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Posted by Nat Walker on 16 June 2016

We examine the different ways you can share the personality of your school online

In a recent post our Managing Director Nick explored the reasons why schools need to start taking their digital marketing seriously.  The main driver being the increasingly competitive education market, and the considerable pressure this is placing on schools to fill spaces.

As a result of these pressures, more and more schools are considering how they can most successfully reach and engage their target audience, as well as differentiate themselves from the competition. 

Changing times 

In the past schools relied on traditional methods such as open days, word of mouth and printed prospectuses to generate interest from prospective parents.  But, as technology has developed so too have the expectations of prospective and current parents who now look for a customer experience similar to what they receive from other service providers.  

They want to be able to find information quickly and communicate effectively on the move, meaning they expect a mobile friendly website and useful information being pushed to them via social media channels, or by other digital methods.

A shift to a strategic digital marketing approach is quite a big leap for many schools who often struggle to know where to start, and aren't sure what or how they should be communicating digitally.  

In most cases these schools are doing lots of great activities - they just aren't benefitting from spreading word of it online and bringing their personality alive through digital channels. 

In this post I'm going to talk through 5 areas which your school can focus on to improve digital marketing performance - all with the aim of helping you raise awareness amongst your target audience of everything that is awesome about your school.

1. Inbound Content Strategy

Meeting the challenge of growing intake targets is no small task, for a school to be successful in its digital marketing approach it requires to be strategic.  And the perfect solution to addressing this challenge is the development of an inbound marketing strategy allowing your school to closely align your marketing with the way your target audience thinks and behaves - removing any guesswork and allowing an informed approach to be taken.

Through audience research and strategic planning your online content can be tailored exactly for your target audience - meaning that your marketing is relevant and welcome, rather than interruptive to prospective parents.  

This approach is particularly well suited to schools as they are organisations who have diverse audiences and a one size fits all approach won't work.  An inbound content strategy will mitigate this and work hard to keep prospective parents engaged with your content, by publishing the right content, to the right people, at the right time, in the right places. 

A successful inbound content strategy will turn strangers into customers and eventually promoters of your school - the diagram below illustrates how this happens and the main tools that should be used as part of an inbound strategy:

inbound-marketing-chart-920px-230131-edited.png

Creating a focused, targeted and search engine optimised blog section within your school website is a key component of an inbound approach - providing a great way to publish up-to-date and relevant content that can also be categorised for your readers.

Strangers to your school website (also known as prospective parents...) will find this blog content through a search engine when searching for any of the keywords you have optimised the content for - or they may discover through social media (a really important channel in terms of content promoting - more to come on this later!).

An example of how an inbound marketing strategy can bring results for your school is this scenario:

A prospective parent reads a blog article about your recent spate of brilliant exam results (that you have promoted through social media), they click on a link from this blog post to a landing page where they can download more information about the performance and results of your school. In order to download this information, you might ask them for a small amount of information about themselves, to try and find out more about what they're interested in. By keeping track of what your website visitors are looking at, and making the most of the information you gather about them, you can begin to identify specific audiences and create personalised content, thus giving your audience what they want and keeping them engaged.

2. Social Media Engagement

As I've already briefly mentioned, an important way to attract strangers to your website is through social media publishing. With 2.3 billion active social media users and the fact that in August 2015 the number of social media users had risen by 176 million since the previous year it's clear that a growing number of people (of all age groups) are engaging with social media.

Social Media channels such as Facebook and twitter not only allow for real-time updates on school news and events, but they can also be a great way to highlight the culture of your school. Often when parents are choosing a new school for their child, they have very little information to go on unless they have the advantage of knowing someone whose child already attends. Having a window into all the great things that happen in the school on a day-to-day basis can be really useful when making their selection decision.

The primary objective of social media platforms is to interact with other users and share content and views, because sharing is caring! Using Social Media as a school means that you have a direct link to current and prospective parents and can follow what they're talking about at the same time as sharing your own content with them, and encouraging them to share it further afield. 

A great example of a school using social media effectively is Status client Shotton Hall Academy. You can see from their twitter feed how well they bring the personality of the school alive by regularly posting about school events, covering everything from the meals that feature on their #HealthyEatingWeek menu, to details of upcoming Open evenings, to their buddy system so new students can look forward to having a friendly face to help them from day one. 

3. Mobile Apps

I've talked a lot about getting your content out to prospective parents and encouraging them to send their child to your school. But another important goal of your school that can be achieved through digital solutions, is keeping current parents engaged in school-life and regularly updated on what their children are doing on a day-to-day basis. Studies show that involved parents significantly help to foster and improve academic performance, whilst also reducing the chances of children developing behavioural issues.

With 76% of adults in the UK now owning a smartphone app development provides a highly accessible way for busy parents to keep easily connected with the school and on how their child is performing.  Content that can be shared through an app includes:

  • Homework details and reminders on assignment due dates
  • Details on upcoming school events
  • Direct teacher to parent updates on academic performance / behaviour etc.
  • Organisation of parent teacher meetings, PTA groups, volunteers to attend school events etc.

The benefits to schools of moving to digital solutions for these communications include:

  • Cost and time efficiencies by reducing paper communications
  • Confidence that the news and updates have been received by the parent
  • Reduction in admin time of school staff from having to answer repeated questions from parents via phone calls
  • The ability to share news widely of all the great things happening at the school 

4. Virtual Reality 360 Tours

Virtual Reality (VR) is a technology that replicates an environment in 3D, designed to fully immerse the user in what they are experiencing. VR has seen a rise in recognition since the release of the Oculus Rift device in March this year, and can be used for anything from game-play to virtual reality meeting with friends.

A growing use for Virtual Reality is Virtual tours with technology now existing to create a 3-dimensional, virtual reality tour of your school to help prospective parents get a real feel for the environment their child could be studying before they have even stepped a foot in the school.

A further benefit could be familiarising new students with the layout of the school before they start to make their first days easier.

A word of caution though, VR technology is often still too expensive for many people to experience, although cheaper alternatives to the Oculus Rift headset are in development.

5. 360 Live Streaming

As an alternative to using ‘traditional’ virtual reality, you may choose to immerse visitors into the culture of the school by live-streaming different activities at your school. YouTube has already introduced live 360 video to the platform, and from a cost perspective there are 360 video cameras available for a variety of different budgets.

Video can be a really powerful medium and gives a much more realistic and trustworthy impression of what life at your school is like than purely using text-based blog and social media content. You could show videos of school performances, sports days and assemblies for example. Another advantage of streaming what’s happening in the school is that visitors/followers feel like they are sharing in the experience and it's a great way of keeping parents connected to the school. 

Conclusion

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things your school can do to extend the reach of its marketing and develop a successful online personality, but hopefully it will have served as a good introduction to the type of digital marketing activities you should be considering and the value they can bring to your school.

If you've seen any great examples of a school developing an online personality then please do share details in the comments below, we'd love to hear them! 

And if you would like to talk in any more detail about how your school can move forward in developing a digital marketing strategy then please do get in touch

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