As a PR guy in the world of education, I say, if you can’t beat them, communicate with them.
Traditionally, schools have relied upon a few tried and true communications tactics to reach their target audience. These include direct mail, newsletters and securing coverage in local media outlets. However, with the ubiquity of smartphones and the general public’s reliance on them for news gathering, schools need to examine how they can leverage this tool to maximize effectiveness and communicate in real-time with their constituents.
Communications initiatives have evolved over the past 20 years to include websites, e-blasts, social media and so much more. Today, with the competition for students greater than ever before, schools must be story tellers – providing a metaphorical window for outsiders to look through to see what is happening and being accomplished.
Schools must look at developing video content to reach students and the growing population of millennial parents, as that is how they have become accustomed to consuming news. Schools should also look to utilizing “push notifications” – those announcements that appear in their news feed on their phone – to share more than school closings. Why not use push notifications to celebrate the positives? Five students received full scholarships to Ivy League schools? Push it out!
The challenge, of course, is that schools’ primary focus is on student achievement, not marketing or public relations. That’s where my team and I come in. What do schools need to do to capitalize on the country’s addiction to smartphones, social media, etc.? Following are a few initial recommendations to grow and engage your audience.
Set Strategy Before Execution
Before you start posting, tweeting, sharing stories and developing award-winning video content, determine your objectives and how you are going to achieve them. This may seem obvious, but just like developing a blueprint before starting construction on a new home, develop a blueprint for your communications efforts to serve as a guide and measurement tool.
Identify a Dedicated Social Media Manager
With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social channels, schools have greater direct access to families, partners, policymakers and influencers than ever before. However, social media isn’t something you can dip your toe in. You need a dedicated person on-site in charge of gathering, reviewing and managing content. This could be an admin or a teacher. It does not need to fall all on this person’s shoulders, as you could have a team supporting the social media manager, but there should be a sole voice responsible for driving and measuring the effectiveness of your activities.
While communications should be included in school budgets, if for no other reason than to remain transparent with constituents, it is understandable that resources for such activities may be tight. To overcome these limitations, schools must get creative. Fortunately, when it comes to smartphone technology, middle and high schools have access to an untapped resource – students. Who has greater familiarity with smartphone technology and is more keyed in on social media trends than teenagers? Why not capitalize on this resource by turning yesterday’s school newspaper reporter into today’s school content creator? Combine their school pride with their passion for technology and everyone wins.
Joe DiBenedetto is a senior director leading the education practice at Lambert, Edwards & Associates