By Emma Castleberry
Our nation’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is nothing if not a proponent of school choice. In May, Politico reported on DeVos’s announcement that Americans should expect “the most ambitious expansion of education choice in our nation’s history.” The current federal administration is highly supportive of school choice, which means your school needs to focus on web communications to help with school branding in order to ‘compete’ for the share of mind all schools need.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum or how you feel about DeVos, this is our country’s reality right now. While the states will be making individual decisions about school choice policies, the U.S. Department of Education has plans to spend more than a billion dollars to expand school choice in the next year. This means there is likely to be an uptick in parents shopping for schools for their children, rather than simply accepting the public school for which they are zoned.
School branding: now more than ever
I know, ‘compete’ (see above) sounds so mercenary. Branding has always made some school leaders feel uncomfortable because it implies that there is a sale to be made. But, as best-selling author and former educator Eric Shenninger explains, branding for schools is about telling, not selling. By telling families what is happening in your schools, what you are achieving and how you are achieving it, you build a brand. This brand encourages families to move into your community and attend your school. It also has the added benefit of inspiring pride in your current student body and their families.
In the face of school choice, branding becomes all the more important. “Regardless of your size or your resources, strong brands really give every district a fighting chance to compel people to believe in the system that’s in place,” says Shenninger.
Ways to brand your school
Digital communications—websites, notifications, social media, and mobile apps—are an integral part of branding your school. In modern times, these platforms are your school’s outward face to the world. Through these channels, you can create a unified, effective brand that captures the heart of your schools.
It starts with your logo
The consistency of your school’s logo is a major part of effective branding. This means that the image and colors seen anywhere—from your website to your social media profiles to your staff’s email signatures—should be the same. They should also be identifiable as belonging to your school or district, not just some unrelated clip art that someone found online. Even the slightest differences in font or color can appear unprofessional and damage your school’s public image, as this Higher Education Marketing article explains.
Set up branding standards for your school or district and keep everyone in the loop. Provide staff with the exact colors and PDFs of the logo. Exercise quality control and consider bringing in a graphic designer to help unify your brand across all levels. Your logo alone isn’t your brand, but it’s an important part of it, so handle it accordingly.
Your school website: it’s your communications hub; and if it isn’t turn it into one. Make sure you’re keeping up with the ever-evolving technology and design trends too. Like it or not, your school community – parents, students and staff, of course – and prospective student families, local community partners, school district residents, media – they all form opinions about your school with one quick visit to your website.
A dusty, outdated,underperforning website can put your school at a big disadvantage if you’re trying to project a gr…
Sure, alerts on your phone are perfect for school closings and timely, school safety matters, critical scenarios: lockdowns, bus accidents, or student health emergencies, but when incorporated into the total branding picture, notifications can go well beyond a communication system playing a vital role in your crisis response. Notifications can be used effectively for less urgent matters, school notification systems are just plain convenient and a very effective way to get the word out to parents about school events, student information, and upcoming deadlines.
Video is one of the most powerful branding tools available to your school. Branding is all about telling a story and videos are the most direct and appealing way to do that.
With just a few simple tools, you can create and promote fantastic videos that highlight your school’s strengths and tell the story of your community members.
You have a variety of choices for the content of your videos. Cantiague Elementary School in Long Island, New York, filmed weekly updates featuring students from different grades. Your video might include students, faculty, staff, administrators, parents, or a compilation of all of these friendly faces.
Once you’ve created a video that expresses your brand, promote it on your YouTube channel. If you haven’t created a YouTube channel for your school, check out our handy guide.
No discussion of branding would be complete without a mention of your social media presence. Social media channels are vital to keeping your brand alive and exposed. These channels provide an invaluable opportunity for both existing families and interested families to interact with your school.
Parents and students alike are on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—this is why you have to be there, too. These platforms provide excellent outlets for telling your school’s story. While social media can be a great place for real-time updates like lunch menus and school assemblies, you should also use it to shape your brand identity with content like photos of teachers and students, videos of pep rallies, and personal messages from the principal.
Other digital communications
Social media platforms are effective, but they aren’t the only way of connecting with families in the digital age. There are plenty of other ways to spread your brand and engage your community.
One of the most direct ways to promote your brand outside of social media is through an email list. In fact, an email newsletter might encourage more attention from your community: rather than a post that gets lost in a news feed, an email invites a more leisurely read. You can choose exactly what you want people to see and how you want them to see it.
You owe it to your community
Branding for schools—public, private, and every school model in between—has always been important. Schools should never rely on zoning to fill enrollment, and even when it does, schools should still be working to improve their professional image and inspire loyalty and trust in the student body.
Your brand is your reputation. If you don’t shape it, someone else will shape it for you, and it might not appear in the best light. Misinformation can lead to a really negative perception of your school if there is a vacuum of information. Take the reins and ensure your school is known for strengths, not weaknesses.
While you aren’t responsible for selling your school in the traditional sense of the word, you are certainly responsible for highlighting the positive experiences of students and the selfless work of teachers and administrators. These are your stories. Tell them.
Published to Campus Suite on September 27, 2017.