Posted - August 2014

MAximizing online engagement with your global school community

by Jon Moser, CEO and Founder of Finalsite and CIS Affiliated Consultant

As the school year begins for many schools, communicating with your global community in an effective and timely manner is critical. Whether you work in admission, marketing and communications, alumni relations, or advancement, your job requires that you engage your community by providing stories, visual content, and easy access to important information.

I know that is easier said than done, but in working with thousands of schools across the globe, I have seen some great examples for engaging communities online, on campus, and on-the-go. Your ultimate is goal is to ensure a happier and more connected community, so I recommend every school consider these key points.

Get Social

Social media keeps on growing. How many “likes,” fans, and followers do you have? Are you happy with these numbers as representative of your school community? Here are a few suggestions for raising your social media status:

  1. Post engaging content by sharing noteworthy material you know your community will love, such as news articles, photos and videos. If you are short on original content, you can always share other articles such as a blog on settling in for newcomers or articles on the needs of expatriate children. Here’s an example: International School Prague
  2. Your community expects that you will engage with them by replying. If someone asks a question on social media, be sure to reply in a timely fashion, and repost the content if you think others will enjoy it.
  3. Search social media for your school’s name. You may be surprised what you find — good and bad. It’s a great way to find out what your online community is saying about your school. You may find interesting content to share or issues you can respond to.

Instagram and Twitter are gaining popularity and, in some places, are more popular among teens. If you have been focusing on Facebook and are not seeing much of a response, it may be time to re-think your social media strategy. And don’t forget to check out newcomers to the social media scene—Snapchat and Pinterest among them.

Be Mobile-Friendly

International schools are full of highly mobile people who are travelling for work and traveling through a city to get to school. Your community is constantly accessing your site from their mobile devices and they expect full site functionality. The solution is a responsive website design that adapts to any screen size so that visitors can receive the same user experience on a smartphone and tablet, as they would a desktop. If you’re not ready to go responsive, you can also use a mobile app to provide users with immediate access to important information such as upcoming events, directories, and directions to sporting events away from your own school. Check out the International School Basel’s responsive website as an example.

Keep Content Current

In order to keep your community engaged, you need to constantly update your website and social media. If users are logging in to see the same news story from three months ago, they will stop visiting your site—you need to give them something to look forward to. Other ideas include a director’s blog, photo of the week, parent portal, and invitations to upcoming events. Once they know you you’re always updating your content, they’ll start looking for it. Some good examples include:

Shanghai American School’s Photo of the Week

TASIS’ parent portal consolidates key information

News and events at the American International School Johannesburg

Singapore American School’s Mashup page

Send Email Messages

Despite what you may have heard, e-mail communication is not dead. Studies show that people check their email more than once a day and it is one of the most direct ways to reach your community. You can send monthly newsletters, event invitations, and information about your school’s annual fund, share photos from events, and more. It’s a great way to compile your best content and send it directly.
Newsletters are by far the most popular way to share the latest happenings at your school. To maximize your open rates and readability, you should:

  • Segment your lists so content is relevant
  • Make your content is easy to scan so people can quickly find pertinent information
  • Increase the frequency of newsletters so that they are timely and quick to read
  • Make the most of your subject line so that your email gets opened

Check out the American School of Paris’ newsletter.

Ask for Feedback, Give Prizes and Run Contests

Your community’s voice is your number one tool for a more successful online community. Whether it’s a simple post on Twitter or Facebook that asks “Which event are you most looking forward to?” or participation in a global activism campaign like that of the Escola Americana de Campinas, these activities are a fun way to boost engagement. Social media is a great hub for contests like “Who can snap the best photo at the picnic?” because it increases widespread visibility. Mash-up pages, such as the one created by the British School in the Netherlands, are a great place for these types of activities.

Surveys continue to provide valuable information in building a more engaged community. For more time-consuming surveys that are important to you, incentivize participants with gift cards and prizes to boost response rates.

So, as you begin the year, check out your site analytics, set some goals and hopefully during the school year you will see improvements.

About the Author:

Jon Moser is a Member of the CIS Affiliated Consultant Network. As founder, CEO, and current Board Member of Finalsite, Jon is passionate about web trends and strategies that impact education. For more than twelve years, Jon and Finalsite have been committed to providing cutting-edge web technology for clients. He is a frequent advisor, keynoter, blogger and presenter on all things web related.

With schools and educational organizations across more than 60 countries, Finalsite's online learning and communications platform facilitates the distribution of digital content across school communities and in classrooms from both desktops and mobile devices. Finalsite's software enables customers to engage dynamically with a wide range of third party data providers including student information systems, learning systems and social media applications.

CIS Note: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of CIS.


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