, understand SEO and metadata, can think through logical sitemaps from a user's perspective, enjoy and know how to analyze analytics to make sure we are making our visitors' journeys as easy as possible, and have a great sense of humor and fun for coming up with engaging content," said Beth from St. Anne's-Belfield School.
Knowledge of digital communications strategy
While "communications" is a broad field of study, having a digital native, or an individual who is fluent in all-things digital, can help direct message and overall strategy.
"I can't tell you how important it is to understand the WHY in a decision, and be able to predict people's behaviors in a marketing strategy — It makes web communications much more effective. Having an eye for design trends, being digitally fluent and having impeccable organization and leadership abilities is also critically important," said Sarah from Choate.
Because frequent outsourcing of professional photo and video can be expensive, you'll want a webmaster with at least an intermediate level of photography and/or videography to keep your website looking fresh.
Graphic design skills
Graphic designers typically have an eye for "what looks good" on the web, and can quickly whip together a variety of digital content pieces for the website and social media.
Social media knowledge/experience
At some schools, a social media manager is an entirely different position. However, schools with smaller marketing teams should opt to hire someone with some background in social media, as it often gets coupled with the website.
The Ideal Candidate
All this being said, The ideal candidate — if you could only have one person with their hands in your website? "You need a content and marketing expert with a technical background," said William from MKA.
In today's terms, it means you need a Digital Marketing Manager — someone savvy in all-things digital, with an eye for message, brand, and marketing — a website management unicorn.
While every school's website budget and team size is different, your website's goal should remain the same: to communicate value and brand — and someone with a background in marketing can do it best — even those working in technology agree, like John LaPerch, the Director of Online Marketing at Forman School, who previously spent years working in technology at numerous private schools:
"Times have changed, used to be IT owned website management. Websites were complex and technical and needed that level of expertise. Today, with tools like Finalsite, managing a website is so much easier, even for technophobes. Now, without a doubt, marketing should own the site management. The messaging, imagery and video need to be managed by a marketing person to ensure the school is being portrayed online in a manner consistent with the brand."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.