Articles & Resources About Marketing & Messaging

Marketing and MessagingIf you do an internet search on “marketing” or “messaging” you usually end up with a bunch of results that don’t really apply to your organization’s needs.

The tips and information below apply the basic principles of strategic marketing and effective messaging to the unique needs of your education or non-profit organization so that you can begin using these tips today!

Thank you, Teachers!

Nearly 20 years ago, I married a teacher. My husband and I began dating when he was in his first teaching assignment as a high school biology teacher, with an emergency credential, while he completed the last couple months of his credential program.  After we got married, we moved to a city with a lower cost of living so that we could afford to buy a home and plant our roots.  He’s in his 20th year as  a biology teacher at his current school, where he is also the science department chair, and coaches girls and boys golf.  And, as shown in the picture, he also takes his students on weekend field trips to learn about water management (Photo credit: Bureau of Land Management).  He has relentless energy and is so incredibly dedicated.

Seeing his sense of purpose and passion for what he does is one of the reasons why I wanted to work in school PR.  I know there are so many other teachers like him, inspiring students’ minds and enjoyment of learning each day, and those stories needed to be told 16 years ago when I first started working in school PR, and  we need to keep sharing those stories, especially in light of the increasingly negative and political environment about teachers and public education.

My husband has worn several hats over the years, in addition to coach and teacher–he’s also served as the interim athletic director and interim vice principal.  He earned his Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Administrative Credential because he thought about going into administration.  The reason he didn’t?  He would miss his positive touchpoints with students, and teaching in the classroom.

When we share stories about what’s happening at schools, we also need to share the stories of people who continue to make the choice to be teachers.  In this age of the “Great Resignation” there are still people who choose this profession because they feel a sense of purpose and truly love what they do. I am thankful for each of those people for teaching my three children in elementary and high school.

And, I’m grateful to my husband who chose a career that positively impacts students’ lives, year after year.

Thank you, teachers.

Consolidating/Closing Schools & Communication: 8 Things To Remember

It’s no secret that California is experiencing rapidly declining enrollment. Look no further than Dan Walter’s recent article in CalMatters, “Declining Enrollment Clobbers California Schools” and John Fensterwald and Daniel J. Willis wrote about this in their EdSource article, “California K-12 Enrollment Plunges Again, Falls Below 6 Million.”  Districts in high cost of living areas were already feeling the declines at least three years ago, and now are dealing with steeper declines due to the exodus of families to less expensive areas, thanks to the increase in remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While I’m working with districts on marketing activities to help boost enrollment, and I am also working with districts on school closure/consolidation community engagement and communication strategies. This process is definitely picking up speed again as districts forecast their budgets and future enrollment.

What does this mean for school communication?  

When facing a school closure/consolidation process, it’s important to put on your empathy hat first, when developing community engagement and communication strategies. School closures/consolidations impact the school community in different ways, and understanding how your staff, families, students and community think and feel about school closures/consolidations will greatly impact your messaging and messaging approaches.

While not an exhaustive list, I’m providing eight of the key considerations that leaders and communicators should focus on when building their school closure/consolidation community engagement processes and communication strategies:

  • School closures/consolidations are emotional processes.Schools are the central community hub, places where possibly generations of families have attended. There are memories, and relationships attached to schools. People make home purchase decisions based on the schools in the community, and the proximity of the school to their homes.

    Tip: Plan meaningful closure and welcome ceremonies so that students can say goodbye to their old school, and be welcomed to their new school.

     

  • School closure/consolidation processes raise more questions than answers. People want to know when decisions will be made, what process will be used, what factors will be taken into consideration, the timeline of the process, when people can provide input and where they can find more information.

    Tip: Create a frequently asked questions page for families, students, and community members, as well as one for staff members.

  • School closures/consolidations are disruptive. 

    When a school is closed, students and staff are reassigned to a different school–or multiple schools. Parents worry if friendship and support groups will be split up, they fret about the teachers they now don’t know at the school where their child will be reassigned, and that they will lose relationships with front office staff, the school nurse, the principal and librarian.Tip: Provide an opportunity to families to network with the families and staff at their reassigned school so that they can create a sense of familiarity and community.

     

  • School closures/consolidations impact routines. 

    Where it used to take a family five minutes to drive or walk to their school, now their child is being reassigned to a school 10 minutes away. Maybe a family was relying on grandparents that do not drive to walk their child to and from school, and are losing that option. Perhaps families had carpools, and those are now being split up. School closures impact the carefully crafted routines that were developed by busy working and at home parents, and create more angst in the process.Tip: Develop transportation options for families, such as busing, to alleviate the strain of this impact.

     

  • Community engagement must be a part of the school closure/consolidation process. 

    A school closure process cannot be rushed, and community engagement cannot be glossed over. Effective community engagement can take anywhere from 3-6 months, and should include an advisory committee comprised of parent, staff, community and student representatives, community information meetings, surveys and ongoing communication. Rushing through this process or skipping steps will result in a lack of trust in the process and the district as a whole.Tip: Use this as an opportunity to educate your community about the statewide decline in enrollment, share data about your district’s enrollment projections and that of neighboring districts, and answer questions with empathy.  Ensure that community engagement opportunities are conveniently-timed and located (consider a hybrid online and in person format) and provide child care, if needed. And don’t forget to have translators available, if needed.

     

  • Ongoing, clear and consistent communication must be a part of the school closure/consolidation process.Providing your community and the media ongoing and consistent information about the process, timeline, access to data, and information also ensures that you are being transparent, which keeps your district’s trust barometer high.  Make sure to include your local elected officials in your communication loop as well.

    Keep your information clear and consistent–don’t muddle the communications or community engagement opportunities with other information about district initiatives.  Keep the focus on the topic of school closures.

    Provide updates immediately following the meetings, preferably from the superintendent. The superintendent should be the face and voice of this process, and stand behind the process.

    Tips: Create a website dedicated to the school closure process, including timelines, FAQs, presentations and data. Also include a dedicated email address where people can send questions and receive responses.

     

  • Be forthright and clear about the intended outcome of the process.If the intended outcome is that a school will be closed, state that clearly at the beginning of the process.  I have seen where communication has been wishy-washy on this, which kept the door open to not closing schools, and has delayed the school closure process by years.  This results in further financial distress on the district and fewer resources available to students.

    If your district is looking for ways to keep a school open while opening a magnet or some other program that will cohabitate on the same campus, be clear about that as the intended outcome.  Whatever the outcome you are seeking, be clear and consistent from the beginning of the process through the end of the process.

    Tip: It’s not more clear than this: “We will be closing X schools at the end of this process. We know that this is not an easy process for our staff and families, and we will work together to make ease this transition.”

  • Provide options. 

    School closures/consolidations, on their own, are fraught with the fact that families don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. However, you can provide them options on: transportation, to which school their child will be reassigned, what will help ease the transition.Tip: Ask families, “How can we make this transition easier for you?”

While the final decision to close schools will be one of the most difficult ones that your school board will ever have to make, the process can ensure that your community is informed about the process, has opportunities to engage, and that they understand why the decision needs to be made.

Need help?
If your district is facing a school closure/consolidation process and needs assistance with community engagement and its communication, please feel free to contact me so we can discuss opportunities to partner for a successful process.

What’s going on at Sounding Board?

Someone recently asked me, “So, what projects are you working on for your clients?” I wanted to respond, “What am I not working on for my clients?”  It’s been a busy season, for sure!

I am incredibly grateful that my school district clients are in a position where they can plan ahead and grow their programs–having been in the COVID-19 journey alongside them, two years ago, we were sending out messages about schools being shut down, and then the quick transition into remote learning.  One year ago, we were finalizing school reopening plans (remember those?!) and sending out messages to transition students back into in-person learning. School and programmatic marketing campaigns were essentially on hold for two years….and now, like a machine kicking into gear, we’re ramping up enrollment campaigns for schools, universal TK, and more. And other districts are recommencing processes they put on hold in March 2020.  Here’s a snapshot of what I’ve been working on over the past couple of months:

Marketing and Promotional Campaigns

I feel kind of like Oprah…YOU get a marketing campaign…and YOU get a marketing campaign..and YOU get a marketing campaign…because every client is involved in at least one marketing campaign, and some have multiple campaigns happening:

  • Dual Language Immersion Program marketing campaign: This campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media, and video), print (rack card and flyer) and outreach (parent information meetings) to promote the district’s Dual Language Immersion Program.  The video (produced by an in-house videographer) is currently being finalized, and click on the links to see the other marketing components.
  • Preschool marketing campaign: This campaign also involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media, and video), print (rack card and flyer) and outreach to promote the district’s state preschool program.  The campaign will also include a video (produced by an in-house videographer) and short video testimonials that can be shared on social media.
  • Districtwide marketing campaign: This campaign involves bringing the district to the community, as a way to re-introduce the district to the community after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. This campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, social media), print (school rack cards), lawn signs for every family in the district, outreach events, and sharing student and staff recognition with the community. This is key because many of the staff members live in the community and highlighting students and staff is a great way to show off the district’s best assets–its people–to the community.
  • COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics: One of my clients was selected by the California Department of Public Health to host vaccination clinics at each of its schools, from December 2021-April 2022.  This vaccination clinic campaign involves a combination of digital (email, web, and social media), print (flyers) and outreach (parent meetings) to promote the clinics and educate families about the safety of the vaccine.  At the December clinic, I took pictures and collected testimonials from parents who had their children vaccinated, and then used these throughout the course of the social media campaign (see picture on the right).
  • Continuation high school marketing:  We worked with a videographer to complete a short-term marketing video (students were still wearing masks, so we used a combination of photography and video student testimonials), and I’m currently finalizing a promotional rack card that they can distribute to prospective students and in the community.
  • Districtwide school digital downloads: I’ve written and designed 21 digital downloads that describe key pieces of information about each elementary, middle and high school in my client’s school district.  The downloads describe each school, highlight what each school is known for, parent engagement opportunities, CTE programs and electives, and school activities.  These are intended for new and prospective families (this client is near a military base, so transition is common in this district), as well as realtors.

Issues Management and Community Engagement

I know it seems like we’ve been dealing with issues management for the past two years, but there are some issues that my clients put on hold that they are now revisiting:

  • School consolidation: With the state of California experiencing declines in student enrollment, there are some areas of the state–where costs for housing and the overall cost of living are higher– that are experiencing these declines more steeply, both before the pandemic, and even more increasingly since, due to the increase in companies allowing employees to work remotely.

    Prior to the pandemic, I worked with one client on the school consolidation issues management, communication strategy and community engagement, and now I am working with the same client on this process again.  This is a challenging situation, pre-pandemic, and after families have dealt with shifting to remote learning then returning to in- person learning, emotions are higher when facing another situation where children and families need to encounter yet another transition. As a result a parent protest occurred, and media relations went into full gear.Keeping clear and transparent communication, compassion and empathy at the forefront is critical.

  • Improving equity and diversity in a gifted and talented school: I am working with another client on facilitating the community engagement process around improving the equity and diversity of an existing gifted and talented education school.  This is a hot-button issue in areas like New York City and Oakland, where processes did not incorporate a solid community engagement approach.  There are a number of underlying considerations with schools that are meeting the needs of accelerated and gifted learners, and approaches to problem-solving cannot be done with blinders on.

Social Media Management

Social media management, when done consistently, is an excellent way to showcase what’s happening in a district.  With so many media stories and dialogues about controversial issues (whether real or imagined) in public education, a district’s social media posts can show their audiences what’s really happening in public education each day.

I’m currently managing two clients’ social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter.  For each client, I create consistently branded visuals, a voice that is unique to their district, and utilize a strategy that incorporated at least daily posts, and, on average, three posts per day.  One thing I keep finding is that when you highlight a district’s best assets–its people and students–its social media audience responds with support, encouragement and enthusiasm.  Building that positive affinity helps when less-than-positive matters (trustee by district, anything COVID-restriction related) need to be posted, as well.

 

So, what are your priorities, and what are you working on? Drop us a note in the comments below, or contact us if you need any assistance!

 

 

Communicate, You Will

Picture of Yoda with Communicate You WillI was paid one of the highest compliments at last week’s California School Public Relations Association (CalSPRA) conference: “You’re like the Yoda of school PR.”

Wow. As a Star Wars fan, I felt like I’ve reached a career pinnacle when hearing that.

But, like Yoda, I really needed to go within to process this. Because, what does being a Yoda of school PR mean? Here are some of Yoda’s greatest qualities: intelligence, wisdom, and skills. He also has the ability to absorb and deflect Force lightning, devoted to the light side of the force.

I realized that I was surrounded by about 300 Yodas of school PR at this conference. Working with a school PR pro means that you’re working with someone who has the intelligence, wisdom and skills directly related to school PR. Need someone to communicate the LCAP in understandable ways to your community? A school PR pro can do that. Need someone who understands the intricate and delicate relationships between labor and admin, and how to communicate without stepping on a landmine? A school PR pro can do that. Need someone who can write a statement or press release in less than 10 minutes, ID people to interview, and navigate relationships with the media? A PR pro can do that (and even deliver a whole story package to the media).

From bringing order to chaos, to calmly communicating about just about any topic, school PR pros have the intelligence, wisdom and skills to ensure that schools, school districts and county offices of education keep the relationships with their publics at the forefront of everything they do. And let’s just say that the past two years have been a constant state of absorbing and deflecting lightning and being a force of good. School PR pros aren’t just great story tellers–they identify which story to tell, how to tell it, who needs to hear or see it, and when.

There are approximately 600 Yodas of school PR who are members of CalSPRA–and many others across the country. And if your district or COE hasn’t already hired one–either as an employee or a contractor, your communications isn’t operating as well as it should (and you probably already know that). We can help you use the force of communication for good.

Celebrating 11 Years, With Gratitude

Today is Women Entrepreneurship Day, and it was 11 years ago that–with a prayer and my fingers crossed–I launched Sounding Board Marketing & Communications. I wanted to join my love for education public relations and communications with filling the need for proactive communications in our schools and school districts. I had a vision for where I wanted my business to go, and I can honestly say I’m fulfilling that vision, and more, everyday. As we head into the Thanksgiving season, I would like to share why I’m grateful to be a woman entrepreneur in the education PR and communication space for the past 11 years:
 
  • I’m grateful for my amazing clients–each one of them feels like family, and I am honored to be brought into the fold of their celebrations and challenges.
  • I’m grateful for what my business has taught me–probably the most important thing has been authenticity: authenticity to myself, my clients and my work.
  • I’m grateful to learn that my greatest challenges as a business owner and mother of three are also my greatest assets.
  • I am grateful that I can advance my clients’ goals through communication, marketing, and public relations: whether it’s advancing equity in education, supporting a non-discriminatory environment, cultivating safer and healthier schools for students and staff, facilitating issues and crisis management, improving community engagement, promoting community and business partnerships, and beyond, I will continue to advance what is right, true and just in public education for my clients.
  • I’m also grateful for my role as a cheerleader for the often-lonely-feeling role of our district administrators, especially, superintendents. Lifting up and coaching leaders is core to my work.
 
Thank you to each of you who have either brought me into the fold of your district’s or COE’s family, have referred me to others, or who I’ve partnered with on projects. May each of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your friends and family.
 

How to Share the Good in the Midst of the Storm 

Keeping the focus on the human side of your organization

This past school year has meant many challenges and changes. Knowing what communication is appropriate to share with your district during times of struggle or hardship can be a challenge to navigate. What messages are appropriate and timely? What are the best platforms and methods to share them? However, having the right message at the right time can make an enormous impact in the lives of individuals. How can your district work to share the good in the midst of the storm? 

There are specific kinds of content that can be a focus to create positive messages. Ultimately it is essential to keep a focus on the human side of your organization. What are the stories and individuals that make up your district? These stories are worth telling as a source of encouragement and inspiration. When the focus is put on the human side of your district to balance out the news and information stories, connection can take place in a meaningful way. 

Here are 6 tips for sharing good in the midst of the storm:

  • Focus on empathy, not information. How can your stories highlight those who are showing and expressing their empathy for others? Look internally within your organization and externally in your district to discover the positives to showcase. Through using a lens of empathy, you can find stories that show how your people are helping others in their struggles. An excellent example of this is from one of our clients, the Evergreen School District. They have a custodian who missed seeing students on campus because of distance learning.  He created and painted wooden cut outs of students playing, and placed the cut outs around the campus. These brought him cheer, and the many people who would walk over to the campus each day.  We helped them share this story on their social media and their local media, and here’s one example of the coverage they received on their local television news station.   Find messages to share that go beyond factual information. Look for stories of individuals that can create connections.
  • Try to see the larger picture while addressing the concerns of the present. It is essential to not lose sight of today’s concerns. However, your content seeks to give a larger perspective outside of the present. Address the challenges of today but do not stay stuck there. Find ways to showcase the qualities and takeaways that will be here to stay. How have teachers, students, employees overcome this current situation? How will they apply those same skills moving forward?  An excellent example of this can be found with another one of our clients, the Oroville Union High School District.  Once a week, they showcase a staff member or teacher who is providing excellent services or instruction on their social media and website, and also include these stories in their bimonthly newsletter.  This allows your audience to see that despite the challenges of the present circumstances, the people in your organization are still striving to provide an excellent education and educational experience for your students.
  • Looking outward to find ways to serve rather than feeling stuck looking inward. Encourage safe, but impactful community service and support in your district as a way to help share helpful ideas and prompt positive actions. Are there safe community service opportunities students can participate in, or opportunities that they’re harnessing to serve the community? Consider fun challenges, activities, or virtual events that individuals in your district can try that will not only serve others around them but help to prompt positive and productive experience.
  • Celebrate the little things. Look for national days, fun events, and memorable traditions to showcase on your district’s social media. There are many holidays and events that can be found online that can help bring joy and prompt light-hearted reflections throughout the month. This is a great way to create content if you are feeling stuck on the best positive stories to showcase. Finding holidays that celebrate students, employees, athletes, and others can be a positive way to celebrate individuals in your district.
  • Find ways to showcase students and alumni. Find stories from both the past and present of cute, fun, or encouraging stories of your district’s alumni. Does your district have a Hall of Fame? Use this as a starting point to share the lives and stories of those individuals on social media. This can be a positive way to showcase your district’s history while encouraging individuals in your district.
  • Utilize multiple kinds of media. Video, pictures, gifs, are all different kinds of media. This is a good way to create engaging content in multiple ways. Choosing the format and method to share a message is so important in creating messages that provide connection. Do you have images of notable alumni put together a video slide show? Do you want to have pictures of current student-athletes? Find stickers or interesting graphics to make your posts interesting and eye-catching.

Creating ways to share fun but meaningful messages that leave a positive impact is one approach to share the good in the midst of a storm. Finding ways to engage, entertain, inform, and inspire your district during times of struggle makes a large impact in your district.

Do you want help in finding positive messages to share in the midst of the storm? A Sounding board can help! Discover content planning and social media promotions that fit your district’s needs through Sounding Board’s services.

How to Respond When Your School Board Members Act Like District Spokespeople

Do your school board members keep grabbing the district's microphone? We have solutions for that.

Over the past year, there has been a need for quick and accurate information. In a season of uncertainty, many have turned to leaders such as school board members and other important figures in districts to get answers. However, how do you respond when your board members overstep their boundaries and break the unity of one clear voice. Have they posted on social media before the district has had the chance to communicate its message? Are board members answering questions in a way that does not reflect the views of the district? All of these situations can contribute to confusion and disunity in districts. However, these issues often do not arise without a cause. Pinpointing and issues and finding solutions are essential to moving forward.

Brown Act and Social Media

Effective January 1, 2021, in California, new changes were implemented to the Brown Act in regards to board members using and engaging on social media. The changes do authorize individual Board/Council Members to engage in conversations with the public on an “internet-based social media platform to answer questions, provide information to the public, or to solicit information from the public regarding a matter that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.”  Board/Council Members, however, are not authorized to use social media to discuss among themselves business within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body.  Additionally, Board/Council Members are prohibited from responding directly to any post and/or comment that is made, posted, or shared by any other Board/Council Member of the same legislative body.” Additional legal information regarding these Brown Act changes are explained in this post by the legal firm Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo.

Between the changes to the Brown Act and the need for one voice among board members, uniform and intentional communication is essential. 

Governing Guidelines

Governing guidelines and policies help to define board member collaboration and communication. 

Ensure that your Board and Administrative policies on community relations are updated regularly–including reflecting the recent Brown Act changes regarding social media communications–and that your board members are familiar with board policies about community relations.  In most California school districts, this policy usually begins with a clear statement such as this one:

The Governing Board recognizes the district’s responsibility to keep the public informed regarding the goals, programs, achievements, and needs of the schools and district and to be responsive to the concerns and interests of the community. The Superintendent or designee shall establish strategies for effective two-way communications between the district and the public and shall consult with the Board regarding the role of Board members as advocates for the district’s students, programs, and policies.


The California School Boards Association provides
policy services to member California school districts, including sample community relations policies.  Other state school board associations may also provide these types of policy services.  Sounding Board can also provide assistance in creating comprehensive community relations policies.

The California School Boards Association also summarizes the role of the school board is “…to ensure that school districts are responsive to the values, beliefs, and priorities of their communities.” Ultimately, to best serve the district, communication must be uniform. The CSBA Professional Governance Standards for School Boards states “To operate effectively, the board must have a unity of purpose…” 

These guidelines and policies help in clarifying the role and responsibility of school board members in community relations from a governing standpoint.  However, that isn’t always convincing to board members who want to use communication to show accountability to their supporters.

There are also practical ways to help support board members in fulfilling their duties and provide guidelines to ensure their voice does not overstep their position to help encourage one voice.

Balancing Free Expression with Coordination

It is important to guide communications without restricting personal expression. Often if board members feel the need to share information or speak their mind, there is a motivating reason. Perhaps some changes need to happen within your district, or there are unaddressed issues below the surface. Either way pinpointing the source of the problem is crucial.

Let’s explore how to respond when your school board members act like district spokespeople:

  • Provide talking points: Encourage continuity and consistency through district communication and among board members. Talking points are a great tool. Having clear points will help to make the district’s position clear and help provide organization when board members share information and seek to answer questions. This also allows board members to express concern or offer changes to the notes before communication is shared. 
  • Reinforce the importance of one clear voice to avoid confusion: If there are challenges with Board Members overstepping their role and communicating their own perspective that is resulting in public confusion about the school district’s activities or decisions made, it is important to underscore the importance of speaking in one voice. If key figures share different and even conflicting information it can confuse parents, teachers, and give an image of the district that is disorganized. Facts need to be consistent even if peoples’ opinions on the decisions or outcomes differ.
  • Be transparent and listen: Often board members do not voice their own opinion or share information without motivation or a reason. Finding ways to be more open to board members can help get at the heart of the issue. There are multiple approaches to helping your district be more transparent and open to hearing different voices. Some simple approaches include:
    • A weekly communication to the board: Send the board a summary of district activities, issues being handled and any upcoming events that may interest the board.
    • Hold regular meetings with individual board members: Provide them a forum to raise their own questions, voice their concerns and receive information about matters that are of concern to them individually. 
    • Equip the board members with their own set of resources as a base to confirm the facts about matters that concern the board.
  • Separate personal opinion from official district positions, communications: If a board member feels the need to their express personal opinion, then they need to ensure there is a clear distinction between their own personal opinion and not the position of the board as a whole, or an official district position. If board members want to be transparent and show their opinion, it is important that this is made clear.  However, perhaps this is pointing to a larger issue that should be addressed. Does the school district need to respond more quickly, and be more transparent? Maybe the school board member is filling in the gaps that the district needs to fill. People normally have a reason for reaching and responding the way they do. 
  • Identify a solution: Lastly, once there are strategies to help improve communication, also look inward and evaluate your district communications performance. After connecting with board member, they may express concern or frustration over how your district has been providing information.
    • Does communication need to go out faster?
    • Does the district website and/or social media need to be updated more frequently?
    • Do parents feel there is not enough transparency or means to voice concerns and comments?

Through these conversations with your board members, seek out ways to not only improve board member communication, but also your district’s communication to help get at the heart of the problem. Identify the problem, work through the solution, and create more successful outcomes.

  • Engage Board members as communication ambassadors and partners: Through providing regular communication updates to the board–including an annual communication plan and evaluation of communication activities–the superintendent or communications department can ensure that the board is aware of the effectiveness of the district’s communication plan and strategies, and how the board can play a role in the success of the district’s communication.  Engaging the board members as strategic partners as communicators clearly defines their role versus leaving the board member confused about their role and taking matters into their own hands.

Consistency Matters

Uniform communication across your district can be a challenge but ultimately it helps distribute essential information, secure the trust of your district, and allows for open dialogue. If you want to improve your district’s communication strategies or are going through a season of disordered communication you do not have to figure it out on your own. Sounding Board offers services and resources to help you navigate your district’s communication. Sounding Board can help from launching a communication ambassador program to community engagement, and reputation management from the ground up. To learn more about services or a partnership program that best fits the needs of your district visit https://sounding-board.net/products today!

7 Step Evaluation of Why You Should Still Have a Social Media Presence

How the Pandemic Has Changed Social Media


Picture of smartphone with social media appsSocial Media Engagement

During this past year have you seen a decline in social media engagement, and are you wondering if you should continue to keep your organization present on social media? 2020 was a season where regular communication and interactions were transformed. Are individuals still active on social media? Are other forms of communication more effective for your school district or county office of education? Or is social media still an essential resource for your organization?

Social Media in 2021

In general, people are still on social media; they are just not as engaged. It is likely that your social media content is perhaps being seen, but just not interacted with. This raises the question: why does your district or COE continue to use social media as part of its communications platforms? If you are not getting the engagement you want, are there better options? A key advantage of social media is creating value through connection. It is an affordable and accessible resource that allows for relationships and interactions to take place in a unique and timely way. However, has the pandemic changed this? Do social media strategies and current practices need to be adapted? Here are 7 steps to evaluating the effectiveness of social media in your district or COE.

Define the Problem

In developing a solution to a problem it is first essential to understand fully what the problem is  Here are some ways to help define the problem:

  • What specific struggles or needs are you experiencing with your organization’s social media?  
  • Does this problem create insurmountable or expensive solutions or have a negative impact on the organization as a whole? 
  • Do current solutions to its handling of negative social media comments create a legal or public relations problem? 
  • Are you not receiving engagement on your posts? 
  • Did you have specific goals for your social media that you are not able to reach?

Defining the problem and taking a step back from the details of the situation are important in evaluating and clearly defining the problem.

Research

What is doing well on your social media, and what is struggling? Once you’ve defined the problem, then take a look at other district’s, COE’s and governmental entities that have faced this.  See if there are ways to adapt. Delve into which posts are generating the most negative comments (and the context of those comments). Determine if those are situational, such as concerts and frustrations around COVID-19 or based on other factors. Collect rules of engagement and approaches to handling negative comments. Perhaps hiding comments instead of deleting them could be an option. Are there better ways to increase positive engagement? Would implementing surveys in your Instagram stories or providing prompts, and clear calls to action help to improve immediate but helpful engagement?

The other part of the research is going back to the reasons why your organization is using social media as part of its mix of communication platforms:

  • What are your goals and what role does social media play in that? 
  • How should a social media presence be established? 
  • What are the best ways to manage negative comments? 

While social media has changed dramatically over the past decade–in good and bad ways–there is an important note that is consistent: Brand visibility can be attained through using negative comments as a customer service opportunity.  Social media presents a two-way communication opportunity with your audiences in ways that other communication media do not.

Picture of a desk with an open laptop computerBrand Visibility

One benefit to social media is growing brand visibility. Are you working to clarify your brand, rebranding, or simply looking for consistency? You are investing time and resources into your brand and it is a valuable one. One way to grow this investment is to branch into other forms of digital communication such as video and your website, each of which is promoted through your social media accounts. Social media can be a way to drive traffic and engagement to central platforms. Expanding your audience and your reach are ways to improve brand visibility.

Data

 After you clearly define the “why’s” then you should collect the data to support that.  What are the results of your social media campaigns and posts?  How has that resulted in positive outcomes for SCOE and advanced its goals?  This is so incredibly important because the data can really paint a solid picture of the impact of social media presence and use. It is through data that an accurate and realistic measurement of your social media’s impact and reach can be seen through analytics.

Compare Alternatives

Additionally, you can consider alternatives to social media. Develop some ideas, and estimate costs around how you would substitute another approach to reach your audiences in the ways that social media is already doing this. Digital media is, by far, the least expensive form of advertising and communication. Maybe your research is showing that your district’s social media presence isn’t making much of a dent into anything, and your other communication approaches are doing just fine. Develop ideas around how you will further improve and leverage those approaches. Consider tangible methods to measure and track your outcomes.

Implementation

After you’ve collected all the research, develop your case and plan. It is important to have clear rules or guidance and engagement on your social media accounts. Are you experiencing negative comments? or simply feel that content is inconsistent? Consider legal counsel for your district to be able to provide some advising on what can and cannot be deleted. While you are forming this consider implementing some new approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of these tactics. Consider mapping out tangible goals for developing content and measuring interactions on social media.

Evaluation

Evaluate the effectiveness of new approaches to rules of engagement and handling negative posts. Determine how you will define success for this. Maybe success means a reduction in negative comments, increased resolution of problems, and improved engagement during a pandemic. Having realistic and tangible goals helps in clearly measuring and evaluating success. Choosing specific kinds of engagement from likes, comments, and tags as ways to measure interaction. During a season of COVID-19, working to promote and engage connection is essential. Social media provides a space for individuals to connect where otherwise there has been separation.

Why Social Media?

One of the main goals in using social media is to develop your district’s trust. Social media is relational communication and the best way to establish a connection is through a regular and engaging way. However, it is important to consider the platforms and kinds of social media that your district is implementing. If, after compiling this self-evaluation, trust is not maintained or grown through social media then it is time to rethink some different strategies. Ultimately social media is a powerful tool that has the ability to personally touch, inspire, and inform your followers. It is important to consider the best way to implement this powerful tool. 

You Do Not Have to Do it Alone

If you are feeling stuck on moving forward with your district’s social media content and presence, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help. To learn more about communication services that best fit the needs of your district you can explore Sounding Board Marketing & Communications’s Strategic Services. Following these steps to evaluate your social media are just one way to improve your district’s connection and visibility in a digital world impacted by the pandemic.

Do Your Surveys Suck? 5 Tips For Creating Better Surveys

Over the past seven months, school districts are using surveys more than ever to gather stakeholder preferences and feedback for their COVID-19 beginning of the school year planning and implementation of some form of in-person or hybrid reopening plans over the next few months.

While surveys are and can be a useful tool, a survey’s utility is only as beneficial as its design.  In addition, survey results can have some intended consequences (providing the information being sought), and some very unintended ones, as well (stakeholders holding the results and positioning them as “votes” over the district’s head to pressure their leadership to take certain positions).

One of the biggest mistakes I am seeing right now is that school districts are using the term “survey” to define a number of things, from collecting information about learning preferences, feedback about distance learning, and more.  The problem is, these are not all surveys.  For example, I am seeing a number of “surveys” that are collecting information from parents about whether their child will be continuing to learn in a distance learning or will be transitioning to in-person (hybrid or otherwise) learning. These “surveys” collect student name, school, and contact information data, so that the districts know which students are returning to in person learning and which ones are remaining in distance learning. In reality, parents are not completing a survey–they are completing a registration form. Likewise, if you’re looking for the answer to one specific question, a poll might be a better choice, and if you’re looking for general feedback about your stakeholders’ overall experience with a program or approach to learning, asking for a review could be most effective.

Another mistake I am seeing is that surveys are asking for learning model preferences without providing all of the details to stakeholders.  These questions fail to include all of the known information, and stakeholders may be opting for certain responses without understanding the impacts of those choices.

For example, a five day a week schedule in your district may mean that student cohorts will be split into morning and afternoon schedules, and will spend fewer hours in the classroom.  Learning in person may mean that students will be required to remain with their cohort, will encounter restrictions during recess, will eat lunch in their classroom, and socialization will be greatly limited.

This is not to say that in person learning is filled with insurmountable challenges, but in parents’ excitement  to return their children to school, they also may have certain assumptions of what that will look like, and similarly staff and teachers may also have certain assumptions as they complete their surveys.

Without painting a clear picture of what each survey choice means, stakeholders may be selecting certain options based on expectations and assumptions, and if those are not met, then your district risks creating confusion and disappointment, being accused of lacking transparency and losing trust in the process.  This is why providing clear information to stakeholders in advance of sending surveys is so critically important–you don’t want to create more confusion when you send your surveys.

Maybe it’s been a decade since you took your research methods class in grad school–or maybe you never took a course at all. In any case, anytime you want to create a survey, you need to be thoughtful and thorough.  So, here are five ways to improve your surveys so that your stakeholders feel valued, you will collect the data you need, and you’ll prevent confusion and unintended consequences.

 

5 Ways to Improve Your Surveys
  1. Be prepared. First, establish your survey’s goals and objectives. What information do you want to gather–preferences, taking the temperature of your stakeholders, obtaining registrations?  How do you want to use this information? Would your survey be best suited to be split up into two surveys?  If you have vastly different goals, you may want to consider sending two different surveys so that you aren’t confusing your stakeholders.  Lastly, determine whether a survey is the best approach for gathering the information you are seeking, or if focus groups or an advisory committee would be more effective.  
  2. Be informative. Provide clear information in advance of sending your survey–on your website, through video, and through stakeholder meetings.  Your survey should not be the first (or only) place where information is conveyed.  Make sure you are preparing your stakeholders with the most up to date information before asking them to take a survey, otherwise your survey results will not be accurate, and your stakeholders will accuse your district of lacking transparency.
  3. Be clear.  Are you collecting information, do you want people’s commitments, are you taking a poll or wanting a review?  A survey collects data. Registrations collect commitments.  Polls collect preferences, and reviews collect feedback. So, be clear with your audience about how you will be using the information you are collecting, and clearly and accurately title the survey.  Additionally, avoid jargon, keep questions clear and concise, and don’t ask loaded questions.
  4. Be thoughtful. Based on your survey goals and objectives, develop easy to understand, bias-free survey questions. Make sure that you are not asking leading questions.  Do a test run with friends and family outside of your organization to catch any problems or issues with your questions or survey design.
  5. Be varied. Provide a balance of different types of survey questions being asked, and based on the goals and objectives of your survey, you approach to survey questions should support those goals and objectives.  Hubspot provides a great summary of the different types of survey questions, and how to use them, but here is their easy-to-understand summary of the question types in case you needed a refresher: 
    • Multiple Choice: Multiple choice survey questions are questions that offer respondents a variety of different responses to choose from. 
    • Rating Scale: Rating scale questions (also known as ordinal questions) ask respondents to rate something on a numerical scale assigned to sentiment. 
    • Likert Scale: Likert scale survey questions evaluate if a respondent agrees or disagrees with a question. 
    • Ranking: Ranking survey questions ask respondents to rank a variety of different answer options in terms of relative priority or importance to them.
    • Semantic Differential: Semantic differential survey questions also ask for respondents to rate something on a scale, but each end of the scale is a different, opposing statement. Use semantic differential questions to get clear-cut qualitative feedback from your stakeholders.
    • Dichotomous: Dichotomous survey questions offer only two responses that respondents must choose between. 
    • Close-Ended: Close ended survey questions are questions that have a set number of answers that respondents must choose from. 
    • Open-Ended: Where the survey types above all have closed-ended answers that you input as different options to choose from, open-ended questions are usually accompanied by an empty text box, where the respondent can write a customer answer to the question.

The bottom line: Sending a survey is a lot like Thanksgiving dinner. You’re gathering the family around the table and feeding them the opportunity to share their thoughts. Remember to set your table with care before feeding your family. Your stakeholders will thank you for it.

 

5 Things To Update on Your District and School Websites-Today

It’s September 28, 2020, and for many of you, your schools have been in session for about a month now.  Although it feels like it’s been a lifetime, it has been only 4-6 weeks. During this time of constantly shifting priorities, it’s easy to lose site of cleaning the proverbial cobwebs that might be growing on your website pages.

Have you updated and cleaned up your website content lately?  I’m not talking about the millionth-plus-one “Update” that you posted on Friday in response to a recent board or MOU decision…I’m talking about the rest of the stuff you posted since the crazy, ever-changing weeks before the first week of school, and everything since.

I’m currently working through updating a client’s website content on their school reopening and distance learning pages, and as great and informative as that content was before school began, there have been some changes, there is information that is not as useful now, and I want to make sure that their audiences know that those pages are continually updated, especially as the district prepares for potentially opening their school buildings to hybrid learning in three months.

In the hustle and bustle of long board meetings, shifting requirements and policies, and trying to stay on top of the great news that is happening in your district, it’s possible that these updates have slid off your priority list.  But, for a parent who is wading through the masses of information on your website, more information isn’t necessarily better, especially if it’s outdated.  And, if a parent needs to wade through a page of a half a dozen or more date-stamped updates going back three months, it’s really time to streamline your web content.

So, here are 5 things to update on your district and school websites–today:
  • Change all future tense verbs to present tense.  Is your content geared for a parent/staff audience anticipating information about the upcoming school year?  A month in, the school year is off the ground, and no one is anticipating last month’s information.   For example: “the 2020-21 school year, which begins on August 19th” should be changed to “which began on August 19th.”
  • Archive any updates that occurred prior to this week. If you don’t already have a “Process” page as part of your school reopening information web pages, I strongly suggest creating one, which can include a timeline of important decisions that have been made (and ones scheduled in the future) with links to relevant documents and announcements.
  • Clarify which decisions/plans still stand, despite changes to county/state criteria. The state of California has had a couple of shifts to its criteria for loosening restrictions, as elementary school waivers, and if your MOUs and/or board decisions differ from these at all, then it’s important to clarify the district’s plans and timelines.
  • Update timelines: Are the timelines current?  Are they clearly communicated?  Don’t expect that timelines verbally expressed during a board meeting or nestled into a presentation or a report will be read or known by your stakeholders.  Clearly communicate important timelines, and even if timelines are tentative, this information also needs to be conveyed in a transparent manner.
  • Review website categories, page headers, subheads and links. Are your pages still organized in a way that prioritizes the preparation activities for the school year?  Now that information needs have shifted, be sure to rename your website categories, links, headers and subheads accordingly, and ensure that the highest priority information is listed first, and if new pages need to be created for specific categories (especially if certain pieces of information should be housed on its own page, like wellness resources, academic assistance, etc.  Also double check that links to pages are updated.

Through updating and streamlining your website content, you will keep your audience engaged, continue to communicate in one clear and consistently messaged voice, and reinforce transparency.

We’re here to help

If you’re balancing school/district leadership with communication responsibilities, and you’re finding yourself falling behind on timely and consistent communications across your communication channels, Sounding Board Marketing & Communications can help.  Contact us for a free 30 minute consultation, or sign up for any of our services.

What are some other topics that you are keeping updated on your websites?

Leave your reply below in the comments!