When I was three years old, my parents moved out of the city and into the Western Massachusetts suburbs because of the school systems. They wanted me out Springfield schools, because of its increasingly bad reputation, and into the Wilbraham-Hamden School District, which had a long-standing reputation as one of the best districts in the state.
My parents weren't alone in this strategic relocation.
With more than 50% of today's families exercising school choice, and 60% of surveyed homebuyers making moves based on school districts as my parents did, it's apparent that reputation and brand plays a pivotal roll in your district's enrollment and success.
In a recent article on GreatKids.org, Deena Zacharin, former director of the Office of Parent Relations for the San Francisco Unified School District said, "Schools often have reputations that are seven to 10 years old. It takes a long time for a reputation to turn around with a school. But when you go and see the school, you see all the wonderful things that might be happening there."
Her last sentence is key: When you go and see the school, you see all the wonderful things that might be happening there.
This is your school district's brand. This is your school district's story. And this is where improving your district's website and online presence plays an extremely critical role.
Why exactly is a great website so important? We've outlined five reasons why improving your district's website and online presence creates a domino effect of improving your brand, reputation, and engagement.
1. You get to put your district's best face forward, 24-7.
With a website you have the power to re-define your brand and reputation, putting those decade-old rumors to rest.
When you improve your district's website, you improve your image because you choose the best of the best to be the representation of your district's brand.
You can talk about notable alumni, like Upper Arlington Public Schools does.
You could get some pretty awesome drone footage to showcase your district's schools as Granby Public Schools does.
You can even boast some remarkable statistics about what's happening district-wide like Laguna Beach Unified School District does in their infographic.
Beyond re-defining your district's brand, your website's overall look and feel plays a major role on how prospective and current community members think about your school. For example, one study revealed at 94% of first impressions are design related, while other research reveals that you have about 10 seconds to make an impression on a website visitor.
So that fixed-width, non-mobile friendly web design some IT guy built for you back in 2003 isn't doing your district, your brand, or your reputation any favors. In reality, it's most likely hurting your image even more.
Further reading: First Impressions Matter: Crafting Great School district Homepages
Okay — so what if your district doesn't have a bad reputation?
Your online presence is still extremely crucial. When you're a top-performing district, you're expected to have a top-performing website — a key point noted by Laguna Beach Unified School District after they launched their new, responsive website.
After being recognized as a top performing district in California, LBUSD was on a quest for a new website that matched that caliber of excellence.
"When we were looking at new solutions going forward, Finalsite stood out to us because of the design savviness and the features that are specific to districts. The choice to use Finalsite is part of our journey to be the best in the state," said Andy Crisp, District Teacher and Web/Media Specialist.
Website Redesign Playbook for Public Schools
2. It gives your district it's own soap box.
Did you build a new gym? Are your college matriculation rates on the rise? Did you invest in a 1:1 program? Maybe you hired some new exceptional faculty.
Using the right platform to promote your district provides you with the tools you need to boast about all the news and events — big and little — that comprise your district's brand. Posting them on your website also allows you to share them in email and on social — which saves you time and improves your digital reach.
Berlin Public Schools in Connecticut uses this Showcase feature to boast about their latest district-wide happenings.
Here are a few ideas for using your website to be your own personal PR agent.
- Post news events to boast recent accomplishments — whether it's your lacrosse team winning a game, or implementing a new program
- Ask your principal or superintendent to write a blog once a month to show his or her community connectedness
- Integrate your website with your social media accounts for a live stream of what's happening day-to-day
- Use a calendar to promote upcoming events to show that you're an active community
3. It improves communications.
Current families expect a certain level of communicativeness from your district. No one wants to show up to a cancelled soccer game in the pouring rain, and everyone wants to be in-the-know if there is ever an emergency.
Providing a mobile-friendly website that is constantly up-to-date with the latest information is something your community will thank you for — and something prospective families will like to see. It shows that you care, and that you are connected to every last individual in the district.
In addition, there is an increasing importance getting placed upon crisis communications. You can turn your district's website into a centralized location for these tools — like password protected portals, PagePops, or push notifications. Parents will love knowing where they can get important information when they need it most.
4. It will inevitably save your district time and money.
Up-front costs can be pretty scary to penny-pinching districts. Getting thousands of dollars for a new website isn't easy — especially if you're already struggling. However, when you have the right platform in place, you have the capacity to save precious time and dollars — as Granby Public Schools did when they redesigned.
"We needed a professional looking design and features, but could not afford a full time person to be our webmaster. The Finalsite Platform has helped make the website manageable for our technology department without the need for a full time technical position," said Jon Lambert, Director of Technology for Granby Public Schools.
In another case, a Florida school using the Finalsite Platform saved 228 hours of work and $5,000 in one year using one of Finalsite's most-loved district modules, the Calendar Manager.
5. It is an image of a re-investment in your community.
Districts could easily run ads or depend on word of mouth marketing to improve their brand or reputation — but there's something about it that's an empty promise.
I mean, there's something bothersome about spending tax dollars on a billboard, right?
A website, on the other hand, isn't a waste of money, it's not temporary, and it is a sign that you're looking to invest in your community. Websites play a pivotal role in communications, technology programs, and district-wide initiatives — and having a great one at the core of everything you do only promises success.
So what's next?
Whether your district's brand and reputation needs a lift, or you've already received a gold star from your state, your district's website is your most important tool for success online in 2016 and beyond.
If you're not sure where to start, contact us for a free website consultation, and we'll go over how you can improve your district's website, brand, and reputation.