Like in any industry, branding surrounds every stakeholder’s experience. In your case (and mine as communications director at Mariemont City Schools) the experiences with your school district can dictate how your district and the people who work for your schools are perceived. With so many ways to communicate your brand in today’s market, it is crucial to make sure your school or district brand is evident in all the modern communications channels at your disposal.
Gone are the days of simply ensuring your logo is correct on just your letterhead, spirit wear, signage and district publications. Your brand lives and breathes on social media, your website, emails, mobile apps and blogs. Don’t put your head in a hole and pretend like these digital channels are not open for communication! Instead, be proactive and strategically use these channels.
Online channels – with their immediacy and pervasiveness in our lives – are really some of the best avenues for communicating your school brand.
Below are my seven tips and guidelines on how to use online channels to best communicate your district’s brand for maximum impact and minimal headaches.
1. Create school brand style guidelines.
Your building-level school communicators should have them. Your PTOs will ask you for them. Your vendors will ask you for the them. Your school brand specs should be available and readily shared with those who need current versions of your brand marks and messages. Your superintendent will expect consistency and you should too.
Your guidelines can be one page or 30 pages – whatever works best for you and your district. At a minimum, include typography, approved variations and the color palate, which should include Pantone and RGB & WEB identifiers.
2. Have clean versions of your logo available on your website.
Take a minute right now and check Twitter or Instagram. Simply type in your district name (e.g., “Mariemont” for “Mariemont City Schools”) and see how many people or groups are using your district logo – or some variation of it – in their profile. More than you might have guessed, I’m sure. And if you’re not using Twitter or Instagram yet as a communication tool for your district (shame on you!), then all of these other accounts are acting as a collective prime representation of your district and your community. Because you can’t control the content on their accounts, you can at least control how your brand looks.
Reach out to anyone using your logo and insist they use a correct, current one. The last thing you want is some distorted – or entirely bogus – version of your logo floating around out there on the www. If you need help creating a Twitter or Instagram account for your school, check out the links below from the Campus Suite Academy.
3. Use your school logo proudly and wherever you can.
If you have a standardized email signature for your district employees, incorporate your logo into the signature. Your logo should be one of the first things people see when they go to your website, access your mobile app, check out your social media platforms or receive an email from you or anyone in your district. Ask your school board members to include your logo on their business correspondence. Make sure, of course, all your sponsors use the logo liberally in their promotion (as long as they pay the piper!).
4. Update your brand.
Does your brand look stale on your website or your Facebook page? Maybe it’s time for an upgrade. Sure, this is a huge undertaking, but updating your brand could be necessary in order to genuinely reflect your district. Your district might be the highest-achieving district in the land, but your clipart logo tells a different story. Even worse, logo inconsistency – your district might not even have an official logo, therefore everyone uses whatever clipart or Google image he or she think looks right. You’ve heard the saying, “Perception is reality” right? Your logo and branding might have worked in the 20th century, but it could be falling flat in today’s inundated digital world.
5. Stay relevant and available.
And what does that mean? The best way to do that these days is by using multiple social media channels. If you’re not already, you should have your district on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. At least.
Make sure the profiles on each of the social media channels are set up consistent with your school brand. No h0dgepodge of images and words. Stay consistent with your brand, but alter your delivery a bit depending on your channel, audience, message and intent. Give yourself permission to get a little cheeky on Twitter. Use pictures and videos. Show people a fun inside glimpse of your school district.
6. Get everyone on the same page.
Your brand isn’t just about logos and typefaces, it’s also about voice and messaging. If you don’t have talking points or key messages for your district, yesterday was the time to create them. Make sure everyone is on board and then showcase variations of them (through video, pictures, stories and snapshots) throughout your various online channels. Brief your superintendent, school board, principals, and key, public-facing administrators on what those messages are, so you can be consistent in promoting your message and brand.
7. Embrace the chaos.
Will you be able to control everything everyone posts about your school district on social media? No. Will you be able to prevent your website from being unavailable from time to time? No. Will you be able to stop new social media platforms from popping up? No. The only solution? Embrace the chaos. Think and post positive thoughts. And if all else fails, air your grievances to your grandma or someone else who still (gloriously and innocently) operates in a world without social media.
The digital age is creating all kinds of great opportunities to project and manage your school brand. Make sure you’re covering all your bases and taking advantages of these channels to create and maintain solid relationships with your stakeholders. Get school accounts set up on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; get your school blogs humming; be consistent and innovative with your marks and messages; and start slow. But start!
Josephine McKenrick is the director of communications for Mariemont City Schools, a four-school district in Southwest Ohio. She's a firm believer in and practitioner of digital communications for her district, and is a board member for the Ohio School Public Relations Association and a member of the National School Public Relations Association. You can reach her at JMcKenrick@mariemontschools.org.