How Independent Schools Can Embrace Online and Offline Worlds

Kelley Jarrett 10.30.09

In the past year, I’ve come to a realization. The independent school arena has changed. Yes, you will say (and you would be right) it is constantly changing and has been for years!  But I’m talking major mind shifts here, stay with me…

No longer is the world of independent schools separated into segments of online/offline communication. Finally, schools are beginning the journey of creating one voice, one line of communication, one central source of information…and therefore establishing one true view of each individual you serve – from prospective students, students, parents, faculty, alumni, board members and beyond.

Way to go!! Right? Well, not totally.


With that said, schools are still at all different levels of embracing this change, even though we all know where we should be headed. Below, I’ve outlined some concrete steps you can take or at least consider to help you get your efforts on track towards this common goal of a centralized voice.

In other words, here are 10 ways you can make this newly-embraced philosophy “change you can believe in…” (That’s overused now, isn’t it?)


1. Segment your audience.

You do it in the offline world – setup events for prospective families, target parents for donations, encourage alumni to attend events and volunteer. Be sure to use what you know and have carefully gathered about your constituents to segment and personalize your online message as well. You know the obvious segments (students, parents, teachers, alumni, etc), but you should also consider segmenting based on interests, participation level, event involvement, etc. to further engage with your constituents.


2. Launch marketing efforts.

Generate excitement about your online community via multiple marketing channels including traditional methods such as email and direct mail as well as new mediums such as Facebook®, Twitter® and other social networking avenues. Know how your audience responds to each medium so that you can begin to segment (see #1) based on what’s successful with each group.


3. Educate your audience.

Don’t assume your constituents know what an online community is, how use an interactive website or where to find it. Once an interactive site is established, be sure to print your web address on all external mailings with instructions on how to access useable tools on the site.   Follow up with targeted emails outlining the benefits of joining the community (student portal, alumni virtual community, board members only document/downloads).


4. Utilize targeted content.

This is the best way to speak directly to each unique constituent. In an in-person meeting, you’d certainly discuss topics with personal relevance, right? Online is no different. Not only will personalizing their online experience help them feel more connected to your school, it’s also proven to increase involvement.


5. Analyze your web traffic.

Knowing where your audience is spending time on your site allows you to message to them effectively. It also helps you make strategic decisions about how to communicate more efficiently and effectively with different constituent groups that you serve (i.e. include headmaster blog or urgent school news on the top 5 pages visited by viewers).


6. Solicit feedback.

Don’t assume you know what your constituents want. Use polls, surveys, and preferences to really understand how to interact with all of your school community. Combine these with what you already know and have learned about them in your offline efforts to develop personas, create like-minded groups and get more bang for your communication buck.


7. Encourage participation.

You want your constituents to participate in every way – events, volunteer, mentorships, recruitment, etc. Online is an unlimited way to allow for virtual communities to form! Give users the ability to share their own stories, comments and needs that other community members can respond to. This could include anything from class notes, message boards, blogs, photos, etc which encourages others to participate and visit the site more frequently. 


8. Promote stewardship.

Share successes, ideas and thoughts to help communicate what you’re doing to further your mission. Doing this in a targeted, efficient way both online and off will create the sense of ownership with your constituents, and will help them understand all the wonderful and helpful things you’re doing for them and their school daily.


9. Stimulate the senses.

When in-person is simply not an option, consider using multimedia to enhance your site and make it visually appealing – videos, photos, podcasts, etc are a great way to share your school’s culture and make an online connection feel as close to in-person contact as possible.


10. Keep content fresh.

A stale site results in fewer return visitors.  Keep it simple and up to date with new content daily to encourage repeat visits and increased participation. 


Creating an online/offline communication strategy is just part of the picture. Making that strategy a reality takes planning, effort and short term and long term goals. Hopefully, the tips above will provide a few items of consideration to allow your school to taking concrete steps toward this growing goal.


Do you have an online/offline experience you want to share or a comment about this post? Please share below!


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