Do you really need a school blog? Someone has to decide how it will be used, what the topics will be, and, most importantly, somebody has to write the darn thing. Creating a school blog takes time, after all, and you and your staff are already stretched thin. And even if you did have the time, would anyone read it?
You might be surprised. There may be a principal, superintendent, teacher or staffer who could create a blog your school community would love to read, and I'll guarantee you there are many in your school community who would love to read it.
Why does our school need a blog?
Your parents and students come to your website for a very specific reason, right? They want information about classes, policies, and school events. They don’t want to spend time reading your blog. Maybe you’ve even tried to keep your blog up-to-date in the past. Did you quit after seeing post after post fly by with no comments, no social sharing, and maybe even no visits? What’s the point? Much like the proverbial tree that falls, does a blog even matter if no one bothers to read it? It’s time to discard with that type of thinking.
The answer is "yes," your school does need a blog. The simple fact is that a blog has so many benefits that it’s just too important to ignore. If you don’t have a blog, you’re missing out on a highly-effective way to attract new students, engage with your existing students and parents, and communicate with your entire school community. An actively and regularly updated blog can help businesses find their ideal customers. Numerous organizations use their blogs to attract visitors, convert them into prospects, and drive business. But, blogs aren’t just for businesses. You should be using a blog to connect to your school community.
Plenty of schools use blogs to attract new students and engage with their community. In fact, you need look no further than the blogs of some of the leading online-only schools and colleges to see how effective a blog can be as a recruiting tool. With no physical campus to host visiting students, these online-only schools rely exclusively on their websites to attract new students. Bricks-and-mortar schools – public and private – can take a cue from these online schools using online tools to enhance communications.
How to boost communications with your school blog
Why are blogs so effective for some schools, but not for yours? What’s the difference? It’s likely in the way you plan your blog. A blog is just like any other communications tool at your disposal. It needs to be based on a very specific and targeted plan. Far too many schools take a scattershot approach to blogging. They come with ad hoc topic ideas and publish them at random times. There’s no standardization, no best practices, no organization.
They are a few critical components that every successful blog needs: a complete understanding of your audience; a process for writing the articles and (don't forget) taking pictures; and, most important, a reason for writing the blog. Blogs should be part of your school's website. Many school website hosting content management systems, like Campus Suite, make it easy to integrate your blog into your website.
An effective blog is targeted to a specific audience. The content is written specifically to meet that audience’s needs and interests. Post topics are planned well in advance and are published at regular times. The blog posts use strategically placed keywords to grab the attention of search engines. A disciplined social media plan promotes new blog posts across a variety of platforms, encouraging sharing and engagement. With this kind of process in place, your blog can act as a funnel, driving visitors to your site, transitioning them onto your prospect list, and then giving you the opportunity to recruit them as students.
1. Define your audience(s).
You should design three or four personas to describe and define your ideal visitor. For example, your personas would be existing parents, prospective students, even a possible faculty new-hire. The personas should establish the persona’s interests and concerns so that you can write with those in mind.
2. Have a distinct voice
Blogs give you the freedom to express yourself. Remember, you're not writing memos or school board minutes. Inject some of your personality when writing a blog article. Steve Matthews, superintendent at Novi Community School District does just that in his blog, The Superintendent's Chair. Take a look. He has a heartfelt writing style that connects with the reader. Jessica Johnson, a principal in the Dodgeland School District, has 769 subscribers (at last count) to her blog, Jessica Johnson @PrincipalJ, and countless other readers, I'm sure, for her articles are informative, timely, and, yes, sometimes personal, which is okay.
3. Design a content creation process.
Who is writing the posts? How often will they be published? What topics will they write about. Best practice is to have at least three months of topics planned in advance so that you have plenty of time to research, plan, and create the content. Education blogger Michael Rosen has written about how important it is to write with purpose. That’s easier to do when you have a plan.
4. Have a goal for each blog article.
A well-placed and noticeable “call-to-action” in the blog helps you keep focus on why you're writing the article. A call-to-action is an invitation to take a next step. You may ask them to download a report, signup for your email list, or visit one of your school’s open houses. You may be trying to convert visitors into actual prospective students, or get parents to engage somehow with a facet of the school. Whatever your goal, have one in mind with each post. Without a call-to-action, your blog post is just content for content’s sake. With a call-to-action, your blog becomes a real communications tool.
Start planning your school blog
Ok, by now you know you need a blog to help boost communications in your school or district. Start with a plan. You probably have plans for every process in your school. Your blog shouldn’t be any different.
Part of your plan should be to see what other schools are doing. Kimberly Moran, whose book Hacking Parenthood is due out soon, has compiled a list of some good school blogs in her article: Awesome Principal Blogs to Start Reading Today. These may inspire you to begin work on putting a blog in place in your district or school.
Melissa is a copywriter, editor, reader, thinker, and motivator who works for Stephens Direct, a marketing agency in Dayton, Ohio. She worked for 12 years in school public relations and digital communications and is a former product manager and project manager with Campus Suite. Reach her via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.