• General Best Practices
  • Independent Schools
School Website Content: Keep the Pipeline Fresh
Meg Fowler Tripp, Director of Editorial Strategy at Sametz Blackstone Associates

Learn how to organize and share fresh content to engage your community and drive enrollment and retention in this guest blog by Sametz Blackstone Associates

It’s one of the biggest challenges many schools face in maintaining a fresh, up-to-date website, a regularly updated blog, or an active social media presence: keeping the content pipeline flowing. Who should write this? What can they write about? Who are we writing for? Where do they want to hear from us? And who has the time to do it?

When we’re on the business end of a deadline, we often end up scrambling to “get something up”… and what ultimately goes up isn’t as good as it could have been. We end up in a cycle of content stress—and content disappointment. 

Is there any hope for a busy team to keep great content flowing?

The answer is “absolutely” (with a few caveats!) and I’ll get to that. But before you get started with the nuts and bolts of an editorial calendar, ensure that your brand personality is top of mind.

Look at your content through a brand lens

You certainly know your school motto, your mission, and your vision—you might even be the person who put them up on your website—but there’s more to your brand’s personality and affect than the basics. 

Consider your brand’s attributes, which could include words or phrases like the following examples:

  • Academically rigorous
  • Warm and inclusive
  • Athletically competitive
  • Innovative
  • Hands-on learning
  • Diverse and open

You can also explore your brand storylines: statements that build on your basic messaging to tell more of your story. These could include statements like the following:

  • Through service opportunities, we guide our students to become global citizens
  • Our cross-disciplinary teaching approach encourages creativity and critical thinking
  • Immersive arts education is fundamental to each child’s ability to express themselves, and to embrace how others express themselves
  • Problem-solving skills are at the heart of our STEM programming

Your content might not include these particular terms or phrases verbatim, but if the stories you want to tell and the attributes you want to reflect are always at top of mind, you’ll be better able to create and vet content that feels true to your school.   

Develop a style guide (or borrow one!) for consistency

You don’t have to adhere religiously to the New York Times Manual of Style and Usage or the AP Stylebook, but it’s important to have a consistent approach to grammar, and details like titles and abbreviations that come up frequently. Using the same style guide across your organization also makes life easier for everyone who communicates on your behalf—no one likes guesswork when they’re trying to meet a deadline!

Map out your editorial calendar

An editorial calendar might sound like a daunting creation when you’re getting started, but they come in many sizes and flavors. If you have a small-to-medium communications team, you won’t need a 50-tab spreadsheet to keep track of what you want to post, and where.

Get started by working through the following questions:

  • Who are you communicating with? Your audiences could include both external and internal groups, including parents and students, prospective families, alumni, faculty and staff, and so on.
  • Where do they expect to hear from you? Your school website might have multiple sections that need updating, such as a blog, an articles section, athletics recaps, calendar updates, parent notes, alumni stories… take time to consider all the moving parts. Then list any content you send out electronically, like emails or e-newsletters. Finally, list your social media channels, such as Facebook or Instagram.
  • What types of content do you/could you post in each place, and who is responsible to provide that content? “Content” might include basic details that need writing up, or completely written content that needs a brief edit. It could be photos or video, too. Make a list of your sources across different functions and departments, and when and how they can provide you with information / content.
  • How often do you communicate in each place? The answer to this question might be, “Less often than we should!”, or it might have a defined answer because of particular programs, information needs, or audiences. Decide how often you want to be in each place to keep your presence alive.
  • Who is responsible for making content “post-ready”? The answers could be different people for different platforms, but “post-ready” means just that: a tweet ready to go, an image with a proper caption, a parent meeting re-cap ready to post on your website, and so on. It’s always good to have two pairs of eyes on anything more than a few sentences, to ensure what you’ve written is clear and grammatically sound.
  • Who is responsible to vet and approve content? This could include department heads or school leadership, but it’s important to know who needs to see content before it goes live. Some approvers might want to see content in the post-ready format, while others are fine to check on the accuracy of basic details.
  • Who posts/sends/places the content you create and approve? The person who creates a post or update may not be the person who uploads it, but it’s critical to know who is responsible for the final placement.
  • Who monitors the post for reactions/interactions? If you’re posting on social platforms, you’ll want to keep an eye on reactions, comments, questions, and any other interactions you receive, as well as any backend analytics you can access. Someone should be designated to respond, as well (with the support of other team members, depending on the topic.) If you know how people are responding to your posts, you’ll be better able to replicate successful efforts, and to tweak messages or content that aren’t quite hitting the mark.                                                                                               
  • How will we distribute our content? Once all that great content is created, an effective distribution method ensures your audiences will receive the right message that really engages.  

Finalsite Posts lets contributors of all skill levels share public content without logging in as a site administrator, and lets schools pull in content to specific pages, like Sidewell Friends' visually appealing School News section. 

Publications saves both paper and budget by offering an awesome online experience for magazines, bulletins, and school newspapers, like Elgin Academy's "The Cupola."

By pulling in social channels onto key site pages, Finalsite Feeds displays content on key site pages, like Lakeside Academy's Parents and Guardians section.

The all-new Messages module is full of awesome features to distribute content, tailor it to the right audience, and measure its effectiveness. 

Now that you’ve done the yeoman’s work of answering these questions, it’s time to put these answers into a concrete, day-by-day, week-by-week plan. Some people love using spreadsheets, while others use calendar frameworks. Some might use a special planning app or program, and some might even just use a simple Word doc with plenty of bullets. Take some time to explore different options, and maybe even test a few with your team.

Whatever format you choose, your editorial plan should accomplish three specific goals:

  1. Centralizing information: Your plan puts all of your platforms in one place, where you can quickly reference what information needs to go where—and who’s supposed to be working on it. It also gives your communicators a place to find answers to their questions… instead of just asking you.
  2. Giving big picture perspective: Your plan can map out your content over the space of a week, a month, a few months, or even a year, giving everyone a sense of your broader strategy, and the role their contribution plays in that effort.
  3. Providing you with a foundation to build on: Once you’ve gotten the hang of developing, monitoring, and maintaining an editorial calendar, you’ll also better understand what it takes—and who it takes—to keep your content pipeline full. You might also discover ways to improve your efforts or make them more efficient, and perhaps even test and adopt new techniques, strategies, or platforms.

Tame the content beast

Putting an editorial calendar/plan in place can seem overwhelming at first, and it might seem tempting to keep putting up stopgap posts or updates, to do it all alone, or to fall back on uninspired words that don’t have much value to your organization.. other than ticking a “to do” box. 

But as with any big communications effort, the real value will be evident for years to come, once the hard work is done: you’ll know how to produce fresh, relevant content that your audience actually wants to consume, and at a pace that works for you and your team. 

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