Each year brings new strategies to succeed in our ever-changing digital world. And with the major shifts we’ve seen in recent years, do school professionals even dare predict what they’re up against in 2023?
Here’s the good news — for all of the whiplash we may have felt trying to keep up, you can’t deny that communications have seen a positive turn. We’ve invested more time in creating thoughtful content. We’ve educated ourselves. We’ve become less video-shy.
And more and more, we’ve seen the value in coming together as a community.
We’ll always find ourselves rising to new challenges, especially as online expectations keep climbing higher and higher. So, rather than waiting to see what happens, let’s get ahead.
Here are the major trends that we here at Finalsite predict will influence your school communications strategies in 2023:
- Multi-platform content distribution will be king
- Online fatigue will demand authenticity
- Artificial intelligence will have a greater effect on communications and SEO
- Data analysis will be crucial to benchmark your success
- Speaking to the Gen Z audience will be the key to standing out
1. Multi-platform content distribution will be king
There is no one-size-fits-all form of communication, and there hasn’t been for years. But 2023 will see a particular need for content diversification. While there’s no denying that the value of your content is important for connecting with your community, it’s really the format in which that content is presented that will make or break your school’s engagement in the next year.
You’ll notice there are no “Short-form video will be on the rise,” “More schools will be on TikTok,” or “Email will be the preferred form of communications” predictions on this year’s list. That’s because it’s quite nearly impossible to pin a single content format as a leading trend when your school community is more unique — and demanding — than ever before.
We’ve seen a big uptick in discussions within The School Marketing Community Facebook Group in the last year regarding creative ways to repurpose and redistribute content across different mediums.
There is a seemingly neverending list of possible content formats. You have audio, video, and the good old-fashioned written word — and each of those formats has its own subset of potential distribution channels. Take video, for example, there’s short-form video, long-form video, and live video, and each of those can be distributed on YouTube, Instagram, your website, TikTok, and…woof. It sounds like a lot when you look at it that way.
Rest assured that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You’re already creating content, so it’s simply a matter of making the most of what you have and publishing it where it matters most. 2023 will be all about repurposing content to effectively reach the most audiences.
Baylor School does a great job at this. Going beyond the standard “Boarding Life” informational page on their website, they regularly reinforce their excellent boarding program through Instagram Reels, YouTube, and even their podcast. Each outlet speaks to a different audience but offers the same message.
What can you do to invest more time in multi-platform content distribution?
- Your school’s website likely reaches the widest audience, and it’s often the first place you’ll think to add content. Request a website report card to see where your website currently stands!
- Start making notes of where your community engages with you the most. Look at your email and website analytics, and start using social listening to understand how your community feels about your school and your content. If you find that you’re not seeing any clicks in your emails, but your parents love to engage with you on Facebook, start repurposing your newsletter content on social.
- Remember that you don’t have to be everywhere, but you do want to be where your community is. Start small — think about how you can most effectively reach your students, your parents, and your alumni in a way that doesn’t spread your team too thin. Consider introducing a mass notification system for important communication distribution across multiple devices, use dynamic fields and C.O.P.E. functionality to make the most of the content you create, and choose to have a presence only on the social media channels where you find the most engagement.
2. Online fatigue will demand authenticity
Long gone are the days of cold phone calls, highly polished social media posts, and shameless self-promotional emails. These types of communications simply don’t resonate in today’s candid world, and more studies are indicating that social fatigue is taking its toll.
The world is growing tired of the endless scroll and phony messaging. Your community and prospective families want to naturally feel part of something, not be told that they should be part of something. And as younger generations become decision-makers (more on this later), it’s going to be more important than ever before for your school to put its most authentic voice forward.
Understanding how your students, parents, staff, 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.
The best way to begin is to put the voice of your community at the forefront. They feel most connected when they see themselves in your content, not when they are sold to. Crowdsourced and user-generated content will play a big part in the success of your recruitment, nurturing, and retention efforts as we head further into 2023.
How can you lead the charge in creating authentic content?
Take some time to understand where your school community is right now. Take polls on social media, ask questions in your newsletters, and be mindful of current events.
Remove some of the polish. While you want your school to look professional and welcoming, you’re competing against thousands of other organizations and businesses in the noise.
Have some fun with your email subject lines, ask your students to get involved in your social media efforts, and don’t be afraid to be raw with your content. You might be surprised to see that your extremely human community is excited to see that you’re human, too!
In this example, Greenwich Academy isn’t trying to sell you on their school. They’re simply having fun with a little holiday carpool karaoke — and while it’s not directly saying “Here’s why you’ll love our school!” it certainly implies that message through its authenticity.
3. Artificial intelligence will have a greater effect on communications and SEO
With each year, we see new advances in artificial intelligence (AI). It can be helpful, a little scary, and everything in between. And while AI will likely have an impact on both the way your school communicates and the way it handles education in the coming year, here are two things to keep an eye out for.
The rise of voice searches
Studies are forecasting voice assistants will reach 8.4 billion units by 2024. With more and more households purchasing AI-assisted home devices like Amazon Echos and Google Homes, more searches will be coming through voice.
Why should your school or district care? Well, think about how you might search for local school district reviews on Google and how you might ask a smart home device for the same information. If I had to take a guess, the two searches may look something like this:
- Google search - “school districts near me reviews”
- Smart home voice search - “Hey Google, what do people say about the school districts in my area?”
Voice searches are naturally more conversational than the traditional search engine query. And as more of these long-tailed searches come in, you’ll want to take advantage of them for your search engine optimization (SEO).
Think about the keywords you currently try to rank for, and consider how you might adapt those into a common question that may come in through search. Is there an eBook that you can publish for a common question like, “Why should I choose a private school?” or can you incorporate these long-tailed terms into your page headings?
Be cautious of AI-generated content
With the rising popularity of free, AI tools for content generation, like ChatGPT, it may seem attractive to use this technology to write the content for your school’s website.
Why take an hour to write a blog on studying tips when an AI bot can write one for you in just a minute?
Well, there are two flaws in that logic:
1. No AI-generated content will have the true voice of your school community, and
2. This content is actually trackable and can hurt your SEO. These technological advances are exciting, and using them can help fuel ideas and research. But, beware of leaning on it too much in the new year.
What can you do to be ready for the rise of AI?
This one is simple: Stay educated! The world of artificial intelligence continues to grow, and we don’t know everything yet. Stay up to date and follow resources like The Finalsite Blog to learn the latest.
4. Data analysis will be crucial to benchmark your success
If you don’t already have Google Analytics 4 set up for your website, now is the time to do it, as Universal Analytics will sunset in 2023. As GA4 gathers new data and conversion tracking, this will be a big year to set new benchmarks for your school.
Be sure to take a look at your historical data over the last year so that you can set realistic benchmarks for the new year.
GA4 can help you compare date ranges — 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?
- 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.
- Set aside an hour each week to look at your Google Analytics, email open and click rates, and social media insights (for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) to keep an eye on any obvious trends.
- Get in touch with the Finalsite Digital Marketing Services team to get expert advice and optimizations for all of your online communications and marketing efforts!
5. Speaking to the Gen Z audience will be the key to standing out
Many of this year’s trends are a direct reflection of what the Gen Z audience expects of brands. Being transparent, cultivating a sense of community, and offering the right content in the right place at the right time is music to the younger generation’s ears.
From your students to your younger parents to your teachers, paying attention to the preferences of Gen Z will pay off immensely for your school. “Kids these days” should be taken seriously — this generation is smart, tech-savvy, and influential. Paying attention to their content preferences will not only pay off in the new year but also future-proof your content moving forward. Adopting new platforms like TikTok (when appropriate), offering a personalized experience, and giving your students a voice will be the key to standing out.
How can you appeal to Gen Z?
- Be brief and timely. This applies even to older generations, as we are all beginning to expect immediate answers, yesterday. Consider your on-the-go families by adopting a mobile app, and don’t be afraid to offer on-the-fly information through ephemeral content, like in Instagram Stories.
- Value the voice of this generation. You may know what you want to say about your school, but they know how you should say it. The way you like to showcase your school or district online might be perceived very differently in the eyes of a prospective student. So, get their buy-in! Ask your students for ideas, make use of their creativity, and trust their judgment. Then, you adapt your content to those preferences.
The past few years, and even just recent months, have set a new rulebook for school communications. This year will see changes across the board that place a greater focus on community engagement — impacting how schools design their websites, how they interact online, and how they craft mindful content. No matter where your school is in its journey to optimized communications, the Finalsite team is here for you along the way!
In her position as Director of Demand Generation 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.