After talking to over 4,500 superintendents nationwide, we’ve realized one major shift. The role of the superintendent is changing rapidly. Once upon a time, marketing was reserved for the private sector—but now, the landscape of public education has shifted. Given the current state of school choice, superintendents face the daunting challenge of not only running their school districts, but also marketing it to prospective parents, families, and teachers in the surrounding communities.
In order to compete, school leaders must unlock their district’s identity and leverage their brand in a way that creates advocates out of their K-12 community. The big question is: Where do you begin?
In this guide, we’ll break down what school marketing is and teach you how to unlock your brand identity, establish your online presence, and leverage the right platforms to magnify your voice. We’ll also provide insider tips that we’ve gathered from superintendents and highlight real-life marketing case studies from school districts across the country.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 What is School District Marketing?
Chapter 2 School Branding: Building Your Identity
Chapter 3 Digital: Establishing Your Online Presence
Chapter 4 Internal School Marketing 101
Chapter 5 Social Media for Schools: The Golden Rules
Chapter 6 Making a School Marketing Plan
Chapter 7 Crafting School Marketing Campaigns
Chapter 8 Advocacy: Bonus School Marketing Tips
What is School District Marketing?
School marketing is the practice of influencing how people think and feel about your district brand. Whether people voice it or not, everyone already has an opinion about your schools. It could be good, bad, or neutral. If somebody has a negative view of your district, that's something you're going to want to address. For those who have a positive or neutral view of your district, you should leverage that momentum and make it easy for them to be even more active advocates for you.
This is where marketing comes into play. When you’re utilizing the right marketing strategies, you have the power to make your audience think about your schools the way you want them to.
“School marketing is the practice of influencing how people think and feel about your district brand.”
In essence, marketing is a proactive approach to building your school brand. You're laying the foundation, brick by brick, of who you are and what you stand for. Eventually, your community will have the full picture of your campuses in mind when they think about your schools.
It’s hard to know where to start with school marketing because it encompasses so many different strategies, platforms, and tools. Your social presence—meaning your presence on your social media accounts—is just as important as your school website. Likewise, search engine optimization (SEO), which is the practice of optimizing your website to appear on the first page of search engines, is just as important as optimizing for paid advertising. The point is, it all falls under the umbrella of marketing. So where do you start?
Before we get into the weeds of platforms, strategies and tools, we need to take a step back and start with your foundation: your brand identity.Schedule A 15 Minute School Web Design Demo
School Branding: Building Your Identity
What is a School Brand?
Your school brand is happening around you every day, and it’s more than just a logo or hashtag. It’s your identity. A school brand is the visual and tangible representation of your school district's mission and heartbeat. It represents who you are, your values, and what makes your community unique. It also unifies your school district and creates a sense of collective community pride. When your brand is working right, it has the power to influence the way people think and feel about your school district for the better.
What Makes Your School Different?
To start branding your school, ask yourself: How are your schools different from others? Every school district has a little bit of magic that sets it apart from others across the country. And it’s that singular charm that draws people in, that the community loves to rally behind. This differentiation point can help you build your brand identity.
Take Nike, for example. If you break down their products and services, they’re not much different than Adidas, Reebok or Puma—it’s all sports brand apparel. But most of us are willing to pay much more for Nike’s brand name. Why? Nike differentiates themselves by inspiring everyday people to embrace difficulty and challenges. By motivating people to put in the work to accomplish their goals, Nike’s core values can be summed up in a single phrase: “Just Do It”.
Nike has positioned themselves to be different from their competitors, and as a school, you should be cultivating that same differentiation.
Now that we’ve talked about brand identity from a high level, let’s break down how you can build your brand identity, starting with your core message. Your core message is a short statement that identifies a need in the community and addresses how your school meets that need. It’s usually one to two sentences long.
To craft your core message, start by answering these questions:
- What do families and teachers want and need from a school district?
- What is your district’s definition of student success?
- What does your competition offer?
- What does your district uniquely offer?
- What makes you most proud of your schools?
Now, take a look at your answers. What families and teachers need, and what your district uniquely offers (that your competition does not)—that’s your sweet spot. This is your core message.
“What families and teachers need, and what your district uniquely offers (that your competition does not)— that’s your sweet spot.”
Ridgefield Case Study: Core Message
You barely have to glance at any of Ridgefield School District’s materials to realize exactly what their core message is. Right at the bottom of their district’s homepage, you can see their purpose statement:
“Ridgefield School District aspires to be the state’s premier district, leveraging strong community partnerships to provide each student with personalized learning experiences, opportunities, and skills that ensure success and unlimited possibilities.”
Superintendent, Dr. Nathan McCann and his team have crafted a clear core message. For parents who might be moving to Ridgefield, the statement highlights the district’s unique community connections. For those who might be tempted by the nearby 4A high school, it plays up the benefit of a smaller school’s more personalized experience. They’ve figured out what the families in their community want and offered unique solutions, all in just one sentence. Because this narrative is the backbone of their brand, it’s everywhere.
“We watch the big brands, and they just constantly push their message,” McCann says. “It’s a lot of repetition.”
Ridgefield is learning from the best: they’re repeating their message over and over again. They read their purpose statement before football games and board meetings, and even include it in the footer of district emails. A boiled-down version—simply “Pursuing Premier”—shows up in logos, on school walls, and even on Twitter as a hashtag.
As a result, practically anyone in the community, even people who aren’t directly involved with the district, can tell you exactly what Ridgefield’s about.
“If you ask somebody in the district, just a resident, about Pursuing Premier, they’ll say, ‘That’s the Ridgefield School District,’” McCann says.
Brand Identity Book
Once you’ve established your core message, you’ll need to create a brand identity book, or brand toolkit. Your brand identity book contains the visual components of your brand, including your school logo variations, color palette, fonts, district motto, and more. Working together, these elements breathe life into your brand and put a face to your name. Your brand identity book also acts as a guiding document, providing people with a framework for how to use your brand assets across all marketing platforms. A brand toolkit can either be in the form of a hardcopy or an online brand center.
"Working together, these elements breathe life into your brand and put a face to your name."
Here are the essential elements you’ll need to create your brand identity book:
Having a brand identity book is important because it strengthens consistency with your brand. Using the same fonts, color palette, and visual elements helps reinforce your core message and strengthens overall brand awareness.
Remember our Nike example? We all know Nike apparel when we see it because we recognize the Swoosh—and when we see the Swoosh, we instinctively think about their slogan, “Just Do It.” That’s the power of maintaining brand consistency, which all starts with a brand identity book.Tie It All Together
Digital: Establishing Your Online Presence
School Website Design
Your school website is often the first place people encounter your brand. It’s your best opportunity to show off your values, culture, and unique selling points. When considering school website design, you probably think about the creative element—in other words, how the website looks. While looks are important (we’re talking websites here), the three web elements that matter most are responsive design, ease of use, and ADA-compliance.
Responsive design scales your website content and creative elements to match any screen size, whether it's mobile, desktop, laptop, and tablet. A responsive website is important because it drastically improves a user's overall experience. We’ve all encountered a website that makes us pinch, side scroll, and zoom in just to read its content. A frustrating experience like that usually leaves a bad taste in your mouth, not only for the website, but even the brand itself.
As the trend in mobile search continues to outpace desktop searches, Google announced the implementation of mobile-first indexing with the hope of eliminating these issues. This essentially means that Google will prioritize how the mobile version of your website functions and looks above the desktop version. If your website isn’t optimized for mobile first, it will hurt your ranking position and thus your visibility on the search engine results page. That means fewer visits to your website and potentially fewer prospective students and families for your schools.
“As the trend in mobile searches continues to outpace desktop searches, Google announced the implementation of mobile-first indexing... This essentially means that Google will prioritize how the mobile version of your website functions and looks above the desktop version.”
Whether you’re working with our in-house team or a third-party vendor, you’ll want to make sure your school web design is responsive and optimized for mobile first.Read Owning Your Digital Spaces
Ease of Use and Navigation
It should be incredibly easy to find information on your school website. Whether parents are looking for the lunch menu or teachers are looking for your employee handbook, your school website should be designed in a way that’s easy to use and navigate. It should have a good user experience.
User experience, in essence, is the quality of interaction and the feeling a person has when navigating your website or app. What does that look like from a practical standpoint? It means having an understandable navigation menu, clear call-to-action buttons, and a simple, beautiful design that doesn’t distract from the information people are looking for.
When we design a school district website internally, we always make sure families, staff, and community members can find a few key pieces of information quickly and easily through our navigation menu:
Students & Families
Along with having a clear-cut navigation menu, it’s important to optimize your website with prominent and enticing call-to-action buttons. A call-to-action is a prompt on a website (usually in the form of a button) that encourages users to take an action that leads to a conversion. A conversion is an action step a person takes on a website—like filling out a form, subscribing to a newsletter, scheduling an appointment, or visiting a landing page. It all depends on what your end goal is. As you’re designing your school website, you’ll need to think about your conversion objectives and subsequently where to place your calls-to-action.
The homepage of your school website is the most important page for call-to-action buttons. Think of the homepage as your site’s first impression. Because most web traffic comes through the homepage, and people, on average, spend less than 15 seconds on a website, you only have a short window of time to grab their attention.
That’s why we recommend placing your most important call-to-action buttons above the fold on your homepage. The term ‘above the fold’ simply means the top half of a website that a user can see before scrolling down. For your school, this might mean placing your enrollment and career application buttons at the top of your homepage where people can easily find them.
“People on average spend less than 15 seconds on a website.”Schedule A 15 Minute School Web Design Demo
Think about your school district’s website—does it provide a user-friendly experience for everyone? Would someone be able to understand your school’s content without being able to look at their screen, use a mouse, or hear a video?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that “places of public accommodation” are made accessible to Americans with disabilities. Since a lot of the information families and community members are interested in can be accessed through your school website, your website needs to be ADA compliant.
If your website isn’t ADA compliant, not only are you failing to serve every person who visits your website, you could receive an accessibility complaint from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education.
There are four types of disabilities protected by the ADA: auditory, visual, motor and cognitive. To learn more about how you should address all four categories to make your school website ADA compliant, read our guide here:Guide to K-12 ADA Compliance for School Websites
School Mobile App
A lot of digital interaction lives right in your pocket — on your smartphone. According to Pew Research Center, 85% of American adults now have a smartphone compared to just 35% in 2011. On these devices, apps reign supreme. The value of mobile applications is that they combine all of the information your community could need into one unique place. Providing users a great experience with your school app not only helps boost engagement with your online presence but also strengthens your school’s brand.
There are a couple of elements that are vital to a great user experience on your school mobile app:
It may sound obvious, but your school app should be an actual app. There are plenty of "school apps" that just send users to a modified version of the school's website instead of offering any real value as an app. What’s more, sometimes users have to log in to an account or manually select their child’s school in order to see information related to your brand. That’s far too many steps for users to follow to reach your content. It’s better if one click on your mobile app leads users directly to your school’s information.
In addition, your app should be a repository for information, not a repository for links. Anything a parent needs—from the lunch menu, to the basketball team’s schedule—should be accessible directly from a smartphone instead of somewhere else. Segmenting content like this creates a frustrating user experience, while also bringing third-party brands to the forefront instead of your school’s brand. When you bring everything directly into your app, you help your audience access the information they need faster as well as keeping them within a branded environment that you control.
A school mobile app should be the single source of information for parents, families and community members. For example, it’s important to include districtwide updates, as well as individual campus updates—not one or the other. This keeps users from bouncing between the app and their browser as they try to access information relevant to their child.
Along the same lines, your school app should be multifaceted and multifunctional. Instead of toggling between multiple third-party tools for things like athletics scores or important staff documents, bring everything together in one place—your app. It just makes life easier for your community.
"When you bring everything directly into your app, you help your audience access the information they need faster as well as keeping them within a branded environment you control.”Build Your School App with Thrillshare
Ease of Use
Finally, your school app should be easy to use. There are plenty of examples of great content and features that are obscured by poor user interface or just plain bad user experience. Here are some factors that could influence how people think and feel about your app and brand:
Your app should open without delay. It should never crash. As you perform different functions and clicks, it should be able to respond quickly. Slow load times and lag between the push of a button and an action is annoying and can even cause people to close out of the app altogether.
Ease of Navigation
It should be easy to find information within your app. If it takes more than a few clicks to get to any particular section, you run the risk of user confusion and frustration. Most people who are using any school communication app know exactly what information they’re looking for and expect everything to be at their fingertips.
Familiar Look and Feel
Your brand is important. It's how people in your community recognize and identify your school and your values. It’s therefore vital that your app be built from the ground up with your brand in mind. That includes everything from your logo, to the color scheme and graphics used throughout. You want users to immediately feel like they’re engaging with your school each time they open up the application.
Internal School Marketing 101
When you think of marketing, it’s understandable that your mind might go to a sales campaign or creative advertisements. These are all aspects of marketing; however, they don’t tell the full story. Marketing is about influencing how people think and feel about your brand, and there’s nothing that says influence is just a one-time deal. Big, private-sector brands like Wal-Mart or H&M treat a product sale as if it’s the beginning of a relationship, not the end. Brands like these understand the importance of engaging with current customers just as much as potential customers.
Internal vs. External School Marketing
External marketing is about growing interactions and brand impressions with people who aren’t already a part of your school community.
Internal marketing, on the other hand, is how you keep current families and employees engaged and bought-in to your district’s mission. The key to internal school marketing is regular, consistent touchpoints that reinforce why families made the right choice to enroll in your school district in the first place. Think of it like a good friendship. The most meaningful relationships are those built over time—they take work.
The good news is that you’re probably already doing some internal marketing, whether you realize it or not. Think of the email newsletter you share with your district each month. This steady stream of positive updates, and things to look forward to in the weeks ahead, deepen the relationship between your schools and your community.
Simplify Parent-Teacher Communication
One of the most subtle but effective ways to market to your internal audiences is through simplifying parent-teacher communication. This suggestion might seem like it’s coming out of left field, but hear us out. After talking to thousands of school leaders across the country, we’ve realized teacher-parent communication is a huge pain point for school districts.
When parents, families, and teachers have to juggle multiple third-party tools, communication inevitably gets lost and the user experience becomes frustrating. So what’s the solution?
We’ve found that eliminating third-party tools and funneling all of your communication into one place makes teachers and families lives much easier. And if their lives are easier, they’re happy customers, which is a key part of internal marketing. Remember, marketing never stops. You should always be looking for ways to build loyalty with your existing customers.Rooms: The Hub Of Parent-Teacher Communication
Social Media For Schools:
The Golden Rules
Every school district has their own unique goals for social media. You may be trying to grow brand awareness or increase traffic to your website. Maybe your focus is building relationships with current and prospective families and teachers in your community. Whatever your goals may be, we’ve found that there are a few social media best practices that every school district should stick to. We call them The Golden Rules of Social Media. Let’s dig in.
You might feel like you’re saying and doing the same thing over and over again, but a vital part of social media for schools is maintaining consistency. Consistency generates more traffic to your website, builds relationships, and increases recognition and affinity for your district’s brand as a whole.
Staying consistent in social media can sound a bit ambiguous, so let's break it down. Social media consistency means:
Sticking to Your Brand Style Guide
Your logos, color palette, font choice, and photo and video editing quality should all have the same look and feel every time you create a post. When someone sees your post pop up in their news feed, they should be able to easily identify your brand by your visuals alone.
Maintain Posting Frequency
Studies show that you should be posting on all platforms at least once per day. While that number varies by platform, it’s safe to say that however many times you choose to post should be the number you stick to. That’s where consistency comes into play. If your Instagram followers are used to hearing from you five times a week—and for whatever reason, you lose momentum and dip down to two times a week—you’ll see a noticeable drop in your engagement rate and followers.
“However many times you choose to post should be the number you stick to. That’s where consistency comes into play.”
Using the Same Core Hashtags
We’ve all seen posts where a person uses 50 different hashtags in one caption. While this might initially boost the post’s reach, this approach doesn’t capture the attention of your core audience—namely families and teachers in your district and larger community.
Hashtag consistency means honing in on three to five hashtags that capture the essence of your school district. You should always have a school name hashtag. For example: #AdavilleSchoolDistrict, or an abbreviated version like #ASD. The rest of your hashtags should center around your core message or slogan. For example: #AdavilleProud or #AdavilleExcellence. When you reinforce your core hashtags, your school community will pick up on them and use them in their posts. It’s an easy way to build momentum and reach.Read Instagram for Schools
Simply put, content variety means distributing a wide range of social media content for the purpose of reaching all of your target audiences. Content is the only part of your school’s social media strategy that shouldn’t be consistent.
Take Facebook, for example. Your audience on Facebook probably consists of several different demographics, like faculty, teachers, families, and community leaders. What might appeal to families—like a post about what the cafeteria is serving for lunch this week—won’t appeal to the community leaders following your page. They may be more interested in school performance ratings and news about how your district is giving back to the city.
“Content is the only part of your school’s social media strategy that shouldn’t be consistent.”
Remember, content variety is more than what you say. It’s about the way you say and deliver it. That means changing up your method of sharing and distributing content. You should strive to share an even blend of posts, stories, live videos, polls, and more every month.
Additionally, it’s important to incorporate a variety of creative assets into your editorial calendar. That means photography, graphics, video, and even gifs should all be a part of your monthly social plan. It might be tempting to fall back on “quick” forms of content, like tweeting the scores of last night’s football game. But long-form content, like a 30-second video about a new school program, is just as vital for keeping users engaged.
After talking with several school leaders, we’ve found that a major pain point in social media marketing for schools is coming up with fresh, unique content to share. And while every school is different, we recommend posting a variety of content around these topics:
- School Life
- Culture & Values
- Academic Excellence
- Teacher & Staff Appreciation
- Community or City Life
- Real-time Content
Reputation management, as it pertains to social media, is the act of influencing the way people think and feel about your brand online. A reputation management point person is someone who represents your school brand by actively engaging with your audience online. Rep managers are the face and the voice of your social media accounts, responding to comments, likes, reviews, and direct messages on a daily basis.
Why does reputation management matter? It might seem trivial, but taking the time to respond to comments and reviews (even if they’re positive) is an easy way to build a positive perception of your school online. Your quick response brings delight and ultimately establishes trust with your audience. This is important because the people who trust you are going to be the same people who advocate for you if your brand is ever attacked online.
“Taking the time to respond to comments and reviews (even if they’re positive) is an easy way to build a positive perception of your school online.”
A social media best practice for schools is to establish a dedicated reputation management point person. This person will check all of your social accounts two to three times per day for 15 to 30 minutes and respond to people on behalf of the school. It’s important to choose a person who can write well and has a high attention to detail. They should understand the ins and outs of your school and have a clear understanding of how to best represent your school brand online.
But what do you do when someone posts something negative on social? This is a question we get asked frequently by school leaders. Responding to negative comments and messages on social media is what private sector marketers call crisis management. The name isn't as daunting as it sounds. In fact, studies show that when crisis management is handled the right way, you can turn the most vocal detractors into advocates for your schools.
There are a few best practices in handling negative social media comments that every communications person should know. We discuss them in our SchoolCEO article here:Read Crisis in the Comments
Make a School Marketing Plan
Having these essential channels of communication is a good first step in establishing a strong school marketing plan. The second step is to actually make a plan by identifying your goals for the year and using each channel cohesively to accomplish those goals.
It’s easy to see your website, social media, school app, and other marketing channels as singular units that don’t interact with each other. But the opposite is true. Each channel is like a thread on a spider’s web or a brick in the foundation of a house. Together they hold up your school marketing plan. The challenge is to make these elements work in tandem with one another, all while managing a budget, gathering content, and more. So how do you do it?
Set a Budget
As you approach your school marketing plan for the year, the first step is to establish a budget. How much do you want to spend on social media ads? What about traditional advertising like radio or billboards? Consider how much you’re willing to spend on digital channels like pay-per-click (or PPC). Once you have a budget laid out for each advertising channel, make a spreadsheet to keep track of how much you’re spending per month. If you don’t have a spreadsheet, you can download our free marketing budget template here.
Approach the Year in Quarters
Once you have a budget in place, you can begin strategizing. The best school marketing strategies are approached seasonally. There’s so much that happens in one school year and in the summer months. It can be overwhelming to think about your marketing goals in December when you’re only in the month of March. That’s why, at Apptegy, we like to approach the year in quarters and plan our goals accordingly.
Get together with your communications team and discuss what you want to accomplish from January through March (Q1). Maybe your district is in the midst of passing a bond and you want to devote the first quarter of the year towards getting the word out to your community. Think through your marketing strategy for Q1. How do you want to promote your bond on social media? Who’s gathering content? Assign a point person to set up landing pages for your campaign. You already have an annual budget for the year but how should that budget be allocated in Q1? Then discuss how to measure success.
You’ll use the same planning method for Q2 (April through June), Q3 (July through September) and Q4 (October through December). Making a school marketing plan is a lot less stressful when you approach it seasonally.Download Annual Campaign Budget for Schools
Crafting School Marketing Campaigns
Once you have a rough idea of what you want to accomplish, you can begin planning your campaign(s) for that quater. The term "school marketing campaign" gets thrown around loosely these days. It's understandable that few people actually knows what it is. We'll break it down.
What is a School Marketing Campaign?
A school marketing campaign promotes a specific goal, such as raising awareness for an upcoming school bond, generating enrollment leads, or promoting a school event. Campaigns are usually promoted through a variety of marketing channels, like email, digital advertising, social media, and print advertising.
When embarking on any marketing campaign, the first step is establishing what you want to accomplish. Clear, quantifiable goals should guide the creation of your campaign and the metrics you intend to measure to evaluate its success or failure. These goals could be wide-ranging, from increasing the number of followers on a given social media platform to boosting the number of families who express interest in enrolling.
While you should always define clear and specific goals for your school marketing campaign, most of the time they will fall under these main categories:
A campaign designed to introduce or increase knowledge of your school brand, a particular program, or even an important deadline like school registration.
A campaign that aims to increase engagement with your school brand, potentially setting the stage for later action. One example of a consideration campaign is any attempt at generating more website traffic.
A campaign centered around engagement and getting your audience to take a particular action, such as submitting a form on your website.
School Landing Pages
Once you’ve defined your goals, you need to create landing pages to support your campaign. A school landing page is a web page created specifically for a marketing campaign. Visitors are directed to your landing page after they click on an email link, ad, or social media post from your campaign. Most landing pages have elements like call-to-action buttons, social proof, and forms. These elements help website visitors “take the next step,” which could look like filling out an inquiry form or signing up for a newsletter. We discuss the foundational elements of a school landing page in our SchoolCEO article here:Read The Anatomy of a School Landing Page
Set up and Execution
The next step is setting up your campaign. You'll need to decide which marketing channels would be most effective to use. Here are a few to choose from:
- Social media
- Print advertising
- Email marketing
If you’re interested in utilizing LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram for your school marketing campaign, we’ve outlined step-by-step instructions on setting up and monitoring your campaign in this article:How to Launch a School Marketing Campaign
Once your campaign is up and running, you're going to want to know if your efforts are having the desired impact. You can monitor your peformance by tracking a few simple numbers. Common metrics for school marketing campaigns include:
number of ad views
number of ad engagements
number of ad clicks divided by the number of impressions, multipled by 100
amount of money spent on ads
Your marketing goals should determine what metrics you choose to track. If the goal is to increase brand awareness, impressions should be your driving metric. If you want your audience to engage with specific information, clicks might be the best way to measure success.
Monitoring Performance and Making Improvements
Over the course of your marketing campaign, the data you collect along the way will be invaluable in gauging whether or not your particular effort is having the desired impact. Some people think that a marketing campaign is a “set it and forget it” affair. The reality, however, is that the best school marketing campaigns are interactive processes. They aren’t one-time efforts. Little tweaks in targeting or refreshed ad copy and creatives can make a big impact.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with making changes midway through as long as you're working towards hitting the goals you set at the beginning of your campaign.
“The best school marketing campaigns are interactive processes.”Facebook Advertising For Schools
Watertown Unified School District Case Study
When Wisconsin's Watertown Unified School District (WUSD) wanted to increase their enrollment, they turned to a marketing campaign to promote their diverse academic offerings. With a set of ads running across both Facebook and Google Search, the district team regularly evaluated ad performance on a weekly basis.
WUSD was able to adjust tactics on the fly throughout the campaign. The first thing they noticed was that videos performed better on Facebook, as opposed to still images. In response, they quickly switched over all of their ads to videos in order to maximize engagement.
By promoting engaging content that highlighted what their district had to offer, Watertown was able to build not only awareness among prospective students and their families but also stronger brand affinity within their community.
Advocacy | Bonus School Marketing Tips
It might sound counterintuitive, but some of the best school marketing efforts have nothing to do with you. Word-of-mouth and personal recommendations are worth their weight in gold to a prospective teacher, parent, or family. With that in mind, cultivating district advocates is one of the most successful strategies you can pursue.
Detractors, Neutrals, and Advocates.
What’s the Difference?
You can separate your community into three broad categories: detractors, neutrals, and advocates. There are always going to be detractors—people with a particular gripe about their child’s schools or people who like to bash public schools. Maybe they had a bad personal experience with a teacher or staff member.
Most people, however, aren’t going to be unhappy. In fact, most people are going to feel neutral about your schools: not on their soapbox about anything, but also not outwardly engaged.
Then there are your advocates. These are the people who love what you do—the ones who are bought into your mission. They are the people that advocate on your behalf and sing your praises.
A study by Chip and Dan Heath, authors of The Power of Moments, examined how the typical private sector company handles these three groups. Given the choice between working hard to convert detractors into neutrals, or working just as hard to convert neutrals into advocates, most business executives said they’d want to focus on getting rid of negativity.
That’s a natural, reasonable reaction, but it’s also the wrong approach. Instead, you should focus your school marketing efforts on converting your neutrals to advocates. This strategy pays tremendous dividends. That’s because advocates are the ones that will help spread your message for you to all of their family and friends. What’s more, they’re the ones likely to defend your district when there’s negative press or even misconceptions in the community.
“You should focus your school marketing efforts on converting your neutrals to advocates.”
Advocacy marketing is all about making the most of those moments when you can turn neutrals into advocates. It doesn’t have to take place online; in fact, most of the time, it won’t. By being intentional and crafting thoughtful moments for your community, you can create buzz that always plays well on social media.
Advocacy Case Studies
A perfect example of what this looks like comes from Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C. The school found itself with increasing truancy and suspensions, until an intervention came in the form of tackling the frayed ties between the school and its parents. Teachers thought the parents were checked out and insufficiently engaged with their children’s education. Parents, for their part, thought that teachers were indifferent towards their kids. The district’s solution was simple, but profound: home visits.
Over the summer, teachers went out into the community and paid house calls to students and their families. They didn’t come prepared with paperwork to sign or graded assignments to review. Instead, the teachers just came to talk. They wanted to break down barriers between themselves and their students’ families and figure out how they could best support each young learner.
“Any time you’re able to establish meaningful, personal connections with your audience, even if just a small segment, can yield powerful outcomes for your brand.”
The result? Not just improved student outcomes (which were obviously exciting), but a shift in how people in the community thought and talked about Stanton Elementary. Parents talked among themselves and with others about how well the visits went. All of a sudden, neutrals who might have been completely disengaged from their local school shifted into advocates.
That’s how simple, singular interactions—magic moments—act as the seeds of your advocacy marketing efforts. These moments don’t have to be complicated. Any time you’re able to establish meaningful, personal connections with your audience, even if just a small segment, can yield powerful outcomes for your brand.
Take Spartanburg School District One, as another example. The South Carolina school district struck a chord when it launched their Spartanburg One Successory program. Students from all over the district were able to fill out a basic certificate thanking a teacher or staff member that made a positive impact on their academic career.
Each certificate was just a simple piece of paper and a kindhearted moment of appreciation from a student. However, taken as a whole (and with the power of social media), these small, heartfelt moments reverberated through the entire community. Proud and appreciative parents spread the word, and teachers and their families did the same. Every time the district shared a new Spartanburg One Successory certificate, more and more people bought into the district’s mission of “providing a quality, student-centered education.”
Resources For School Leaders
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School Marketing Resources
The What and Why of School Websites: A SchoolCEO Survey
The Comprehensive Guide to School Communications
Building a Powerful Careers Page