5 Digital Trends that Will Drive School Communications in 2021
Kristen Doverspike

With each new year comes new strategies and tips to succeed in our ever-changing digital world. But with the unexpected shifts and turns of the last year, do school professionals even dare predict what they’re up against in 2021?

The good news is that, yes, of all the things 2020 threw our way, one positive that came of it was its impressive impact on digital communications. We invested more time in creating thoughtful content. We educated ourselves. We became less video-shy. And like never before, we banded together as a community. 

While we’re certainly not done rising to new challenges, there are some major trends we’ll see in 2021 that will influence how public, private, international and charter schools should communicate moving forward:

  1. User experience will play a more important role in SEO strategy than ever before. 
  2. Emotionally-intelligent communications will be a must.
  3. Videos will be essential to your content strategy.
  4. Data analysis will be crucial to benchmark your success.
  5. Transparency and personalization will be the key to standing out.

Let’s dive in!

1. User experience will play a more important role in your SEO strategy than ever before. 

Wanting your school community to easily find the information on your website may seem like a no-brainer. But does that desire truly influence how you craft your online communications?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an important first step of content creation. It helps identify what topics families care about most, and it influences where your website will show up in search engine results — but your content strategy shouldn’t stop there.

“If we can just get them to our campus website, we can get them to enroll.” — Does that sound familiar?

The most common website goals revolve around how many people visit a website. What that goal doesn’t consider is how those visitors experience it.  While a strong SEO strategy can ensure that families will discover your school’s website, the ease of use that comes after they arrive can mean the difference between getting that family to enroll and having them choose a competing school. 

This is why User Experience (UX) design has really taken off in the past few years. It is the defining factor that ensures once a user gets to your website, they stay. Simply put, great user experience is what makes or breaks a website.

Delphian School website screenshot

Delphian School’s website does a great job of combining thoughtful content with smart design.

It may be easy to get behind the idea that UX is important. But when it comes to real data, it has historically been difficult to justify investing time in UX when SEO — or, rather, Google — is king. You can have the most beautiful website, but without mindful SEO, no one will find it.

Enter Google’s 2021 Page Experience algorithm update. Google is changing the game this year by marrying UX and SEO in its search ranking considerations. While keywords, site speed, and accessibility all played a role in where your website showed up in search results in the past, this new update (coming later this year) will bring in additional factors like mobile-friendliness, page layout, and more. So, for a website to show up on the first page of results, it will need great SEO and intelligent design.

What can you do to invest more time in UX?

  1. Request a website report card to see where your website currently stands.
  2. Take a look at your website analytics and identify what pages are seeing less traffic, high bounce rates, and low time spent on-page. Make updates to these pages to improve the user journey.
  3. If your website is more than three years old, consider making the case for a redesign.

click here to get your free website report card!

2. Emotionally-intelligent communications will be a must.

Long gone are the days of cold calls, haphazard social media posts, and shameless self-promotional emails. 2020 completely overturned the day-to-day routines for faculty, staff, students, and parents alike — and it changed the way schools communicate

Understanding how your students, parents, prospective families, and the larger community are feeling at any given moment — and reflecting that understanding in your messaging — is vital to be perceived in a positive light.

From your social media posts and virtual events to website content and internal communications, keeping emotional intelligence at the core of everything you create will play a big part in the success of your recruitment, nurturing, and retention efforts as we head further into 2021. 

How can you invest time in emotional intelligence this year?

  1. Take some time to understand where your school community is at right now. Take polls on social media, ask questions in your newsletters, and be mindful of current events.
  2. Remember that it’s not all about you! While you may want to push your content for your events and admissions goals, it’s just as important to cultivate togetherness with your school community. Share recipes, don’t be afraid to be lighthearted, and encourage two-way communications.
  3. If you’re unsure of what to do, ask. Join our School Marketing Community on Facebook to ask real school professionals what they would do!

3. Videos will be essential to your content strategy.

Video has been a growing medium for years, but for the first time in 2020, it became the closest thing many of us had to in-person conversations — and it set a strong precedent for 2021.

Aside from the obvious necessity for videos in a largely at-home world, the way we consume video has changed dramatically:

  • 87% of users, on average, expect to see more video content this year (HubSpot). This expectation can affect the way social media channels like Facebook prioritize content on the newsfeed. The more we engage with video, the more weight video will have, resulting in the need for schools to produce more videos to be seen.
  • Our expectations for quality have lowered. As more phone and webcam-recorded content became the norm last year, families similarly expected less from what they saw their schools produce. Lower-quality video brought us back to basics in the best way.
  • Our patience for longer videos grew. While our 7- to 8-second attention spans for general online content held steady, long-form videos proved to hold our attention — especially that of Gen Z (or students).
graph showing the rise in short-form content consumption in younger generations

Source of Study: Google

For schools, this means that video content will continue to be an important engagement driver. Go live, feature your faculty, let your students record themselves in a “day in the life” — no matter what you produce, being human and emotionally intelligent will make all the difference.

Post Oak School social media post example

Post Oak School has done a great job using video to feature their school community.

What can you do to invest in video this year?

  1. Remember that videos do not have to be a standalone piece of content. Video has such versatility past the point of production, including parsing out short clips for social media, pulling quotes for your website, and transforming the content into a longer-form blog. That 30-second video you created to highlight a faculty member on Instagram has the potential to span across countless additional touchpoints!
  2. Go live. Whether you go live on social media or on your website using a livestream service like Finalsite Streaming, you can bring your community together in greater numbers than you ever could in person. From events as simple as your morning announcements to your large graduation ceremony, live video can be the one step to offering the most accommodating experience for all.
  3. Don’t get caught up in quality (or lack thereof)! Concern over content looking too “unprofessional” is a common barrier to gathering great content for social media. Save time and gather some great authentic content by crowdsourcing video from your community. Set up a branded hashtag and challenge your students, parents, faculty and staff to show their school spirit, share a recipe, read an excerpt of a favorite book — the opportunities are endless, and it will provide an outstanding outlet for engagement.

4. Data analysis will be crucial to benchmark your success.

If you don’t already have Google Analytics set up for your website, now is the time to do it. And if you do, 2021 will be a big year to set new benchmarks for your school.

What may have been a “normal” amount of website traffic in the past may have taken an exponential turn in 2020. Before we get too far into 2021, it’s important to track these metrics over the last year so that you can set realistic benchmarks for the new year.

Screenshot from google analytics dashboard

Google Analytics can help you compare last year’s data to this year’s — this should indicate how user behavior has changed and how you can make updates to improve.

Similarly, your email and social media analytics can play a role in how you communicate this year. Have your open rates on your emails gone down? Has engagement on your social media posts gone up? Answering these questions is vital to building your strategy and reaching your school community when it matters most to them.

What can you do to invest time in data?

  1. Take a look at your average page views, email performance, and social media metrics over the last year and document these numbers as benchmarks for the new year.
  2. Set aside an hour each week to look at your Google Analytics, email open rates, and social media insights (for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) to keep an eye on any obvious trends.
  3. Get in touch with the Finalsite consulting team to get expert advice and optimizations for all of your online communications and marketing efforts!

5. Transparency and personalization will be the key to standing out.

2020 caused a major shift in enrollment numbers, because families suddenly had more choices than ever before. 

What may have been a small pool of competing schools in a given area may now be up against online schools, out-of-town private schools that have gone fully remote, and even homeschooling options. What can you do to stand out?

First, transparency is key. Families are no strangers to the researching process, so factors like online reviews, social media comments, and a consistent online presence will all play a part in enrollment decisions. But, transparency will also play a key role in re-enrollment decisions. Eighty-five percent of people are likely to stick by an organization during a crisis if it has a history of being transparent. Now is the time to sit back and reflect on your communications throughout 2020 to make improvements for 2021.

Second, personalization will make a bigger impact this year than ever before. Taking the time to proactively reach out to families about their experience at your school, add personalization tokens to your email communications, adding behavior-dependent page pops to your website, and setting up remarketing ads all aid in the overall journey of attracting new families and keeping current families enrolled.

What can you do to invest in transparency and personalization this year?

  1. Create automated email campaigns with personalization tokens to keep families engaged from initial inquiry through re-enrollment. In a world of choice, marketing your school doesn’t stop when they apply.
  2. Update your Google My Business page to have accurate and up-to-date information.
  3. Develop a set of standards for replying to comments on social media. No comment is unworthy of a response!
  4. Aid in the journey of your prospective families by setting up remarketing ads that can remind them of your school’s values while they are on social media.
  5. Create a parent engagement communication plan to aid in retention efforts. You can enroll in our free course, The New Rules of Parent Retention, to learn all the strategies you need to know for keeping families engaged, excited and enrolled in 2021 and beyond.

Wondering how to keep parents and students engaged, excited and enrolled this year? Sign up for our free online course: The New Rules Of Parent Retention!

Key Takeaway

2020 was unexpected, but it helped set a new rulebook for school communications. This year will see changes across the board that place a greater focus on the experience of the user — impacting how schools design their websites, how they interact with their communities online, and how they craft mindful content. No matter where your school is at in its journey to optimized communications, the Finalsite team is here for you along the way!

free website consultation - schedule yours today

Kristen Doverspike headshot

In her position as Inbound Marketing Manager, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website and social media communications at Finalsite. With over five years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their branding, SEM, SEO, social media, and inbound efforts. She holds and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite.

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