Your school is under a new microscope. And if you were planning on things going back to “pre-pandemic normal” — it’s time to scrap those plans. Things aren’t going to go back to “normal.” The Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t like throwing a rock into a still lake, with ripples that move outward until they finally disappear and the stillness returns. Rather, the pandemic was like a storm that morphs and shifts a lake’s landscape, permanently.
The marketing and communications strategies that used to work for your school or district, might not work in 2021 and beyond because the landscape has completely changed. Your plans need to be adapted, reimagined, or even scrapped entirely to meet the new expectations of today’s families.
Understanding Families’ New “Liquid” Expectations
What are liquid expectations? The simplest way to define “liquid expectations” is that expectations of customer experience seep from one industry to another.
As schools, we often think about how our marketing compares to our direct competitors — the private, charter or public school down the road. But now, families are no longer comparing your school only to direct competitors. They’re comparing your school’s online experience to any and all online experience they’ve had — even those with brands like Amazon and Netflix.
After a year of doing almost everything virtually, expectations are high across the board. If grandma can easily order grocery delivery, she better be able to easily pay her grandchild’s tuition online. If mom can order herself a new car in three clicks online, then she should be able to find your school’s calendar in less effort. And if dad can watch whatever sports game he wants on the web, whenever, he definitely wants to see his kids’ events live streamed.
Across the board, your families expect more from online experiences, your school included. They’re harder to impress and harder to please than ever before — and your school’s marketing strategies need to reflect that.
As we look ahead to this year and the future, it’s important for schools and districts alike to invest time, budget, or resources into the following eight marketing strategies:
- Redesign Your Website
- Improve Your Search Engine Strategy
- Build Email Workflows
- Start a School Blog
- Create Your First Content Offer
- Invest in Consistent, Meaningful Social Media Ads
- Consolidate Your Social Media Accounts
- Invest More Time and Resources into Video
1. Redesign Your Website
Before you think “you’re a website company, you’re obviously going to tell us we need to redesign our website,” hear us out. There is plenty of industry research that tells us that a poorly designed website can be the achilles heel of most brands.
A bad website experience — especially on mobile — can mar your reputation and lead to a decrease in engagement, site traffic, and more.
Consider these stats:
- 79% of people who don’t like what they find on one site will go back and search for another site
- 52% of users say that a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company
- Mobile users are 5 times more likely to abandon a task if a site isn’t optimized for mobile
- 40% of website visitors will leave if the site takes more than three seconds to load, and 47% of visitors expect your site to load in only two seconds.
- 94% of first impressions are design related. (And as this article from ISM suggests — “website first impressions are like job interviews, you only get one.”)
We know that launching a new website is a lot of work in order to do it right. But before you invest any time, budget or effort into any marketing strategies, you need a strong foundation. If your school or district’s current website checks any of the following boxes, this is your top marketing strategy for this year:
- The website is 3 years old or more
- The website is responsive, but not mobile-first (Find out the difference in this blog post)
- The website “looks old” in comparison to direct competitors and big brands
- Your website is difficult to navigate
On the fence about a website redesign? These articles might tip the scales:
- The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact On School Web Design: How To Prepare For The New Normal
- What Makes a Good School Website?
2. Improve Your Search Engine Strategy
Every school’s search engine strategy has three main elements:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Paid Per Click Advertising (PPC)
- Online Review Management
Depending on your school’s short- and long-term goals, you may need to invest in one, two, or all three of these essential search engine strategies.
SEO is a long play that many school marketers don’t have the time or resources for. It requires keyword research and implementation across your site’s title tags, meta descriptions, on-page content, and in most cases, the creation of a good blog. And because the results often aren’t as instantaneous as a paid ad, many school marketers put SEO on the back-burner. (Often, the implementation of an SEO strategy can take many months to reap benefits from because of how long it takes Google to crawl and recrawl site pages.)
However, an SEO strategy is essential to your school’s survival in the digital world. With 90% of all online experiences beginning in search, and abysmal click-through rates for any results beyond page one, it is very clear that if you want your school’s website to be found, you need to find the time and/or budget. (That’s why so many schools and districts turn to Finalsite’s team of SEO experts to help them craft a search engine strategy that works.)
PPC ads are a powerful digital advertising tool you can use to help generate more awareness and website traffic for your school. If your school’s website isn’t ranking well in Google and you don’t have the time to wait to develop your SEO strategy, you can also opt for a paid ad strategy which can land you at the top of page 1 almost immediately. (Thinking about a paid ad strategy for your school? We can help with this, too!)
Online reviews are now your school or district’s first impression, and if you don’t have a four-star or five-star review, you may never even earn a click-through to your website.
Even before the pandemic, reviews directly impacted a school’s website traffic. And after more than a year of relying on reviews for everything, they’re a higher priority than ever:
- 90% of consumers read online reviews before visiting a business.
- 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation.
- 65% of people see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies. That's a higher level of trust than any other online or offline source.
Thinking about your search engine strategy? Read these blogs:
- SEO Or PPC: What's Right For Our School?
- On-Page SEO: 10 Best Practices You Should Know
- PPC Marketing For Schools: 3 Tips To Make The Most Of Your Budget
- Online Reviews For Schools: Why They Matter And What To Do
- Why Digital Marketing Matters to Districts
3. Build Email Workflows
The 2020-21 academic year was one of the busiest years ever for school professionals, with major burnout still lingering. If you’re looking for ways to get time back in your day, while actually improving your email marketing strategy, email workflows are a great place to start.
Email workflows — also often commonly referred to as an "email drip campaign" or "automated emails" — are a staple of a school's inbound marketing strategy. An email workflow is a set of emails that are automatically sent based on the subscriber's contact information, behavior, or preferences. For example, an email workflow can be triggered by a contact submitting a form, but it can also be triggered by a parent's enrollment year or persona.
These set-it-and-forget-it emails are proven to save you time and increase email engagement. They can be used for almost every purpose, including:
- Welcome newly enrolled families
- Nurture prospective families who recently inquired
- Onboard new faculty and staff
- Remind community members of upcoming events and deadlines
- Promote an event
Many schools are using Finalsite’s Workflows module to build automated workflow campaigns that automatically create personalized experiences based on email engagement.
Intrigued by a time-saving email strategy? These blogs will help you get started:
- Email Automation Best Practices: 8 Tips For Getting Started
- Email Drip Campaign Ideas For Admissions
- 3 Email Campaign Ideas For Enrollment And Retention
4. Start a School Blog
A blog is a great way to share advice, build thought leadership, tell stories that aren’t being told elsewhere, elevate the voices of your community, create a strong content library, and improve your organic performance in search. While a school blog is by no means as important as some of the other marketing strategies on this list (i.e. your website!), for schools and districts looking to take greater control of their online storytelling, a blog is a great place to start.
Before starting a school blog, ask yourself:
- Who is going to write our blog content?
- Where will our blog content live?
- What will our editing process look like?
- Who is our target audience?
- What are the types of topics we want to write about?
- Do we have the resources to post consistently? (We recommend at least once per week.)
The Post Oak School has a great blog featuring student and alumni stories, thought leadership, and helpful ideas for parents.
Rockford Public Schools also has a blog nested under their 205 Vibe brand. The blog is filled with beautiful stories highlighting their community members and accomplishments.
For more tips on starting your school’s blog read:
- Start and Master Your School’s Blog with These 6 Tips
- How To Set-Up Finalsite Posts For Your School Blog Or News
5. Create Your First Content Offer
For most private, international and charter schools, the first time that they get a prospect’s information is via an inquiry form. While inquiry forms are great for capturing the information of individuals ready to learn more about your school, consumer behavior tells us this: If they’re inquiring, they’ve already done their research and you’ve made their “short list”. This means that without a content offer, you’re missing out on a huge audience of individuals who are still weighing their options for their “long list”.
A content offer provides prospective families with something of value to aid in their decision-making process, such as a whitepaper titled “5 Reasons to Attend an All-Boys School” or “How to Choose the Right Preschool.” It can also be a copy of your school’s viewbook.
Content downloads often get higher conversion rates than lead generation forms (such as an inquiry form), which will help you get more families in your pipeline sooner.
Thinking about creating a content offer? We have blogs for you!
- How To Increase Your School's Leads With An Irresistible Content Offer
- How To Create An Award-Winning Content Offer For Your School
- How To Write Your School's First Whitepaper
6. Invest in Consistent, Meaningful Social Media Ads
If your school hasn’t invested in social media ads yet, now is the time. Your prospective families spend a lot of time on social media, and this is a smart (and affordable) way to build awareness and eventually increase enrollment.
Social media is a great advertising tool because:
- The average cost-per-click is significantly lower than search ads
- You can diversify your reach with a variety of lists and campaigns
- There are a variety of ad formats to experiment with
But, it has to be done right.
If you’ve run social media ads in the past without success, it could have been an issue with your ad content, creative, audience, or even goal. For example, promoting your school’s open house to a list that has never heard of your school is going to fall flat.
If you want to invest in social media ads this year, here are three smart campaigns to get you started:
- A Top-of-the-Funnel Campaign to Build Awareness: Want to reach new audiences? Upload a list of demographic information about your current families to create a lookalike audience. For this campaign, keep the ad content and creative light with no heavy-hitting “pitch.” The goal here is to get your school’s name in front of new audiences.
- A Middle-of-the-Funnel Campaign to Increase Conversions: Engage individuals who have already visited your website using a Facebook Pixel retargeting campaign. For this group, prompt them to inquire or apply.
- A Bottom-of-the-Funnel Campaign to Encourage Re-Enrollment: We all know that your job isn’t done once a family enrolls. Run social media ads to current families during re-enrollment season with value add content such as student success stories.
Want to make more of your social media ads? These blogs will help:
- What Makes A Good Social Media Ad?
- The Power Of Social Media Advertising: A Case Study With 3 Finalsite Schools
7. Consolidate Your Social Media Accounts
While paid ads can help your admissions funnel gain momentum, a consolidated organic social media strategy can help with all-around marketing and communications. If your school or district is struggling to manage a variety of rogue Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts that are either out-of-date or off-brand, this could be an easy win for you!
Schools should only have one Facebook page, one Twitter account, and one Instagram profile. While Twitter is often seen as the “exception to the rule” as schools and districts alike use this platform for sports teams and clubs to provide timely updates, it is essential that your school or district maintain a single profile on Facebook and Instagram — as well as other channels like LinkedIn.
Consolidating social media accounts has numerous advantages, including:
- Increased traffic and engagement to your school or district’s primary pages
- Consistent tone, voice, brand, and content
- Streamlined access to passwords and privacy settings
- Fewer comments to manage
- Streamlined online reviews
8. Invest More Time and Resources into Video
Video gets more engagement than any other form of content — so begin taking tiny steps to integrate it into your marketing strategies for your website, social media, and even email.
If you’re already strapped for time and resources, there is good news for you! Creating video has never been easier, and after a year of connecting via low-res video, no one expects Hollywood-level quality.
If you’d like to incorporate more video into your marketing this year, consider the following:
- Start small! Aim to post one new video on social media each week. It can be something silly – like following recent Instagram Reel trends — or a promotion for an event. Tools like Canva and Animoto make editing videos easy for any skill level.
- Come up with a list of video ideas. Testimonials, tips from teachers, and interviews make fun and engaging videos.
- Invest time into a YouTube strategy. If your school is consistently creating longer-length videos, investing in YouTube can help increase your school’s organic search performance.
- Go live. Livestreaming used to be a “nice-to-have”, but now it’s a “need-to-have” — even if you’re returning to in-person events. (And if you’re interested in simplifying your livestream efforts, check out Finalsite Streaming Services.)
- Enlist the help of your community. Students in particular are great resources for creating video content.
Parent expectations are higher than ever, and it’s essential that your school’s marketing and communications strategy adapt along with them. This is our “new normal”. As your school or district begins to plan its marketing and communication plans for the new school year, use the ideas in this blog to create a list of “must-haves” for ensuring your marketing and communications strategy is future-proofed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mia is a creative and passionate school marketing thought-leader. Since joining the Finalsite team in 2013, Mia has produced hundreds of pieces of content with one goal in mind: helping private, public, and international schools improve their online presence. In her current role as director of demand generation, Mia focuses on full-funnel inbound marketing strategies. She's also a co-host on The School Marketing Show, a frequent blogger, e-book author, Expert Course consultant and webinar host. She loves putting storytelling at the heart of all communications — and before joining the Finalsite team, Mia was a TV and radio broadcaster, wedding cinematographer, and author for various online magazines. She is an army wife, mom, and rookie photographer currently living in southern Georgia.