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!

A Special Note About Being Open for Business

Open for business signWhen I opened Sounding Board Marketing & Communications 10 years ago, I always intended for my business to provide mostly virtual services to my clients.  During this time of school closures, I’m still providing the same, strategic and creative services for my clients so that they can stay connected with their district’s families–employees and parents–through all of their communication platforms. As a parent of three and wife of a his teacher, I am on the receiving end of the messaging being sent by my children’s school district and I’m on the observing end watching my husband find ways to connect with his students.

Whether you need content development for messaging, a roadmap for communications for the next few weeks, or ideas for keeping schools and teachers connected with families, I’m here to help.  As always, my mission has always been to help educators strengthen their relationships with their stakeholders, and never before has this been more important.

Feel free to send me an email at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net or give me a call at 916.673.8868 if you want to talk through your communications, or if you need a sounding board for ideas you’re already considering.  I’m here when you need me.

All the best,

Heather

#BetterTogether: High and Low Tech Ways to Stay Connected With Students, Families

Fellow educators—well, we’ve certainly had a fun couple of weeks, right?  It’s an understatement to say that the coronavirus (COVD19) has rocked our worlds.

Virtual High FiveWhile you’re still in the midst of determining how your schools can continue to deliver education to your students, staying tuned for more emerging details (including how long your schools will need to remain closed, whether standardized testing will proceed, etc.), and feeding your most needy students, there is something that will remain constant: your relationships with your students.

First, while parents are in the process of learning how to home school their children, as educators, you are likely grappling with a number of emotions, and the first is probably missing your students.  While scheduled school breaks offer a needed reprieve from work duties, and leave you feeling energized when you return to the classroom, this unexpected (and undetermined) break has likely filled you with some anxiety, possibly some depression, mourning, and has also taken away a huge part of your daily purpose. All of these feelings can sap creativity and drive, and my hope is that the ideas I’m offering in this post will help inspire you and bring a little spring back in your step.  Whether you’re a school principal or a teacher, your relationships with your students is what is at the core of why they succeed, why they want to be lifelong learners, and why you’re an amazing educator.

How do you keep relationships with students going when schools are closed?

I’m going to spend the next few weeks curating some of the best ideas that will likely emerge across the nation, but I wanted to share some ideas with you now, in case it may help with your current efforts.  And, because your parents and students have varying access to the internet and computers, I’m offering both high and low tech approaches.

Something to note: A lot of parents have smart phones…they may not have computers or wifi, but in a survey that I did of a high poverty district in California, 95% of the parents had smart phones.  Based on comparing notes with other school communication colleagues, this number is consistent across the state.  So, at the very least, most parents have some kind of access to online technology, but it’s also important to keep in mind the other 5% who do not.

Keep following this page for updates, and check in on my social media pages for more ideas.

Low-tech ways to stay connected with your students

  • Call them!  A personal telephone call is a great way for your students to get a personal touch from you, and for them to hear your voice.  It’s also a great way to check in with parents to find out if they have access to computers and wifi to determine ongoing tech needs.  If you’re comfortable, ask your students to give you a call, if they need to talk.  You may have some students who are in home or life situations who found school to be a necessary escape, and may need to have that check-in with you. Also use this as an opportunity to remind students and parents about community and district services that are available to provide food, health and other services.
  • Write them a letter: As long as mail delivery continues, writing your students a letter will be a wonderful, unexpected surprise in their mail box.  Check in with your school site or district regarding mailing the letters or getting reimbursed for your personal costs.
  • Email: A weekly/biweekly email to your students and their parents is a great way to stay connected.  Provide them ideas for continued learning and share some fun things you’ve been doing at home.

Hi-tech ways to stay connected with your students

  • Videos: Consider using video to do the things with students that involve you at the front of the classroom—for TK and kindergarteners, this could be your welcome time (weather, counting, letter of the day, etc.) and reading a story, for lower grades, this could be providing directions on art work/a project, reading a story, explaining math concepts, etc.  For middle and high school teachers, this could be some of your facilitated learning approaches and explanation of concepts. PE teachers, this is where you’ll rock: do a virtual dance party, show students how you’re staying active while school is closed, demonstrate the proper way to lift weights…the list goes on.
  • Video chat: For group video conferencing, SkypeHangoutsHangouts Meets and Zoom are good free options. Consider scheduling smaller group chats to keep the chat environment manageable. Ask your students to send you pictures, videos so that you can share them out with each group. Here is a list of a number of tech tools that will help with presentations, collaborations and chats: https://techagainstcoronavirus.com/

Community-building

  • Keep traditions going: Spirit weeks can go home with fun approaches that also engage social media—check out this example from Empire Oaks Elementary School’s PTA:

 

Empire Oaks Spirit Week image

  • Celebrations: Do you celebrate your students at school?  Don’t stop celebrating them because they aren’t there. Here are some ideas:
    • Provide parents some ideas of what they can do to celebrate their children-as-students at home.  Citizenship, helping others, and other character traits should continue to be celebrated, and in the trenches of these transitions, parents may need a helpful reminder that their children love being recognized for what they’re doing well.
    • Ask parents to tell you if their child is excelling at something so that you can verbally recognize them when you send a video or do a group chat.  For older students, ask them what they’ve been doing well so they can celebrate together.
    • Taking a page from the summer reading programs, have your students/parents submit a reading log and recognize students who have read for the most number of minutes.  If you have permission to post this online, put together a social media post recognizing your top readers (Canva is an excellent, easy to use, and free program for this).  You could do the same with math and other subjects.
  • Class Stuffed Animal (good for TK, kinder and lower grades): Well, since the class stuffed animal isn’t going home, he or she is probably feeling a little lonely! Ask your students (with mom and dad’s help) to send pictures and videos of themselves with their stuffed animals, or schedule a stuffed animal video chat with a fun story.
  • A note about high school traditions: I’m not ignoring them, as there are so many incredible high school traditions focused on togetherness—proms, grad walks, senior breakfasts—and your students, especially seniors, are likely feeling deep disappointment about the possibility (or reality) that those events will be rescheduled or even cancelled.  If you’re already cooking up ideas on how your school will be approaching this, please provide those ideas in the comment box, and I’ll also add those ideas to this post.

Note to School Districts: Don’t stop celebrating your schools and staff because of school closures.  Ask teachers, staff to send you pictures, videos of what they’re doing and curate those examples into stories about how your district is continuing to educate and keep your school communities connected.

These are just a few ideas, and I’ll continue to collect more.

Please leave some of your favorite ideas in the comment box or on my social media, and I’ll add them to this post!

 

 

Attendance Campaigns: Why Messaging Matters

Recently,Attendance Campaign I began the process of strategizing a year-long attendance campaign for a K-6 school district client.  I’ve seen a lot of attendance campaigns over the past 14 years since I first began working in K-12 public relations and communications.  And there has been one common theme: Numbers. “You COUNT!”  “Everyday COUNTS!” “Every student COUNTS!” And then there is often some kind of reference to money for schools and attendance.

But, when you really look at the reasons why students are chronically absent, then you’ll understand why this messaging doesn’t really motivate or resonate students or parents, and in fact…it’s really quite tone deaf.

According to Attendance Works:

“Children living in poverty are two to three times more likely to be chronically absent—and face the most harm because their community lacks the resources to make up for the lost learning in school. Students from communities of color as well as those with disabilities are disproportionately affected. This isn’t simply a matter of truancy or skipping school. In fact, many of these absences, especially among our youngest students, are excused. Often absences are tied to health problems, such as asthma, diabetes, and oral and mental health issues. Other barriers including lack of a nearby school bus, a safe route to school or food insecurity make it difficult to go to school every day.  In many cases, chronic absence goes unnoticed because schools are counting how many students show up every day rather than examining how many and which students miss so much school that they are falling behind.

So, why do attendance campaigns continue to use “counts” in their messaging?

Communication campaigns around attendance should and can take a comprehensive approach to address the core issues around chronic absences, and the messaging–and campaign theme–should support this.

Among other things, attendance campaigns should:

  • Utilize relationships within the school community and supportive messaging–not legal sounding letters or automated-sounding phone calls–when reporting chronic absences to families.  This may include identifying ways to utilize two-way communication with families in order to discuss and develop supports and resources for families facing challenging situations that prevent their child from attending school regularly.
  • Provide parents resources and information on available school site health care and facts around regarding when a child should (and should not) stay home from school with an illness.
  • Remind parents of the school’s free and low cost meal options for their child, as well as transportation options.
  • Incorporate holiday reminders and return to school incentives.
  • Use praise, positive, recognition and incentives for attendance improvement and excellent attendance.
  • Connect attendance messaging to messaging about academic achievement and student success.
  • Clearly communicate that each student matters.

 

Did you notice that there is nothing mentioned about ADA (Average Daily Attendance), school funding, numbers…or COUNTING?  That’s because this kind of messaging doesn’t do anything to address barriers to attendance, and only identifies students as numbers.

Let parents know that their child matters, that you care for their child as a whole person, and reassure them that your school will support their child’s needs so that they can be successful in school and life.  After all, that’s what educators are there for, right?

15 Back to School Content Ideas

School is back in for some school districts, and for others, the first day of school is a couple of weeks (or a month) away.  Planning Back to School messaging helps to save your office staff time answering the same questions that every parent is asking, and provides ways to build enthusiasm and excitement about the first days and weeks of school.  It’s a win-win for customer service, too!

Here are 15 Back to School content ideas that you can use on your website, newsletter, and social media–and yes, you should be posting to all three!

  1. Introduce new teachers, staff hired at your site, and any staffing changes
  2. Schedule of welcome back to school activities: when teacher assignments will be revealed, back to school coffee, special reading time for kindergarten students, etc.
  3. Remind parents when the first day of school is, and the beginning and ending time.
  4. Let parents know where to find useful school information: URL for Parent Portal, your school website.
  5. Orientation/Back to School dates–and include the URL to the webpage with this info
  6. Link for Transportation Department. “Find out bus schedules, fees, bus pass application, etc.here: URL for transportation department”
  7. Post first day of school photos!
  8. Back to school night dates, times at your school
  9. After Back to School Night, post pictures and/or video from Back to School Nights (showcases parent engagement, involvement)
  10. Info about free and reduced lunch and a link to the application
  11. Principal’s welcome back message
  12. Alternative Income Eligibility Form: “One simple form could increase funding for your school. Completing this form ensures more state funding for your school so your child can receive more student services!”
  13. A lot of schools have a Cool2BKind Week in the first month of school–share the dates and activities
  14. Picture day info
  15. Safe drop off and pick up tips

Back to school is also a good time to remind your teachers to update their web pages with key pieces of information.  Click here for more tips!

Build Trust, Support Through Great School Bond Project Communication

Today, I’m so excited to launch a couple of awesome outreach efforts for one of my school district clients: one is a bond measure project communication campaign and the other is developing the district’s business partnership program.

I’m thrilled that each of these outreach activities will produce incredible outcomes for this client:

  • Increase transparency
  • Share the district’s story with the greater community
  • Exhibit the positive outcomes of the community’s investment in student learning
  • Engage local businesses in supporting and investing in student success
  • Showcase the value of public schools
  • Increase community trust and support for their community schools

I want your district or school to experience the same outcomes.  As much as I’d love to cover both of these topics in one post, they’re different enough to warrant their own attention.  So, in this blog post, I will provide you some key approaches to consider with school bond project communications—in a later post, I’ll outline the components of successful business partnership programs.

Elements of Great School Bond Project Communications

The first assumption that many school districts make is that if people are curious about school bond projects, they’ll just visit the school district website.  After all, there must be some reason for all of the dirt and construction trucks, right?

Keeping the community appraised about school district bond projects is more than posting pictures of construction updates—the community needs to know the story about what is happening in those upgraded facilities, what outcomes are being achieved, and how students are benefitting from safer, modernized schools.

Here are some key elements that should be included in effective school bond project communications:

Plan Ahead: Effective Communications Takes Planning

  • What big story do you want to tell about your bond measure projects?  Develop story content that supports your broad story, and then map out what stories you want to communicate about your bond projects over the next year and throughout the life of the bond.
  • Take a look at your opportunities to get in front of your audiences—do you have any upcoming events (either district-planned or ones that you are attending) where you can share an update about your bond measure? Map out all of your audiences and potential touchpoints. Be sure to incorporate these opportunities into your overall communication plan.

Take an Integrated Communication Approach:  Don’t Put All of Your Communications Into One Basket

  • Diversify your approach to maximize opportunities for your audience to see your stories.
  • Printed mailers, video, website content, and social media together are key to ensuring that these stories are reaching and being shared by your various audiences. Engage your email communications through providing bond updates in your employee, district and school newsletters.
  • Make sure you’re planning your content topics so that they all weave into a cohesive story about your bond measure’s successful outcomes.

Be transparent: Communicating Key Pieces of Information Builds Trust

  • Communicate the dates when certain major construction activities will be occurring, especially if those activities will impact road or sidewalk traffic, if delays might impact students access on campus, and if noisy portions of the project might affect the community.
  • Post the projects’ timelines on your website and in longer mailing pieces.
  • Make sure that key communicators in your district office and the school sites have talking points and information about the projects so that they can answer questions in person or over the telephone.

Remember, people are wary gaps in information (which they will seek to fulfill with whatever trusted individual will provide information, whether the information is correct or not) and they are appreciative of transparency.  People are also less likely to complain–when they receive a fair warning of adverse aspects of your projects, or if project delays occur.

Communicate Outcomes—Not Just Processes

Beyond the brick and mortar walls and fancy new equipment, what will the community’s investment in your schools achieve?

  • Capture stories and testimonials about positive student outcomes, safer schools, how modernized classrooms are helping teachers to improve the quality of education, how upgraded technology is leading to improved student outcomes—these are the reasons why your community supported the bond measure, so be sure to let them know the return on their investment.
  • Of course, the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting ceremonies are a couple of obvious stories, but after the projects are completed, don’t assume that the story is over.  Showcase how the new science labs are being used by your students—and obtain some great testimonials to go along with it.
  • Be current and engaging: before and after pictures are a dated approach—time lapse videos are exciting and will engage your audience.

Remember, communication is about advancing your district’s relationships. Maintaining a strong, positive, and transparent relationship with your community regarding the millions of dollars that they are investing in your schools will pay off in dividends in terms of trust, reputation management, and even helping to secure taxpayer approval on future bonds for your district.

Does your district need assistance communicating your bond measure outcomes?  Contact us to discuss how Sounding Board can help your district share its compelling stories about how your community’s investment is generating positive student outcomes.

Have a blog post suggestion?  We love creating posts that will help you advance your organization’s marketing, public relations and communication objectives . Give us your feedback here.

 

Demystifying the kindergarten experience: Yes, it’s still fun!

kindergarten students

Kindergarten…it’s a time filled with memories of the smells of paste (who wasn’t tempted to eat it at one point in time), imaginary play (house, anyone?), learning how to sit still (I still remember my yarn place on the floor), and listening to stories.  I remember learning how to use scissors, writing letters, and even learning how to read.

Over the past couple of years, a number of stories about kindergarten have made their way around social media—many with a negative slant about the state of kindergarten in our nation, calling it “too academic” and with calls for more “play based learning”. I’m not arguing that play-based learning isn’t important, but such stories bring up images of  five and six year old children sitting in straight-backed chairs, repeating times tables and engaging in rote memorization activities.

As a mother of three children ages 13, 11 and five, I have struggled with these stories, particularly as I interact with younger mothers who have not had experience with the school system yet, and are afraid that kindergarten will suck the joy of learning out of their children.  These stories don’t align with my children’s kindergarten experiences from 8 and 6 years ago (my youngest starts kindergarten next year).

As a marketing and PR consultant for school districts, I also felt like these stories were off base—I have walked through a number of kindergarten classrooms throughout the state of California over the past few years and have found children engaging in art, some academics (for the record, children actually do enjoy learning things like math, science and letters…and savvy and creative kindergarten teachers make this learning fun and engaging), with a balance of play time and lots of social emotional learning time where students discover different ways to manage conflict, make respectful and responsible choices, and learn how to be independent and interdependent in different ways.  This hardly sounds like the stuff that would break children’s sweet spirits or ruin their love for lifetime learning.

Yes, kindergarten has changed over the years, and no, I’m not blind to the fact that every child’s and parent’s story will be different–there will be some who have incredibly positive experiences, and others who have negative experiences…and then there are all the stories in between.

Yet, the PR and marketing consultant side of me desired to highlight positive kindergarten stories from colleagues in districts throughout the state of California. And guess what? Kindergarteners still get to have fun, move around, be creative…and they even get more hands-on learning experiences than we did in school!

Before I provide some great examples of kindergarten classes from around the state of California, here are some tips on how to turn around negative or false perceptions of the kindergarten experience:

  • Create videos of your kindergarteners in action: Video is the best way to showcase the experience of busy and active students
  • Hold a kindergarten parent information night: Rocklin Unified held an excellent info fair for TK and kindergarten parents, and included booths from the school’s library and other services. See the video here.
  • Provide kindergarten parents an opportunity to tour kindergarten classrooms: Parents want to see a kindergarten class in action so they can visualize their child in the classroom.  This can remove the mystery of “what will my child be doing all day?” from their mindset about kindergarten.
  • Appoint a school ambassador to answer incoming kindergarten parents’ questions: Find a current kindergarten parent (or two) and a kindergarten teacher who would be willing to be the point of contact for incoming kindergarten parents.  Although your office staff can answer questions, they don’t always have the comforting voice of someone with recent experience in that classroom.  Also make sure that these people are scanning local social media groups for questions from parents and providing accurate answers.
  • Develop a kindergarten welcome kit: In addition to registration information, include a “What to expect in kindergarten” and FAQ page, along with contact information in case parents have additional questions.  Take a poll of current kindergarten families and ask for some shareable quotes to find out what they wished they could have known about kindergarten, and make sure you include those answers in your welcome kit, as well as some great testimonial quotes.
  • Consider adding a “New Kindergarten Parent” tab on your schools’, district’s websites: Make sure parents feel welcome and can find information easily on your websites–include the info that you would include in the welcome kit, a video, tour opportunities, and contact information.  Include an inquiry form that parents can complete if they want more information or if would like to request a tour.

Note: Ensure that these resources and opportunities are available to parents a couple of months before kindergarten registration.

Here are some great examples kindergarten classrooms across the state!  Many thanks to Harry Katcher of Poway Unified School District, Jason Scholl (formerly of Los Altos School District), and Diana Capra of Rocklin Unified School District for sharing these examples from their districts.

Hour of Code-Poway Unified School District, Chaparral Elementary

Who knew kindergarteners could learn to code?  Well, when your teacher helps you learn how to use a BeeBot to move to pictures and letters, you get to have a 21st Century hands-on learning experience!

Kindergarteners learning to code

Picture used with permission from the Poway Unified School District.

 

Los Altos School District: Offering an active and engaging kindergarten experience

Check out this video to see how kindergarten students move, create, experience outdoor gardening, lead, and thrive in a nurturing kindergarten environment.

 

 

Rocklin Unified School District: Singing Kindergarten Teacher at Breen Elementary

Winter Hungerford, a Rocklin Kindergarten teacher, engages her students with music. Winter believes strongly in using music to engage all students in learning. She also believes music is linked to improved cognitive function, increased language development from an early age, and positive social interaction.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

Rocklin Unified School District: Valley View STEM Lab for Kindergarteners

Instead of doing self-made science experiments by eating paste, these kindergarten students get to learn about science in their own science lab.  Click on the picture below to view the video.

 

If you have some examples of how your district makes kindergarten fun, nurturing, engaging and an overall positive learning experience for your youngest students, please send me an email!

Launching a Communication Ambassador Program

Ambassador programs have long been a successful approach for membership building among chambers of commerce, churches, and other organizations, including private schools.  The primary reason why these programs are successful is because people are key to building trust with other people–and when people talk with someone they already know, the trust component is incredibly high.  Real people will always trump social media and slick marketing materials–but, those components are important tools to a successful ambassador program.

Important note: While your Communication Ambassador Program may be districtwide, your efforts will be focused at each school site.  Parents–and school site staff–are tied to a specific school, and they will be most convincing and compelling speaking from their direct experiences with that school.  Remember, your schools are what make up your district, and your district will be well-communicated and marketed if its school sites are excelling with communicating through engaged ambassadors armed with great communication tools.

Before You Begin

Get your communication house in order

  • Branding: Ensure that your brand is strong, both visually, in messaging, and in practice.
  • Timing: The worst time to launch your program is in the middle of a crisis, but your communication ambassadors can be an incredible resource in reputation management following a crisis (just make sure that you choose–and train–your participants carefully).
  • Communication Tools: Make sure that you have well written and designed rack cards or postcards for each of your schools, talking points, updated website content, and great social media posts. You want to make sure that every person’s touchpoint with your communications is consistent, well-messaged, and visually appealing.

Set your goals

  • Define what you want your communication ambassadors to accomplish and measurable goals:
    • Do you want to reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community?  Do you want to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media?  
  • How will you know you are successful in these efforts: Make sure you define success in each aspect where you want to engage your communication ambassadors.

Decide who you want to approach as ambassadors

  • Parents: Parents are easy to target for some districts–and this may be a huge challenge for others.  Ensure that your parent ambassador base reflects your district population ethnicities, languages, income groups, and cultures.
  • Staff: Staff members’ roles as ambassadors might be different than those of parents, with some cross over (such as talking points, social media engagement,reaching out in the community).  Consult your district’s employee contracts and agreements, to determine whether their role as an ambassador may be considered voluntary or as part of their regular responsibilities.
  • Great communicators: In whatever language they speak, your ambassadors need to be great communicators who are also willing to further your district’s and schools’ messages and talking points.
  • Trustworthy: Remember, these people are an extension of your district and its schools.  When identifying participants (see more information below), ensure that you also understand peoples’ motivations for becoming an ambassador–if you sense someone has selfish or political intentions, steer away from approaching them.

Engage your principals

Your school site principals play a key role in the success of the ambassador program.  Engage them early in the goal setting and ambassador selection process.

Identify participants

A Communication Ambassador is a selected member of the your district’s affinity-building team. Chosen because of their passion for the schools, credibility among peers, connections in the community, and desire to advance the school and district, Communication Ambassadors are instrumental to expanding the reach of the school and district in the community, growing school enrollment, and increasing affinity among parents currently in the district.

Work with principals and directors in your district on helping to identify these individuals.

Invite Participants to a Launch Meeting

Once you have identified your ambassadors, you will want to invite them to a launch meeting. You will want to send a personal invitation to the parent and then call to follow-up. It is important for them to know that they are not committing to this program for life. It is always a good idea to include a description of the communication ambassador program so that the invited participants have a basic understanding of what to expect.

The meeting should be informal in nature, such as a brunch, lunch or BBQ, and schedule meetings in the morning and evening to accommodate parents’ schedules. The key is to schedule what works best for your district and parents.

Inspire Communication Ambassadors at the Meeting

During the launch meeting you will want to inspire the participants by sharing with them the importance of their role as word of mouth ambassadors. Realizing that they are already in the role of an ambassador, your goal is to increase their involvement intentionally in key areas.

Every communication ambassador will be encouraged to “nudge” two to three friends to consider the district’s schools. In addition, every communication ambassador will help with open houses and mentoring relationships with new families.

Initiate Efforts in Focused Areas

Remember the goals you established? Once you have inspired your communication ambassadors and discussed the roles mentioned above, you will want to highlight other areas of focus. Communication Ambassadors can help you reach your feeder schools, neighborhoods, churches, community organizations, realtors, and your internal community, as well as help to facilitate a steady stream of parent reviews on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and GreatSchools.com sites, and active engagement on social media.

By highlighting these areas, you can ask your communication ambassadors to select an area that they would like to focus on during the year. Then, ambassadors will be able to form teams based on their area of focus to help you expand your reach in the community.

Involve Communication Ambassadors

Once you initiate the efforts of your communication ambassadors, you will need to facilitate their involvement throughout the year. However, make sure that you do not make your program about a bunch of meetings. Instead, the communication ambassadors can be encouraged to be involved in their area throughout the year through personal contacts and team meetings. In addition, it can work well to set up a closed Facebook or Google hangout group for your ambassadors to connect in real-time. You can use this as a tool to encourage their involvement throughout the year.

Need more help?

Need help launching your program?  Sounding Board can help your district with any or all of the steps with this process.  Give us a call at 916.673.8868 or email Heather at hvmcgowan@sounding-board.net.

We like to give credit where credit is due–this blog post was inspired by The Enrollment Catalyst.

 

20 Creative Social Media Content Ideas

I don’t know about you, but developing ongoing creative content for social media can become a challenge sometimes.  We know that creative content grabs your audiences, encourages them to act, and drives results for your organization, but sometimes we get into a rut.

Our friends over at Buffer created an awesome visual (see below) that provides 20 great social media content ideas.  You could seriously produce over a month’s worth of content with these ideas!

  1. Turn a blog post into a video:  We know that video captures peoples’ attention and results in more shares than most other social media posts.  Why not repackage a blog post into a video?  Why not use Superintendent’s welcome back message, and, rather than getting a picture of the Superintendent at his or her desk, why not get some great B-roll of your students, teachers and staff engaging in activities that support your superintendent’s message, and use the message as the narration?
  2. Create a how-to video: As YouTube has shown us, people love how-to videos.  If you have a non profit organization, maybe you can create a how-to video on donating or contributing to your organization. Here are some video ideas for you:
    • Tips
    • How-to guides
    • Customer stories
    • Behind-the-scenes
    • User-generated content
    • New service announcements
    • District/organization announcements or milestones
  3. Go live: Facebook’s “go live” feature is a great way to bring the news to your followers as it’s happening. Non profits–this is a great way to capture footage at an event as it’s happening; schools can capture real-time “first day of school” activities and more.
  4. Interview someone (live):  Go out to one of your district’s schools during an anti bullying week, and play the role as the roving reporter that asks each student about how they will prevent bullying.
  5. Post 360 photos or videos: Buildings and campuses look pretty cool in 360 degrees!  So do groups of people–inside or outside.
  6. Attach a GIF: What is it with GIFs? Somehow they capture the essence of a thought or mood in familiar and silly ways.  “How principals feel on the first day of school” with a fun (and positive) GIF is one way to capture people’s attention!
    An idea to try: Buffer suggests using Animoto (or your favorite video-editing tool) to turn one of your recent blog posts into a short 30-second video.
  7. Curate user generated content: Curate photos that people have posted on your social media accounts, or, experiment with a short user-generated content campaign (and you can decide if you want to continue with it after the experiment).
  8. Use a self-explanatory image: Self-explanatory images can fully explain a concept or an idea without people having to click on the link and read an article. On the other hand, quality stock photos are usually too abstract to convey the message.An idea to try: Try answering these three questions (thanks to Buffer for these ideas!) the next time you want to share an image on social media:
    • Would this image make sense with no caption at all?
    • Does this image contain relevant or insightful content?
    • Would I share this content myself?

    If you answer “yes” to at least two of the three questions, you have likely found yourself a self-explanatory image.

  9.  Use charts or graphs: Another type of explanatory image is charts and graphs. Use a graph or chart to illustrate key information about student performance, expenditures and more.
  10. Share a relevant infographic: Using an infographic creator, you can easily explain the nuances of school district budgeting, how test scores work, and more!
  11. Partner with another organization: One of my favorite tactics to build into my clients’ social media strategies is the idea of leveraging partnerships–mutually-beneficial partnerships will help you reach new audiences and grow your social media following.  Maybe you have a partnership with a large non profit or a business that is helping your students.  Work together on content that leverages both of your organizations.
  12. Do a social swap: Similar, but simpler that partnering with another organization, in a social swap, two organizations exchange relevant content regularly and share the other company’s content on their own social media accounts. With a social swap, you get great content to share on your social media accounts and benefit from having another organization share your content.
  13. Organize a social contest: This is another tactic that I love building into client’s social media strategies–a contest.  First, people do not expect school districts or non profits to hold a fun social media contest!  These posts also generate the most engagement from followers.  This is a way to actually let your organization’s fun side show.  Use anniversaries, a new program launch, or another cause for celebration to create a basis for your contest.  Here are a few things you can invite your followers to do to participate:
    • Comment
    • Tag a friend
    • Share a post
    • Tweet with a hashtag
    • Post a photo and use your branded hashtag
  14. Poll your audience: People love sharing their opinions, and you can use the poll as a means to collect data from your audiences.
  15. Ask a question for help: People love to help, and if you ask people about their favorites (what is your favorite school event? What can our district do to better serve your child?), preferences, etc. this is another way to help you better understand your audiences and their motivations.
  16. Pull interesting stats from a blog post:  Using a statistic in your introduction is often recommended as a way to “hook” your readers and keep them reading. If the statistic is relevant (and shocking) to your followers, they might be more intrigued to read your blog post or watch your video.  Use this as an opportunity to share statistics that help your organization or can help parents with their child’s educational experience.
  17. Pull a meaningful quote from a blog post: This is a great way to summarize the information from the blog post, and you can also use it as a way to engage your audience (do you agree, disagree, why?)
  18. Create a list in the caption: Provide a picture that draws someone to a list of information on your website.  Use a portion of your post to include this list, but a teaser to bring them to your website for more information.
  19. Add emojis or symbols: Emojis have become quite popular with audiences–in fact, 6 million emojis are shared on social media each day! I hesitated on whether or not I would support this idea, but here’s the first rule of thumb-consider whether emojis are consistent with your brand and image.  Here is some great info on shortcuts and how to use emojis in your social media posts.
  20. Share or retweet your followers’ posts: Don’t you love it when someone retweets your posts?  Well, do the same for your followers!  Retweet blog posts, social media posts, and more–it shows you appreciate what they are doing, as well.

 

Want more inspiration and examples?  Visit Buffer’s blog post on this topic.

20 Creative Ways to Share Your Content on Social Media

Image courtesy of Buffer social

Branding—A Personal Point of View

Branding be like a mysterious journey…so often, we equate branding with logos, colors, typefaces and taglines. But, branding is really about what makes a company or organization special, what differentiates it from all others. It drives the customer to make a decision to purchase…or a person to donate to a cause…or parents to choose a school for their child.

Since launching Sounding Board Marketing and Communications eight years ago, I decided that I wanted my company’s brand to be centered around its mission, values and philosophy:

Mission: Sounding Board Marketing & Communication’s mission is to increase public confidence in public education and improve opportunities for education non-profit organizations to suc
ceed through proactive communication and marketing.

Values: Sounding Board Marketing & Communications believes in collaboration, respect, professionalism, honesty
and integrity, and delivering high quality results to every client.

Philosophy: The name “Sounding Board” has two meanings: the client is the expert for their organization; and the consultant is the sounding board upon which the client can have their ideas and expertise translated into messages that will resonate with their audiences. Sounding Board Marketing & Communications spends time listening to its clients, then brings forward ideas to address the client’s needs, collaborates with the client throughout the project, and develops and implements results-oriented, effective and successful strategies that bring measurable results and outcomes.

Over the past few months, I had an opportunity to test Sounding Board’s brand, and I learned quite a few things. One of the most important things I learned is that while Sounding Board’s brand encompasses its mission, values and philosophy, these elements by themselves do not define my company’s brand. Ironically, I tell my clients this all of the time—but, as an emerging business owner several years ago, I leaned on these to define my brand while I let my business take shape. I took my time to find out what differentiates my business from others. I listened to my clients’ feedback on my services, and began focusing on what I do best for them. I studied my competitors—and reaffirmed that the work and outcomes I deliver to my clients are not only outstanding, but also an incredible deal.

In 2009, I was transitioning from an employee to a consultant. Eight years later, my consulting practice has guided school districts, county offices of education and non-profits to incredible outcomes that have increased enrollment, public trust, passed bond measures, increased membership numbers and more.

So what is Sounding Board’s brand?

Impeccable, clear, and timely customer service: Clients receive the best of care, timely responses, and clear communication of deliverables throughout the course of any contract. I never want any client to ask, “When will this be done?” I always ensure that clients know what, how and when deliverables will be completed, and strive to meet or beat your deadlines.

High quality, creative, powerful and captivating messaging and marketing: Your schools, your district, your program or organization are unique. I capture the best assets of your organization and I partner with some of the best and cost-effective graphic designers, website developers and videographers to deliver creative print and online media and videos that rival those of more expensive firms. Cost-effective doesn’t have to look or sound cheap.

Authentic guidance…with the right dose of humbleness: My clients seek my expertise—and I deliver that expertise with a thoughtful leadership approach. It’s why I named my business “Sounding Board”—I respect your knowledge, expertise and experience with your organization. I know I haven’t lived in your specific organization, and I will always take a thoughtful approach in developing strategies, public relations and promotional approaches that take your input, feedback, and organizational culture into consideration.

Results-driven: You hired me for a reason and with specific outcomes in mind. Whether you’re seeking to boost enrollment, increase engagement, reputation management or more, I will strive to achieve the results that you are envisioning for your organization.

Best and most ethical practices: As a professional who has earned an Accreditation in Public Relations, I am demonstrating my mastery of strategic communications practice and my commitment to lifelong learning and ethical standards. Attaining this valuable distinction is a professional achievement exhibited through successful completion of a peer-evaluation readiness process, successful completion of a rigorous exam and ongoing commitment to the development of other practitioners.

Nimble and Indispensable: Being a small business, I take on enough clients to keep Sounding Board sustainable…but also keep myself nimble and indispensable to avail myself to anything my clients need.

We are in an era of choice and challenges…it doesn’t mean that school districts, county offices of education and established or emerging non-profits should flounder. There are incredible opportunities to shine a bright light on how your organizations are the schools and organizations of choice for your stakeholders. It’s why Napa Valley Unified School District, Redwood City School District, Align Capital Region, Associated General Contractors of California and others have chosen Sounding Board to resonate their messages.

Thanks for supporting Sounding Board over the past eight years—I look forward to working with you in the future.

To Your Success,

Heather

Branding…What it IS and what it ISN’T

I am so excited to kick off not one, but THREE re-branding processes for three different clients—one is a new International Baccalaureate school, and two are existing organizations that need their branding to align with their current and future vision for their organizations.  With each client, I am taking the time to clarify some of the confusion surrounding branding.

In this day and age of highly visual communications, most people think that branding is just designing a new logo. And, while new logos are certainly a part of the branding process, they are NOT THE only element of branding for organizations.

There are a lot of great articles that talk about the history and evolution of branding (this one from Forbes, What is a Brand, Anyway?, does a great job of this), but I know your time is limited, so I would like to give you the quick and encapsulated version of Branding 101. I could spend a lot of time on this, but here is what branding is and isn’t, in a nutshell, and some steps you can take to develop your organization’s brand.

collection of brand logosTake a look at the image to the left: You are likely to recognize most, if not all of the company logos you see.  At the same time, you probably also remember something about each company, beyond the actual physical product they sell: maybe it’s a certain feeling, perhaps it’s a certain quality offered by the company, or possibly you are recalling the company’s tagline or services.  Strong branding doesn’t happen by mistake–it is the result of a well-researched strategy and approach.

So, first let’s talk about what branding IS:

  • What your audiences think of of when they hear or see your brand name
  • Everything your audiences think they know about your name brand offering—both factual and emotional.
  • What sets your organization apart from other organizations—it defines what makes your organization different and what makes it special…and what makes it valuable.

Here’s what branding ISN’T:

  • A new logo or a logo refresh
  • New typefaces
  • A new website

While the above-listed outcomes are ways in which to convey a new or refreshed brand, they are not, by themselves, branding.

Without clearly defining your organization’s product and what makes it special and valuable—through new and consistent messaging, improved customer service and organizational services that are consistent with your new messaging, AND a powerful visual identity– then your organization is not engaging in branding, but just re-writing website content, putting a pretty new logo on existing publications…and missing an incredible opportunity to build and strengthen relationships with its audiences.

You’re probably asking where you should start with a re-branding process. Research is an important component: start by obtaining stakeholder feedback on your organization’s value proposition and services. Utilizing focus groups to obtain feedback on new branding messaging, services, and the visual identity is also an important part of the research process. Be prepared to spend a few weeks (or months, depending on your organization) on this valuable process and developing its outcomes—you will be glad that you took the time to be purposeful and thoughtful in your approach in developing a strong and sustainable brand for your organization.

Need more help in developing your organization’s brand? Contact Sounding Board Marketing & Communications for more information about our Branding Strategy and Implementation Services.