Connections for 21st Century Marketing

I was going to call this article “Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Blogging vs. School Usage By Outside Groups,” but the title was too long for a Web page.  Another possible title was “Get ‘Em In and Sign ‘Em Up.”  The point is that marketing is all about making connections and engaging people (especially parents of young children) with your school.

Past Marketing Matters spoke of the importance of a professional-looking and functioning Web site to market your school.  GONE are the days of parents putting a Web site together for you (unless that is what they do to earn a living).  Parents are looking for “modern” Web sites today because your target market (females, age 25-39) are now “Web savvy.”  They can tell the difference between something that was created in the 1990’s from html code, through the 2000’s where Flash technology was all the rage (until it didn’t work and still doesn’t work on Apple devices) to today, where a Web site is responsive, has lots of white space, fonts that are larger and thinner with no serifs and are gray rather than black, and associates professional, non-pixelated pictures with article titles.  The more professional your Web site looks and acts, the more your school will be perceived as “tech savvy,” since perception is reality.  You can have the most outstanding school in your community, your Diocese, your County, even your State – but if your Web site looks “unprofessional,” is populated with events that have already occurred, and speaks to “news items” while omitting important ones (such as a new principal or key administrator), parents of prospective students will question the credibility of your school.  “Oh, we haven’t had time to update it” is just not acceptable anymore.

But what about a presence on Facebook, or having a principal’s blog, or other types of online communities and services?  Are they that important?

In a word, “YES!”

Are they as important as neighborhood yard signs, door hangers and brochures in doctors’ offices?  Five years ago, I answered that question with a “Not yet, but they will be” response, because social media now has specific purposes.  It’s still true, however, that these sites are the cyberspaces that parents of prospective students visit for a reference of your school.  Yes, they’ll ask their friends, but if their friends aren’t in your school, where will they go?  Parents today are creating communities online rather than in their own neighborhoods.  In fact, the community of parents in your school may be even more connected (and “in” community) with each other than they are with the people of their parish.  Remember, your school is a community, and your parish, church or worship community functions more like a family.  The family has “deeper” connection and conviction.  For Christians who have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, or Catholic Christians who receive the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist, the similarities can be made to one’s blood relationship with one’s family.  When considering a community, such as a neighborhood, a school, or an online group with similar likes, there is more work that needs to be done to strengthen the community.

But as social media evolves, its purpose will also change.  “Why” becomes a key consideration.  Is your school’s Facebook page a place where parents of prospective students find recommendations about your school, or is it a place to post all the great things happening there so alumni can see that their Alma Mater is still a vibrant entity in the community and worthy of support?  Does your school’s YouTube account post great videos about your school, but when they’re over, guide parents to videos from other schools in the area, or to other videos that you may not want them to visit?

As for the current moment, and your immediate need to get parents into the school, consider this suggestion.  Rather than just waiting for your marketing materials to have an effect, reach out to other groups or organizations that are populated with parents of young children to utilize your school.  Consider opening your school to accommodate meetings of the local La Leche League, Mothers and More, or other parent/child group (Scouts, Indian Guides, etc.).  Perhaps even use the gym, music or art facilities for home-schooled children as their “specials” classes.  You’re exposing your school to your target audience and providing community service at the same time.

Rent?  Usage fee?  Hmmm…seems to me if you get just two children from those functions, that’s a potential four-figure increase in your revenue.  If the point is to get parents with young children – your school’s target market – in the school, that’s the first step to engaging them with your school.

You could also offer parent programs in your school.  If you need to get parents of prospective students into your school, allow the church’s or parish’s education programs to be held in the classrooms.  Offer parents technology classes so they can become comfortable with the tools that their children are using – even if their children are currently in the public schools.  It can be an opportunity to show your technology lab, and give a demonstration regarding what children are doing in your school.  Be creative as to how you can provide adult education programs during the evening on parenting, budgeting, or specialized topics like digital photography.  If you charge a nominal fee, this can also be an opportunity for your teachers to make a few extra dollars by teaching an adult education class, and perhaps bring additional revenues to your school.  Such activity advances your school toward becoming an asset to the community, rather than being “another educational option that charges tuition.”

If you believe that your school is WAY more than that, it’s time to tell your school’s story.  Evangelize!  The secular world calls it “marketing.”  The problem is that school administrators, principals and teachers are experts in activities, curriculum, and technology, and prefer to focus on their strengths and the things they like to do.  However, if a school does not focus on retention efforts to solve enrollment erosion, and development processes are ignored hoping that economic times will get better, that school today will shrink, merge, and eventually close.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2009-2014 (Original Publication Date: 20091019)