In the years since the pandemic, support for school choice has continued to rise nearly as fast as parent expectations. One report suggests more than half of U.S. parents considered finding a new or different school within the past year and today, school choice is available for children in all 50 states:
In 13 states parents may select any traditional public school for their child, in any school district; in 18 states, some schools are required to participate in open enrollment, while an additional 19 states have allowed districts and schools to decide whether to participate in open enrollment.
It's clear that parents are in the power seat when it comes to determining the best educational environments for their children.
But whether it's through other local public, charter, magnet, and private schools, online academies, or even homeschooling, it's clear families have options, and that means your district has competition. This competitive environment makes it critical for schools and districts to now add "marketing" to their long list of duties.
True, school marketing is an area that's been reserved for the private and charter schools of the world, but it's becoming a necessity for districts to develop a marketing strategy.
Here are eight ways you can build a positive brand image and help make your school the first choice for parents and students.
1. Keep your school brand consistent
Your district's brand or identity represents how you want parents and the community to perceive what you do and the quality of education you provide. The definition of a school's “brand” depends on who you ask, but one common theme is that your brand is how people experience your school or district. So, having a positive brand image is critical to attracting and retaining students as parents and students compare schools.
Keep Reading: Your District Website's User Experience Determines the Strength of Your Brand
Providing your stakeholders with a consistent brand experience (logos, colors, and images) across all of your channels (including websites, email messages, social media, publications, etc.) is a step in the right direction toward increasing your district’s visibility and demonstrating professionalism.
2. Update your materials & message
Every school has a purpose, and it’s important to update your messaging to highlight the best that your school has to offer. Think about what you can show that will help parents and students understand what makes your school unique. Take a fresh look at your marketing message to make sure it captures your distinctive programs, reflects a positive image, and has a powerful statement about your school that conveys why it’s a great choice.
Once you update your marketing message, do the same with your marketing materials to make them consistent with your new message. Be sure your homepage, social media, mobile app, teacher pages, news releases, department pages, and calendars are up-to-date with accurate copy, graphics, and photos. Not only will this draw people to your website, but it will also keep them coming back and enable you to tell your story your way. Post news releases, feature stories, and photos on both your district and school sites to ensure your story gets told in a positive light.
Liberty Elementary School District No. 25 has captured the essence of its district in a comprehensive “at-a-glance” page. With a brief video, information about its schools, signature programs, and testimonials, users are able to better understand all that the school and its community represent.
3. Make your website parent-friendly
A well-designed and managed website is your greatest opportunity to promote your district. Websites are often the first place the public visits to learn about a district and the go-to place for resources – which makes them a prime channel for recruiting students and staff. It's also only the medium that you have complete control over.
Your website is your “store” where you can show parents and students that your school is the best choice. Remember, parents will preview a school online if they have a choice about where to send their children; job-seekers will visit a district website to review available careers and learn more about the district, and taxpayers will view district websites to see how and where their money is being spent.
Develop content that’s relevant to specific audiences and empathizes with their wants and needs. Don’t know what your audiences want? Ask them and conduct a quick check of your website.
- Does your parent section include information about the school choice process?
- What information do teachers, staff, students, parents, and even taxpayers want to find on your website?
- What’s the best way to make that information accessible to them?
Once you determine what the members of your district want, recruit the support of district administrators and school leaders to deliver it. To get your visitors more engaged with your website, you can:
- Create teasers for feature stories, links to classroom photo galleries, and sports videos.
- Encourage reading and scrolling by using short sentences and paragraphs, engaging headlines and subheads, and bullet points.
- Use everyday language — avoid complicated educational terms, program jargon, or acronyms.
4. Say it with video
Video is a "must" for any effective marketing program. We're all exposed to video messages on the web and in social media that entertain us and influence our buying decisions. TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo have conditioned us to prefer short, authentic messages that engage and convince us.
Many new and easy-to-use tools are available that make video production fast and easy — so there’s no excuse not to feature video stories. Consider posting a featured video on your homepage, with a welcome message or a student success story. Be sure to keep videos short to make them more shareable — one to two minutes is best.
Browse Lee's Summit R-7 School District's YouTube channel, and you'll see a wide range of authentic, inspiring, and informative videos and regular posts exploring life throughout the district. And since YouTube is the world’s second-most visited website, it's sure to capture the interest of multiple audiences.
5. Use photos to engage & entertain
To get a parent who may be visiting your website for the first time to stay and explore your site, you need to have content that makes an emotional connection with them. Few things capture your success story better than strong photography. Post them on your home page, rotate your photos regularly, and keep a photo library on your site that’s readily accessible to parents and students.
The photography throughout Francis Howell School District’s new website pulls viewers into the district. Images of students focused on work and passionate staff and teachers connecting with students tell the story of an involved and caring community. And with more than 16,000 students and 2,200 employees, there are certainly a lot of opportunities for powerful moments.
6. Increase your social media presence
Many districts are taking advantage of paid advertising across social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. The best way to think about social media is not in terms of the different technologies and tools, but, rather, how these platforms allow you to communicate directly with your target audiences in places they are congregating right now.
Keep your social media accounts and pages fresh by connecting your website news with your social media posts so you can acquire new followers on an ongoing basis. Use the Page Insights metric tools on Facebook to monitor your progress.
Start small and consider targeted and inexpensive Facebook ads to build followers and increase engagement.
Take a note from Orange Unified School District and Barrington 220 School District. When it came to supporting district enrollment and informing the school community about an upcoming referendum, respectfully, both districts knew the potential added reach and engagement by launching paid ads on Facebook.
7. Go mobile to meet parents where they are
Today, the vast majority of Americans – 97% – now own a cellphone of some kind, according to Pew Research Center. That means it’s critical that your website can be easily viewed on a smartphone screen. Explore mobile options with your website provider and ensure their websites are responsively designed so they can be easily viewed and navigated on a majority of browsers and mobile devices.
Consider investing in a mobile app that can provide parents with easy access to school information from their smartphones. Just as Minooka CCSD 201 has done with its mobile app, giving your community mobile access to your school information helps teachers, students, and parents stay up-to-date on school activities, cancellations, sporting events, grades, attendance, and more.
8. Create a marketing toolkit & guidelines
Districts that offer a marketing toolkit can help staff members easily access and implement new marketing ideas. Create a written policy that outlines expectations for web and social media content – including content priority, accuracy, and timeliness. Develop an editorial calendar to help keep everyone on the same page when it comes to scheduling updates and developing appropriate content.
Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 offers a kit for its community to reference, helping establish a consistent style and guidelines for its school marketing materials. As its webpage says: "By communicating who we are in a consistent, compelling manner, we can encourage students, families, staff and community members to participate in and share the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District experience."
School choice is here to stay and a solid marketing plan can help make your district the preferred choice for parents and students seeking the best education. A fresh marketing message, an engaging website, and sharing student success stories will help ensure new parents and students will choose your school for all the right reasons.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.