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YouTube for Schools: Engaging With Your Community Through Video
Kristen Doverspike

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 15 years, you have likely heard of YouTube. In fact, I’d be willing to bet you have visited it at least once within the last week. This video-sharing platform has been around for quite some time, and its immense popularity is showing no signs of slowing down.

Unlike other familiar platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, YouTube can’t easily be defined by a single category, like social media. It blurs the lines between social media, news, and television — and for some, it even acts as a second website. And while that might seem like a lot, YouTube knows what it’s doing; It continues to hold the title of the second-most visited website in the world, right behind its parent company, Google.

From its SEO power to its substantial number of users, YouTube is an excellent platform for schools and districts alike to connect with their students, parents, alumni, and prospective families. So, if you’re currently using YouTube as a dumping ground for your video content (you’re not alone) — or, if you don’t use it at all — we’ll walk through some of the key best practices you can take on to improve your presence and start using this platform to its full potential.

In this blog:

Why is YouTube important for schools?
Creating a YouTube account for your school
Customizing your channel
YouTube Video best practices

Why is YouTube important for schools?

Before getting started with YouTube, it’s helpful to dig into the “why.” To make the case for adding yet another platform to your plate, it’s important to understand what it can actually do for your school. Here are two of the most compelling reasons to place YouTube higher up on your communications checklist:

  1. It’s the second most popular search engine, behind Google. You likely know how important search engine optimization (SEO) is for getting found online. And just as you optimize your website content to ensure a page 1 Google ranking, YouTube offers an additional outlet to get your name out there — both within the platform itself and within Google. YouTube is owned by Google, so if a prospective family is searching for something like, “choosing the right school for your child,” they can easily see YouTube videos directly in the search results for that query. This is some serious page 1 real estate that can get you in front of families who are early in their decision stage!
    Screenshot of YouTube Search Results
  2. Video is king, and YouTube is the king of video. It’s no secret that video content performs better than most other forms of content, whether it’s on your website or on social media. If you’re already creating videos for these outlets, then why not pull them together on a YouTube page for your school?

694,000 hours of video are streamed on YouTube each minute, which even surpasses the viewership of big streaming names like Netflix. This platform has users across a wide range of ages and offers an engaging outlet to connect with your entire community. YouTube videos are easily shareable and offer the social element of commenting so that you can keep the conversation going. With Finalsite’s content management system, Composer, embedding a YouTube video on your school’s website takes just a few clicks.

Free Download: the Complete Social Media Calendar for Schools

Creating a YouTube account for your school

If all of this sounds great and you’re ready to create a YouTube channel from scratch, let’s dig in! And if you already have a YouTube channel for your school, you can skip to the next section, Customizing your channel.

To create a YouTube channel for your school or district, you’ll first want to make sure you have a Google account set up for yourself. Your school may use Google Workspace for your emails already, but if not, you’ll need to use a personal Gmail address. 

Once signed in to YouTube, you can go directly to your Channel Switcher to see what channels you already have or to create a new channel.

Screenshot of YouTube channel

Choosing to create a channel will automatically make your new channel a Brand Account, which is an important piece of creating a channel for your school. Managing your YouTube channel through a Brand Account, rather than a personal account, allows you to add multiple managers to your YouTube channel so that everyone has their own sign-in capabilities.

When creating your channel, be sure to name it appropriately for your school so that it can be easily found by your community.

Screenshot of YouTube channel name

Then, all you have to do is click “Create,” and voila! You’re ready to get your school’s YouTube channel up and running. If you have multiple team members that will be editing your channel, you can learn about editing channel owners and managers here.

Customizing your channel

Just as you would with any social media platform, you’ll want to make your YouTube channel reflect who you are as a school. From your profile image to your video thumbnails, it’s important to leave no uncertainty as to whether or not a visitor is in the right place. Think of it as a microsite that offers an overview of your school.

The Post Oak School does an excellent job of making full use of YouTube’s channel features.

Screenshot of YouTube profile content

Here’s a breakdown of some of the channel customizations you can make within YouTube Studio:

  1. Profile and banner images. Ideally, your profile image is the same image you use on your other social media channels, as this provides a nice cohesion between accounts. This is often your school’s logo or another clear identifier. The banner image can be whatever image you feel reflects who you are! This should be sized at 2048 x 1152 px with an aspect ratio of 16:9.
  2. A link to your website. In your channel settings, you can link to your website and your other social media accounts right in your cover image. Don’t miss this step, as it provides a nice navigational element to your website.
  3. A trailer video. You can set any uploaded video to your channel as the trailer video, which gets its own featured area at the top of your channel and plays automatically when someone visits your page. This area can be a great place to feature who you are and the community you serve, or to simply showcase a video that you only want live for a short period of time (like a graduation ceremony).
  4. Playlists. Once you get up and running with your YouTube channel, Playlists provide a way to bundle similar videos. In this example, The Post Oak School combines their commencement videos, their Montessori Talks series, and their athletics videos into Playlists so that you can easily scan the content right from their channel. Playlists are an excellent way to ensure further engagement, as the next videos will play automatically when a visitor watches one in the series.
  5. Custom video thumbnails. When uploading your videos, you will have the option to customize your thumbnails. While not always necessary, custom video thumbnails are a great way to bring an element of branding to your videos and to your channel — especially in situations where you might be running episodes of a series, like student or faculty spotlights. Feeling creative? An eye-catching video thumbnail has the possibility of boosting your channel’s engagement by 154%, and custom thumbnails helped 90% of the best-performing videos on YouTube.

BONUS: Video watermarks. To ensure that every single video you upload gets an automatic touch of branding, add a watermark overlay. Watermarks are typically a white version of your name or logo, and they can be uploaded once in YouTube Studio to be applied to all of your videos.

Screenshot of YouTube video watermark

YouTube video best practices

One of the most common issues we hear when schools are reluctant to ramp up their YouTube efforts is that there isn’t enough time to create the professional videos that one might expect from a school. And while that may have been true years ago, our consumption of video content has changed dramatically. The days of polished, professionally-edited videos that tell a complex story are long-gone. There is still a time and place for these videos, but users have generally become more forgiving of — and have begun to expect — candid, short-form content that not only humanizes who you are as an organization, but also gives us quick answers to our burning questions.

To put your best foot forward on YouTube (and to effectively reach and engage with your community), follow these tips:

Think about questions you might be able to answer before worrying about the video itself

Remember: YouTube is a search engine. So, what questions are your prospective families and current community members searching for? You can conduct some keyword research on YouTube by simply searching for common queries and taking a look at the results. If there are questions that you can answer through short FAQ videos, then that may be an easy and relevant series to add to your channel over time!

Screenshot of YouTube Culver FAQs

Culver Academies has curated a YouTube playlist where their students answer frequently asked questions. These videos are simple, are relevant to their community, and are each less than 10 minutes long!

Optimize your video titles, descriptions, and tags

Just as you might write custom meta content for your website pages, your YouTube video’s title, description, and tags are vital to your SEO. Your title and description should accurately reflect the subject matter of the video, include keywords that you want to rank for, and include links to your website where appropriate.

Screenshot of YouTube Culver FAQs

Culver Academies use their title and description to showcase not only what the video is about, but who they are as a school as well. They cleverly include important links to their website and other social media channels as well to encourage continued engagement. Beautiful!

Tags, on the other hand, are backend keywords to help your video increase its SEO value. While these tags have less impact than the quality of your title and description, they’re not something to ignore. YouTube allows for up to 500 characters in your tags, and it’s important to only choose terms that are relevant to that specific video.

Screenshot of YouTube Tags

To take your YouTube SEO to the next level, consider using an add-on tool like VidIQ. With this free Chrome Extension, you can gain valuable insights into your competitors and your own performance on YouTube and in specific videos.

Screenshot of YouTube Vid IQ

Keep accessibility in mind and reach a wider audience

Despite more than a billion monthly users, 85% of YouTube views aren’t coming from the U.S, and only 33% of popular videos on the platform are in English. Since so many viewers could be non-English speakers, by adding captions to your videos you’ll be engaging a larger audience while making accessible content for those who are hard of hearing or who simply can’t listen to your audio at that moment. 

Furthermore, by some estimates, adding closed captions to your videos can bring in 40% more views than those without captions! And it’s easier than you might think — YouTube uses speech recognition technology to automatically create captions for you with the click of a button.

Don’t overthink it!

If you have a content marketing or communications plan in place for your school or district, then you may already have more video content ideas than you realize. Consider the following:

  • If you have a blog, record a quick recap of the topics covered in the blog.
  • If you have a newsletter planned to be emailed to your families, consider recording a video that covers the highlights.
  • If you have an athletics event coming up, record it and post highlights or the entire game to a dedicated YouTube playlist.
  • If you’re planning to spotlight your students on your website, work a video into your plans. Record the featured student answering a few questions about what it’s like going to your school!
  • Don’t forget that you can go live on YouTube during important events. Issaquah School District, shown below, schedules their board meeting live streams directly on their YouTube channel so that their community can get notified ahead of time.
Screenshot of YouTube Issaquah livestream

Last but not least, remember that it’s all about quality over quantity. You don’t have to pressure yourself to create a video every day, but you also don’t want to let your YouTube channel fall to the wayside. Set an attainable goal for yourself, and follow a content plan to keep your channel fresh and engaging. You’ll have a video powerhouse running for your school in no time!

Key Takeaway

YouTube is an incredible engagement tool that is too often neglected by schools and districts. With some simple optimizations and a content plan in place, you can use this outlet to improve your organic search rankings, increase community engagement, build up recruitment efforts, and so much more.

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Kristen Dovespike headshot

In her position as director of demand generation, Kristen provides the strategy and creation of content across email, website, and social media communications at Finalsite. With over six years of experience in content strategy and digital marketing, Kristen has worked with clients around the country to develop their inbound strategies. She regularly speaks at professional development events for schools and maintains a number of certifications from Google, Hubspot, and Hootsuite.

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