With such a large focus on using your school's website for admissions and recruitment, it isn't always easy to find the right balance for our current students and parents.
Where do they go for their information? Why do they need to log in? Where do they go to log in? Why do they have to click two or three times to find what they need?
Unfortunately, many schools have a hard time striking this balance, leaving the majority of parents, students, faculty/staff and alumni that come to your site feeling a little left out...
And let's cut to the chase — if your current constituents feel like Helga G. Patacki from Hey Arnold!, that may affect those 5-star Facebook reviews, and even so far as retention.
So how can you make your current constituents feel like the website is just as much their home as it is for newcomers? We boast this sense of inclusion and community to our prospects, but are we following through on our promise with our current families?
Throughout this article, we will uncover ways to build a better "home" for your internal constituents using portals, while streamlining your day-to-day processes and your website tasks with integrations and single sign-ons.
1. Curb Appeal - Retention is as Important as Recruitment
We work so hard to convert our prospects into successful seats filled. But we don't want to lose focus on our current families once we have them walking through the doors. For example, when someone creates an Amazon account for the first time, Amazon doesn't assume that the user will find everything they need themselves. They send you welcome emails and special offerings, make you feel at home, and give you everything you need to feel that your new Amazon Hub will be tailored to your liking as much as possible. Not only that, but you will be directed toward items that pertain solely to you and your wants and needs.
We refer to the "journey" a lot when thinking of our constituents, hoping they come to our website so we can bring them down a path that makes sense and constantly leads to the best next step. Admissions teams are keenly aware of the (intended!) prospective student journey: come to the website, get to campus for a tour or open house, fill out the full inquiry form, apply, enroll, live happily ever after. Everything about the externally-facing website is geared toward this end: SEO so the site is found in the first place, amazing pictures to show off the campus before they even arrive, easy-to-use forms so we capture data effectively.
But there's so much in that "happily ever after," an entire new journey for students and their parents to embark on that we can't forget about. Their experience has to be just as consistently helpful and tasks they need to complete on the website need to be just as easy as registering for their very first tour.
How do portals fit in? By delivering personalized content during all stages of the journey, we prove that we haven't forgotten about their individual needs now that they pay their bills. We're farmers growing a beautiful garden: in order to see the seeds we've planted grow and flourish, we need to water and curate them.
At this year's Web Strategy Workshops, we go into detail about micro-moments, times when users are ready to know, go, do or buy something... and we can miss it! Creating portals means anticipating what parents are looking for and committing to helping in the moment. Often parents are on the go, driving to soccer practice or the grocery store and the second a question pops into their head we need to be able to provide an answer. Stay relevant and connect them to the answers they're looking for now and they'll feel the love that made them enroll in the first place.
Now that we have established the need for our constituent Portals, how do we begin breaking ground!?
See why over 300 schools professionals said a workshop was a must-attend event!
2. Laying the Foundation - Make the User Experience Simple So They Want to Use it
Understanding the need for attention towards our current families is the first step; the next step is understanding how to properly form their needs through your website. This is what we like to call "laying down the blueprints."
How do we lay the foundation for this private home without jeopardizing and cluttering our public site?
A few years ago, the website was a place for everyone. It was okay to place the lunch menu and link to health forms on the homepage. This has since shifted, keeping valuable homepage real estate for marketing to feature value and mission. Many sites now have a separate portal for each internal constituent. Thus the welcome mat for your users is born.
Once they know where the front door is, it's time to show them around.
Let's be realistic, parents and students want one-stop shopping. Many constituents have more than one username and password for each system they need to log in. Whether it's checking homework and grades or posting their tuition payment, no one enjoys digging through their email hoping to find that password they can't ever seem to remember.
Point being: no more fumbling with their keys to get in the front door. Just one, big, master key to rule them all!
A master key can be accomplished utilizing Finalsite's Integrations and Single Sign-Ons (SSO).
Integrations allow the passing of data from your student information system (SIS) into Finalsite's Constituent Manager. This integration is a huge time saver, as it eliminates the need for duplication of data in two systems. Rather than keeping your SIS and Finalsite up-to-date with data, the integration will allow your SIS to sync directly to Constituent Manager. This helps to keep the integrity of your data while chopping your workload in half.
A Single Sign-On (SSO) is essentially the ability to authenticate a user into another system's web interface, contingent on a user already being logged in elsewhere. A user only needs one username and password, their "key" to get them through the front door. Once they enter with that one key, they can unlock all the other doors to the rooms they need to enter.
Constituents typically have an extensive list of databases to log into. So, how can we offer this functionality to our users? Luckily, Finalsite has over 75+ different single sign-on options for schools to utilize. Everything from student information systems and college-counseling platforms to online tuition payments and health forms.
Now that we've established the blueprints of the house - we need to make it visually appealing!
3. Interior Decorating — Make Your Online Portals Visually Engaging
Picking out a Welcome Mat or a color for you Front Door is easy when it only needs to fit your liking. However, with Portals, each of our constituents may interact with their portal differently. Parents may need quick access to Calendars and News, while Students may be looking for their SIS Login or social media posts.
Create something that screams "Welcome!" Look to build your Portal into something that is warm and friendly to make the user feel as though this is where their home is for all of their wants and needs.
Visuals are KEY.
Having worked closely with so many schools, and having worked at an independent school myself, I speak from experience when I say that visuals make or break your portals! You want to make sure you are providing all of the necessary points of entry that our constituents may be looking to access, while at the same time not creating a page that has an overwhelming amount of text, links, and scrolling.
We recommend using the most out of your Composer elements such as tabs or accordions and news or calendar sliders or sidebar lists in order to house a bunch of information but in an easy-to-consume and consolidated way.
Pro Tip: Provide Easy Access
Humans process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Make it clear and easy for users to find their main access points with buttons or images for quick identification. Not sure what is most important to them? Never be shy to take a poll of your parents, students and teachers to ask them what they feel is their top priority and needs when visiting the site.
If you'd like a demo of one of these products, please email your Client Success Manager.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After graduating with a BA in Strategic Communication, Ryan pursued a career in web and graphic design. Prior to joining Finalsite, Ryan was the Director of Digital Design and Media Communications at Immaculate High School in CT. While he is currently a Client Success Manager, his speciality is combining graphic and web design together for a unique digital experience.