• General Best Practices
  • Product Best Practices
Improve Communications and Optimize Your School Website With Community Portals
Andrew Martin

Your school’s website is one of the most important and valuable marketing tools your school has at your disposal, if not the most important. Keep your website and homepage clean, easy to navigate, and marketing-focused to provide an enjoyable user experience for first-time visitors. Move all of the information, resources, and single sign-ons (SS0s) for current constituents to public or password-protected community portals.

 

Thinking With Portals

We like to think of our community portals as your digital Tylenol, if you will, relieving the headaches of cluttered homepage design, confusing navigation tiers, and reducing the amount of emails from lost constituents struggling to find the information they need.  

Portals provide a secure place for simple, targeted messaging; an ideal one-stop-shop for constituent paperless resource downloads; a convenient base for all academic apps and single-sign-ons; and a secure social networking platform. Portals can be the one-stop-shop for all of your community's needs.

Ironically, despite the potential to save time and improve communications, schools oftentimes wait to design, develop, and implement their community portals until the very end of their deployment process.

Neglecting portals until the end of the deployment process means missing the opportunity for weeks or months of planning, implementation, testing, and training. As a result, portals often fall flat; they’re rarely used after the initial site launch, and they usually look worse than the rest of the amazing new website that you’re otherwise so proud of.

This ultimately leads to the frustrating experience of receiving a deluge of phone calls and emails from confused constituents asking "where can I find this document?" or "when is spirit week, again?" That doesn’t need to be the case!

Instead, secure portals as one of your most valuable website communication tools and resources with a solid strategic implementation plan before — and even after — your website launches. Doing so places your community portals at the core of your marketing and communications strategy — making your job easier and your school community more informed.

Here are our best practices for planning, organizing and building your school's portals, with examples from recent launches.


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Build Your Game Plan

The first, most important step of implementing community portals is determining which constituent groups need portals in the first place. Finalsite offers portals for the following constituent groups:

  1. Students

  2. Parents

  3. Alumni

  4. Faculty and Staff

  5. Board members

Most schools begin their portal development with portals for parents, students, and faculty and staff. Schools sometimes will then build portals for board members, trustees, accepted students, coaches, and athletes.

Finalsite portals also seamlessly connect to dozens of single sign-on and integration partners, creating a seamless gateway between your school community and everything they could possibly need —  at school or at home — all with just a single username and password.

Why not do them all? You might be tempted to add every type of portal during the deployment phase, but if your school doesn’t have a very active alumni community, that time spent developing an alumni portal could be better spent on an athletics portal.

On the other hand, developing an alumni portal could be the crucial first step in fostering a more active alumni community after your new website launches. These are both important considerations to think over before and during deployment.

Once you’ve decided on which portals to add, we recommend creating a simple spreadsheet of all the forms of content that will belong in each portal, divided into categories for further clarity.

Example of a spreadsheet to build and organize portals

Each of these categories will become a tab or element in your portal to maintain consistency and organization. Most schools incorporate some combination of news, calendars, quick links, SSOs, online forms, handouts, multimedia galleriessocial media feeds, events lists, messages, and blog posts.

Once you’ve decided on your types of portals, you then have to decide whether they will be public, private, or a combination of public and private. It’s always best to consult your school’s privacy policy before making a final decision. 

Public Portals

Public portals provide all the benefits of displaying constituent-specific information without the need to log in. In that regard, public portal pages are similar to landing pages for specific groups of constituents with information on the page relevant to that group.

Maret School provides a public Alumni portal with quick and easy access to alumni photos, donation pages, and social media feeds. The alumni portal itself is easily accessed through a Community tab in the website’s header.

Maret School Alumni portal

None of the information available on the page needs to be private, so there’s no harm in leaving it all publicly accessible. However, bundling all of the alumni content onto a single page helps keep the homepage and the rest of the website clutter-free and marketing-focused.

When To Go Private 

Password-protected private portals securely house content, information, and resources that schools only want their constituents to see and access. This typically encompasses SSOs, forms, handbooks, directories, classroom information, and more. 

Quick Tip: If the information found in a password-protected portal can be found elsewhere on your public site, that particular portal page doesn’t need to be private. Only place information meant for constituent-eyes only behind password-protect portals. 

Constructing Your Portals

A Finalsite designer or front-end developer often helps you apply the design of your site to your portal, but it’s you who brings everything together. Our community portals are inherently flexible, allowing for a great deal of customization.

Once we hand you the keys to the car (or portal, in this case), you have some important considerations: Do you want calls to action? If so, how many? What photos do you want to use? Are you adding social media feeds? If so, how many social platforms are you pulling from? And how many navigational tabs will you use to divide you content?

The list of questions can get lengthy. To help inspire you, we’ve highlighted some examples of portals from past site launches that encompass multiple types of portals. 

Examples of Portals From Past Site Launches:

Parent Portal | Meadowridge School 

Meadowridge School’s Parent Portal features a clean aesthetic with large calls to action, social media feeds, recent blog posts, an upcoming events list, and more than a dozen quick links to some of the most-accessed site pages and SSO options.  

Meadowridge School Parent Portal

The parent portal is easily accessed through a tab in the website header navigation. Keeping all of this parent-specific content on one page keeps their homepage marketing-focused to cater to first-time visitors looking to learn more about their school.

Faculty and Staff Portal | Presbyterian School 

Presbyterian School’s Faculty Portal is a one-stop-shop for faculty and staff thanks to tons of custom calls-to-action with animation and artwork to download resources and forms, access SSOs for medical benefits, and quick links to internal site pages and external websites.

Presbyterian School Faculty Portal

 

New Student Portal | Hotchkiss 

Hotchkiss begins the new student journey with a "Welcome to Hotchkiss!" portal page featuring a video from the Head of School, a resource download to help new students along the registration process, highlights of important dates to remember, and dozens of quick links to other useful resources and pages.

Hotchkiss New Student and Family Portal

 

Community Portal | International Community School

Rather than creating a portal page for each type of constituent, the International Community School created a single Community Portal that serves as a one-stop-shop for all current constituents to quickly find links to pages with additional information, links to resource downloads, and links to videos and publications.

International Community School Community Portal

 

Organizing and Implementing Portals

Now that you’ve designed and built your portals, it’s time to organize all of that valuable content and resources. Nothing will destroy an amazing portal faster than horrendous navigation and a lack of new content. Here are our recommendations:

  1. Create a Direct Responsible Individual (DRI) - This person will maintain and update the portals on a day-to-day basis. Smaller marketing and communications teams should try to assign other portals to other staff members. Someone in admissions can handle the new student portal, while someone in advancement can handle the alumni portal, for example. 

  2. Log portal updates in a spreadsheet - Use the spreadsheet created to plan out your portals as a running doc that is updated whenever new content is added to or removed from portals. Share the document with everyone who maintains the portals so all changes are logged for recordkeeping.

  3. Train your constituents - Lastly, provide training to your constituent groups: how to log in, how to use portals, and what information they can find within the portal (as well as what information is still found on the public site). 

Launching Your Portals

We all know that it can be difficult for parents and faculty to adjust to changes on the website. Help make that transition as quick and easy as possible by sending them an email with step-by-step instructions they can follow on their first (or even hundredth) time using the portal. 

Or, create a video that thoroughly explains the ins and outs of the portals. Your faculty and constituents will surely appreciate the extra effort.

The best time to launch portals depends on the individual school. Some schools are ready to launch their various portals the same day as their new or designed website. Others need additional time, whether that's due to a limited number of work hours to devote to portals, combing through additional portal data, or a combination of the two. 

Either way, your dedicated deployment team will work with you to determine the best time to launch your portals for a successful launch.

Quick Tip: Regularly updating your portals with new content is key to ensuring they are actually used. However, taking that content down once the event is over is just as important. No one is going to use your portals if the only information displayed is months old. 

Key Takeaway 

Password-protected and public community portals improve marketing and communications by providing a safe and secure space to share information targeted to specific constituent groups, such as students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni, and board members. Use portals to clean and optimize your pages to keep your most valuable marketing asset marketing-focused while creating dedicated pages for your current constituents.


Finalsite Portals Design and Enhancement Library


Andrew-Martin-Headshot
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism degree from the University of South Carolina. He has an incredible passion for movies, television, reading, and writing fantasy and science-fiction. 

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