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How To Enable More Content Contributors: Summit Public Schools Case Study
Mia Major

Everyone in your community is a content creator. Whether you're a small pre-school in Maine, a large k-12 independent school in SoCal, or a public school district in New Jersey, you have writers, editors, photographers, and videographers available to you. You just have to find them and empower them.

Community-wide content contribution is a strategy that isn't always widely embraced. Schools and districts fear abuse, inconsistency, and a lack of control. However, Summit Public Schools, a New Jersey district with nine schools and about 4,200 students, has this strategy at the heart of its communications.

Summit Public Schools NJ Homepage

From Content Contribution to Website Chaos

As you could expect, over the course of about ten years, this strategy meant that the district went from having a very organized site to having a very disorganized site.

"What happened over time, as it does with a lot of all of a sudden you get a mess," said Doug Orr, Director of Technology for Summit Public Schools. "A page that was supposed to be simple gets more and more stuff added, and formatting changes. It becomes less and less organized, and harder and harder to use."

So, when Summit Public Schools began looking for a new vendor, the most important quality for the vendor to provide was the ability to have multiple contributors while easily maintaining the look and feel. "We wanted a platform that could easily be used by end users, but wouldn't turn into a disastrous mess — and was very stylized," said Doug.

"Finalsite was the only provider that met those two requirements, and since then, has exceeded those expectations."

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From Chaos to a Clean Slate

When it came to the redesign process, Summit Public Schools opted to start with an almost completely-clean slate, migrating very little of the content from their old website. This meant that Doug had to get staff trained quickly and effectively to start producing new content.

With nine schools and at least two individuals — the principal and secretary — at each school updating website content, Summit Public Schools has about 20 individuals trained in updating the website. Implementing a strategic and simple training process got contributors off the ground running.

"We set permissions up early on for our content contributors. Then I had a core group of people that we trained to become the trainers," explained Doug.

"We trained the principals by themselves, but in many cases they aren't the ones editing the site. This means that they had the responsibility of training their secretary. So, the principals took the training seriously."

The biggest success in the training process, according to Doug, was to limit their exposure of the platform. "We told them they didn't need to know everything. We focused on News Manager, File Manager and Composer. By limiting it to those three things and a single 30-minute training session, they were comfortable enough to get started."

Doug explained that the limited training avoided that "shell-shocked" mentality, and encouraged them with just-in-time training.

Summit Public Schools - Composer

Empowering New Content Contributors

Summit Public Schools has big plans in store for the new school year, as they look to add new content contributors to the website: middle school students.

"Not only do we see this as a tool for managing information, but a way to include the students in a manner that contributes to the site and furthers their education. And that's a huge bonus for us."

This school year, the district is implementing a new online student section, similar to a newspaper with with multiple different "news desks," such as academics and athletics. They plan on creating different news categories in News Manager to create feeds for each news desk.

While students will be responsible for authoring and adding the content to News Manager, teachers will actually have editorial control to make changes and hit publish — meaning nothing will go live that doesn't fit in line with the district's brand and reputation.

Doug outlined that this strategy has a few key benefits for the district:

  • The district will be able to highlight authentic, student-produced content on a regular basis
  • Students will feel motivated to share their published work, driving new traffic to the website
  • Student-produced content is a reflection of the value of the education of Summit Public Schools

"We had an online newspaper, but we wanted to revitalize it. I think it will lead to much more viewership and will push traffic to places we want to push it."

While the articles will be published on the News section of the middle school website, "articles that come up that are really awesome will be linked into other news feeds throughout the district," said Doug.

While providing authorship opportunities to middle schoolers is a brilliant idea itself, Doug attributes the anticipated success of the new middle school news desk to the Finalsite Composer.

"Finalsite has made this a possibility for us," said Doug. "No other vendors were as simple and powerful as Finalsite. We have a lot of options and control available so that only content we want to see ends up on the website."

While "above all else, we wanted to enable people to contribute," explained Doug, their new website also helps them to "use high resolution images and videos to show off what is important to us, so that right away when people land on our site, visitors know a little bit more about us."

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Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.

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