Parents have many options when it comes to how to educate their children. Public school, private school, charter school, homeschool. Schools can't merely open the doors and expect the children to stream in. What can districts do to ensure classrooms are full of students? Strengthen their brand.
Let's back up a moment. While just about everyone can relate to or have impressions of the word “brand”, education professionals and constituents still might find the topic irrelevant to what they do every day. Yet they have probably thought about their brand for a long time without even realizing it.
One aspect of a brand is the emotional connection people feel towards your “product” in this case, your school or the education it provides.
What are you doing to enable parents, students, the community at large, and other stakeholders to feel connected to your district? School districts around the country are taking on this challenge in innovative ways; and it begins with communication and being student-focused.
Brands can only be cultivated if they are effectively communicated. A school district can be sending all the right messages, but if those messages are not reaching their intended audience for one reason or another, the messages are fruitless. In this blog, we'll cover how to effectively showcase and communicate your district's brand to current and prospective families — ensuring your messages are fruitful.
Create an Engaging Website with Consistent Branding
The first place people turn to for information about organizations is the web. Therefore, having a top-notch website that conveys your district’s value and differentiators, while also providing a one-stop-shop for school-to-home communications, is an essential first step in creating/strengthening a brand.
CNBC reported on a comScore study which found that online ads targeted toward millennials have 5-6 seconds to grab attention. This means that websites have to find a way to quickly grab visitors' attention quickly. And what grabs attention quicker than video?
Consider School District in Farmington, Utah, who has a video at the top of the screen on its homepage. Their website, which is a Best-in-Class custom design, draws visitors into the scenes of smiling students learning, teachers working diligently, and children engaged in various school (and after school) activities. Watching for just a few moments allows the viewer to see a child go through his or her entire day.
Parents watching the video can't help but feel their child will be well taken care of, engaged in an active learning atmosphere, and have opportunities to shine in activities outside of the classroom.
In addition to the video, the district’s site features upcoming events, a message from the superintendent, infographics with compelling stats about the district, and dozens of high quality images to engage visitors.
However, strengthening a brand isn’t just about a stunning new design. It is also about the user experience. As a district with 92 schools and 72,000 students, a consistent brand is absolutely essential. With their new website, each of the 92 schools has their own unique website, with its own colors, logo and content, but the user experience and design stays the same. This makes it easy for parents who have children at multiple schools to find the content they need quickly and easily.
Take Web Accessibility One Step Further
For districts, ensuring your site’s content and design adhere to the WCAG 2.0 guidelines is a federal mandate. However, when you go above and beyond laws and regulations, and prove that your district deeply cares about inclusivity and accessibility, you have the opportunity to take your brand to new heights.
When Avon Grove redesigned their website almost three years ago, they were ahead of the times with their sleek design and embedded videos that change on a regular basis. And of course, when the enforcement of WCAG 2.0 came along, they didn't want to sacrifice the design their community loves to become ADA compliant — which is why they chose to work with Finalsite and AudioEye.
"We consider our homepage to be the front door to our community, whether it is a family considering a move here, or a relative of a current resident, we want our homepage to be usable, to reflect where we've gone and where we're going,” said Gary Mattei, Director of Technology. “Adding AudioEye is part of that, and has enhanced our position as a forward-leaning district in the state."
You can read their full case study here
Offer Communication in All Forms
Weekly and monthly newsletters and printed PDFs stuffed in student backpacks are commonplace when it comes to district communications. And while these tried-and-true methods do work, districts who wish to strengthen their brand should opt for different forms of communications.
Sun Prairie Area School District in Wisconsin has a weekly radio program on a local station, and it’s featured on their website. Known as “Homeroom,” the program is hosted by a local resident and the superintendent. Each week the superintendent gives an update and has a guest from one of the schools. The program airs twice each week.
Each episode can be accessed via the school's website. The website also has links to previous programs along with a brief synopsis so listeners can choose episodes of interest. This innovative form of communication gives people another option to learn about the various goings-on at the district.
Connect Your Community with Social Media
While many districts are concerned about the security and privacy issues social media poses, it is one of the most imp Social Media Today found that, on average, people spend just under two hours per day engaged in social media. Another study found that people on average check their phone 80 times a day.
We, as a society, are hungry to communicate, stay connected, and exchange news and information. For today's parents, many of whom have come of age with social media and cell phones, the desire to be informed and connected extends to everything related to their children, including, of course, the schools they attend. School districts can tap into this need and ensure parents are kept up to date on anything involving their children. They can strengthen their brand by giving the various stakeholders a forum to connect.
Just check out the website of Ellington Public Schools in Connecticut, and one can see how much and well they communicate. The homepage displays nearly 100 tweets (which are updated daily)! These tweeters include administrators, the board of education, school library, and teachers. The active homepage gives off a sense of connection and community.
These tweets are powered by Finalsite Feeds, our social media moderation and aggregation tool. Using this tool, the district has the power to automatically pull together tweets from across the district into a simple, streamlined interface, while moderation gives them peace of mind that inappropriate content cannot be published.
"Is it is really important to our brand to provide accurate, timely information to our families. However, it isn't always easy," said John Collins, Director of Technology at Ellington Public Schools. "We embrace social to give a window into our school district that is not only providing informatoin, but it is really giving a real glimpse into our school district and what were doing with teaching and learning."
Consider Your Students
Schools are not just reaching out to parents, but to the students themselves. Parents want to feel confident that their children will go to school and be inspired to reach their potential. One way to inspire people is to listen to them and consider their ideas. This is particularly true for students, as validating their ideas and thoughts inspires them to grow and contribute further.
At the Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina, it's not just teachers who validate the students' opinions and ideas. The superintendent has a Superintendent’s Student Leadership Team, a group of highly motivated high school students interested in developing their leadership skills and promoting public education. They meet regularly with the goal of developing innovative ideas to improve the teaching and learning experience. The team presents their ideas to local, state and national elected officials, business and community partners, and school administrators.
Showcase Your Care for Children
What can a school district do to ensure its brand sends the message that each child is appreciated and celebrated for his/her particular talents and skills?
For example, numerous studies document the positive impact of an arts education. Education Week magazine reported on a study which found that the arts impact young people by making them more tolerant and empathetic and boosts critical thinking.
For example, at Minnetonka Public Schools in Minnesota, the arts are celebrated. The district has a month-long arts festival which includes events at each of the schools. These events – plays, concerts, and art exhibitions – give the students a chance to showcase their talents in areas outside of the core curriculum. Each of these areas is highlighted on their website, in addition to numerous other programs and facts that showcase how much the district truly cares about educating its students.
Keeping on Brand
As school districts strive to define their brand, they must consider what will appeal to their different audiences. Once they have nailed down their brand, school districts need to actively find avenues to express their brand. With consistent clear messaging and actions, school districts can strengthen their brand across their website, social media, email, print and beyond.