Rowan-Salisbury School System is a large school district in Salisbury, North Carolina educating nearly 20,000 students across 35 schools. With an Apple device 1:1 program and an academic program that fosters growth and success, Rowan-Salisbury is a district on the cutting edge — and they needed a website to prove that in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
“Public schools are facing more funding issues and more competition, which means our website is more important than ever,” said Mark Steelman, Webmaster at Rowan-Salisbury. “We felt we needed to take more control of our own image. We are an amazing district, and we wanted to do a better job of communicating that.”
Communications, marketing, and branding are why Rowan-Salisbury chose to work with Finalsite. “Of course Finalsite has a nice product, but we chose Finalsite because they are the experts in helping schools sell themselves,” said Mark. “We wanted a partner who could help us make better choices that would give it that polished, private school look and feel — and not have the same pitfalls as other district websites.”
This choice and intentional effort to focus on marketing and communications earned Rowan-Salisbury Gold in the NCSPRA annual awards earlier this year in the Digital Engagement Category.
Free Ebook The Website Redesign Playbook: Public School Edition
Marketing Matters to Districts, Too
Many districts fall into the same content “trap”: daily communications about the lunch menu and transportation trump student achievements in priority. Bullying and safety policy PDFs creep onto the homepage because of their spot in the nation’s spotlight. Teachers ask events to be spotlighted. The PTA needs to post about meetings. Then, there’s calendar info from three different sources.
And just like that, your website has what Mark refers to as a “kitchen sink” problem. And their old website was no different. “It was one of those situations where everything needed to be on the homepage, yet we were getting negative feedback that it was a total mess, and that people couldn’t find anything.”
But, it was that kitchen sink problem that inspired Rowan-Salisbury to do something bigger, better and different — something more meaningful and much more intentional.
“It seems that all the news that comes out about public schools is negative, but we’re doing great things every day and our students succeed every day,” said Mark. “Our alumni go to colleges, get good jobs, become mayors, you name it...every single day. So, we wanted to be more proactive about putting that kind of news and information in front of people. Inevitably, some bad things will happen but it won’t be the only thing you hear all year. We wanted to be more intentional.”
Rowan-Salisbury’s new site features numerous elements that make their site equally as focused on marketing as it is in daily communications, including:
A “News Highlights” Section that Shares the Latest and Greatest at the District:
An infographic that boasts the accomplishments of the district:
Student, Staff and Alumni Recognition Sections:
In addition to having this content on the homepage, each of the 30+ schools in the district has the opportunity to use this same type of content.
Marketing Lessons from An Award-Winning District
Keep track of the content your community is interested in: “In eNotify [Finalsite’s broadcast email module], I associate each article to a button, so that I know what people are interested in.” Mark knows not everyone will scroll to the bottom of the email, so he puts his most important information at the top of the email, so it will get clicked. Additionally, he keeps an eye on the content people engage with the most, so he knows how to prioritize it in future communications.
Personalize content based on user: Mark decided to organize the website based on the users, which is why the navigation has the words “Family,” “Staff,” and “Community,” rather than the typical “Academics,” and “Calendar.” This allows website visitors to quickly find the information most relevant to them in just a couple of clicks.
Make content mobile-friendly: According to Mark, the district’s kitchen sink problem was even worse on mobile. Mark recommends using accordions and tabs to make lengthy content easier to access on all devices. “Accordions are a great way to make content mobile-friendly,” said Mark. “You can have 20-pages worth of information in a fairly short span!”
Brag a little (or a lot): “With the new website, I wanted to recognize people in the district that were making a positive impact,” said Mark. So, he made a section below the news section on the homepage that highlights recent accomplishments of district community members and alumni. Because this homepage element is powered by Finalsite Posts [LINK], Mark only has to update content on the back-end, and it automatically is inherited by this custom treatment on their homepage.
Use Modules for Updating Content: With Create Once, Publish Everywhere (C.O.P.E.) functionality, your community make edits in modules, rather than the pages themselves; it is then significantly easier to maintain consistency across the board. “These tools make it easy for people with essential information, busy people who don’t have the technical skills for a complicated platform, to reach our community,” said Mark.
You can't be everywhere, so get the right tools in place: “As someone who is constantly pushing Composer and its modules to its limits — I really enjoy the flexibility and clean tool design,” said Mark.
Because Rowan-Salisbury School System is a large organization, this is critically important. Website management is a distributed effort, meaning there is a variety of skill levels when it comes to updating website content — from technical facilitators to librarians. “Granular controls make it easy to scope our editors’ tools and page access. We didn’t want them to change fonts and colors or accidentally update the wrong page, but we did want them to have the tools to communicate and promote their school’s priorities, programs and community,” said Mark.
While districts typically focus on use their websites for communication efforts, making a change to also focus on marketing the district gives your district a platform to portray a positive image on a daily basis. (And hey, it may even win you an award!)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.