While 2018 ushers in a new year, with new fads and resolutions, feelings of commitment and feelings of letting go — for school marketers, it marks the halfway point of the school year — which doesn't always mean a blank slate or fresh start. It's an awkward transition, as you may have set goals for the school year, and the calendar year, and the fiscal year.
Regardless of how you plan your strategies (hey, if you really have time to plan at all), 2018 is a new year — which means there are innovations, new strategies, and market trends you need to be aware of. And based on our work with more than 2,200 schools around the world, we've rounded up the most important items for 2018.
Now, the following aren't resolutions you drop thirty days into the new year. These aren't fads. These are real issues, laws, regulations, and data-backed market trends that private schools need to care about and focus on in the year ahead.
1. Inbound Marketing...The Right Way
At this point, "inbound marketing," is a known term and strategy among private schools. I don't think a day passes where I don't hear the term mentioned in a blog or podcast, or on social media. So, we're beyond the point of saying "inbound marketing is the next big thing." It is a big thing. It is an item at top of mind for all school professionals as they ask questions like:
- How do I get more inquiries?
- How do I get more qualified students?
- How do I improve school-to-home communications?
- How do I get more donations?
The answers to each of those questions is of course, complex. And inbound marketing plays a role in every single one. Inbound marketing is a strategy — not a piece of software. Schools can't purchase some marketing software and automatically increase enrollment and engagement. There are fundamental pillars of inbound marketing that most school professionals who are trying to do inbound are overlooking, that need to be implemented in 2018:
- Personas: At the foundation of any good marketing strategy are detailed personas. You should know your target audience(s), their goals and pains, and how to speak to them on your website and social media, in digital ads and via email communications.
- Content: Inbound marketing isn't possible without great content — such as blogs, ebooks, and infographics. In order to create workflows that nurture prospective families, you first need content to nurture them with. (We call this content marketing!)
- A Plan: How many emails will someone receive? What workflows do you want to create? What content should they receive, and when? How frequent should your emails be? Coming up with an inbound marketing strategy that answers the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how is essential for success.
- A great website: At the core of your digital marketing lies your school's website. So, at the end of the day, if you're going to invest time and energy into improving your inbound efforts, be sure your website is up to par.
All things considered, if you want to implement an inbound marketing strategy, don't think software first. Seek to create a strategy first. Then consider how software can supplement that strategy.
We know inbound marketing is a big deal, so here's what we're doing about it:
- Our Development Team is hard at work to improve our online Forms, email marketing tool, PagePops and constituent data tool to provide schools with inbound marketing tools they can use and that already integrate with the systems they use. We also have some cool inbound marketing tricks already available to you on our platform.
- Our consulting team has added a new service called Finalsite Advantage. With Advantage, you'll team up with an experienced school marketing professional to get strategic and follow through with your marketing plan.
- We continue to offer webinars and create content to help you be the best inbound marketer you can be!
Free Checklist: Preparing Your Website for Inbound Marketing
2. Data Security and Privacy
The security of your school's data is more important than ever before. Your community trusts you to keep their data safe, and you trust your website provider to do so. The biggest data security item for our schools 2018? GDPR.
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) replaces the Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, and was designed to harmonize data privacy laws across Europe, to protect and empower all EU citizens data privacy, and to reshape the way organizations across the region approach data privacy. Like website accessibility, GDPR ushers in new rules and regulations, with some pretty hefty fines attached for organizations — including schools — that don't comply. Some of these rules and regulations include mandatory data breach notifications within 72 hours. You can learn more about GDPR on the GDPR website, and how your school can prepare for the May 2018 deadline in this helpful blog post.
GDPR and data privacy are things that we are very conscious of here at Finalsite, so here's what we're doing about it.
- We maintain TrustE Privacy Shield, which means that there are adequate safeguards in place for your constituents' data and your data. We are also willing to agree to standard contract clauses as stipulated by the EC.
- We are currently investigating new features for the product to help our customers with their GDPR obligations.
- We continuously invest in improving the security of our platform, led by a Chief Security Officer
- We are GDPR compliant with our handling of data about our customers — meaning we respect your school's data and privacy and will never (ever!) share it with third parties, or spam you.
3. Website Accessibility
One in eight people in the U.S. is known to have a disability. It's a statistic that usually shocks most school marketers, and begs questions like:
- How many of our constituents — including parents, students, faculty and alumni — have a disability that we don't know about?
- How many of those constituents can't access our public content?
- How many opportunities do we miss because our site is inaccessible?
- What can we do about it?
That last question — What can we do about it? — has gone unanswered by schools for nearly two decades. Section 508, a federal law mandating that all electronic and information technology developed, procured, maintained, or used by the federal government must be accessible to people with disabilities, was set forth in 1998.
But it took schools until late 2016/early 2017 to start responding — and it wasn't really a personal choice. Under Title II and Title III of the ADA, federally-funded institutions (like public schools districts and universities) were expected to make their sites accessible and meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines by January 18, 2018. (Not a whole lot of time to get your act together, especially if you're a small school.)
So, in most cases, these institutions took one of two routes: They either (a) made the financial and time investment to make their website accessible or (b) took the risk of receiving a complaint from a constituent or fines from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). We don't recommend the latter option.
So why does website accessibility matter to private and independent schools — a group who went virtually untouched by the 508 refresh? There's three reasons:
- First, it is the right thing to do. Inaccessible website content means we're preventing more than 12% of Americans from engaging with and enjoying content.
- Second, investing in accessible technology ensures that work and education environments are inclusive and available to all user groups.
- And lastly, it is a wise strategic initiative that is great for your brand, admissions, communications, and advancement. While the OCR has not targeted private schools the way it has districts, consider how prevention almost always costs less than reaction.
And because we know this is important to you, we're focusing on it too. At Finalsite, here's what we're doing about it:
- We've trained our project managers, designers and front-end developers in website accessibility to ensure we deliver our clients an accessible website.
- We've partnered with AudioEye, the industry leader in website accessibility, to provide our schools with a strong partnership and remediation technology to maintain an accessible website.
- We've added functionality to our software — including ALT tags to all images and captions for videos — to ensure it is easy to make your website's content accessible.
- We continue to update our library of online resources to help you understand website accessibility.
2018 is going to give school marketers more opportunities to connect with their constituents online. But as these opportunities grow, school marketers need to consider how their technologies and strategies intertwine, to make them work together.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 specialises 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.