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Friday, February 5, 2010

Why a Great CMS Helps Build Your School District's Brand

by Katie Brosious

In response to both Eric Sheninger's post about the importance of branding in education, and Trish Rubin's blog, EdVentures in a New York Minute, about branding in education, I started to think about how, with a CMS, schools can use their district Web site to establish a brand.

The Importance of a Brand in Education

Although I will leave this part mostly to the experts (Thanks Eric and Trish!), I will say a few words about the importance of a brand in education. Education is a service. Education is just like any other service in that it must exude value in the business that it is in, in order to attract new students. In education, school districts must show academic value. Bad or good; clear or not, everything--person, place, or thing--has some sort of brand attached to it. It's what others think and feel about what you have to offer.

Why doesn't education take advantage of this? Especially K-12 school districts! Universities have come a long way, and seem to be working on establishing their own individual brand. However, many school districts do not put their best foot forward...To network, to evolve, to improve, and to show the world what they are accomplishing.

But how would they spread their message? It's not like school districts have the advertising budgets of McDonald's or Coca Cola. They have the label of 'school,' which implies education, but it's extremely obvious that no two schools are the same. Its important for schools to build their brand because school districts, more than any other educational institution, need to stay updated and in the know. Today's K-12 students are tomorrow's leaders. It is essential for schools to have a cohesive mission, a set of values, and a sense of pride within the district, which can be done by establishing a brand.

Branding on the Web

More and more, school districts are using social networking sites like Twitter to extend and enhance their brand. Some Twitter accounts are for the whole district, some just for a school, and some are from teachers, staff or administrators from the district. Each Twitter account is another point of contact for that district. It improves community outreach, makes the district more personable and personal, and helps to spread the district message. Social media sites like Twitter are great. And they're an extension of the district brand. But they just aren't enough. Even if a district has a great media presence, consistency throughout the district all-inclusive WEB presence is key.

Aside from social media, the school district Web site is often the most important point of contact for the school district. If community members want to know what time the football game is on Friday, the district site is the first source of information. The district Web site is like the Encyclopedia for that district. Students, parents and community members expect to have all of their questions answered simply by clicking over to the district Web site. It must support a cohesive brand and mission along with all other point of contacts for that district on the web.

Using ContentM K-12 to Brand your District

The best and easiest way to build a school district Web site is with a CMS like ContentM K-12. Not only will you be able to design and implement your school district Web site with ease, you (or anyone else) will be able to maintain it with a few clicks. You will be able to update your Web site in seconds when you need to (i.e., for snow day cancellations or delays). You can spread the word about your district's overall academic accomplishments. You can show your students' accomplishments. The best Web sites are dynamic and fluid; they are always changing as new things happen. School district Web sites should be no different.

Aside from being able to update and maintain the district site easily, you can use a CMS like ContentM K-12 at any level of your district, including individual school sites, individual classroom/teacher sites, Web sites for the PTA or Athletics, etc., extending your brand through all sectors of your district by keeping the theme and message fluid throughout each site. There's an eSchool News article about a school district that got it right. Recognizing the need "
to leverage our entire digital environment, to bring in tools for all our teachers, principals, and staff to communicate with all our stakeholders, and to provide a way for our stakeholders to engage in communications with us," this California school district implemented a CMS to improve its communications with parents and the community.

After establishing a branding network for your district, you can use all those Web 2.0 goodies that will make your district look great and that students will love to view and create, building their exposure to technology as well as your own.

YouTube, Twitter, and Blogs, Oh My!

These tools are really underutilized and overflowing with potential. Our CMS offers these tools as part of our panel-based technology, so you can easily upload your Twitter feed or a YouTube video you posted. Kids love the Web 2.0 stuff because it's a break from the norm, and so do teachers and administrators, like the ones that I meet every day on Twitter. Instead of having students write a paper, why not create a blog discussion about it? Teamwork is a key skill, and blogs and comments promote it in a fun way. With a CMS, teachers can easily post the blog on their Web site and have their students contribute.

As another example of using Web 2.0 in the classroom, take a video camera on a field trip and interview the kids about their opinions on where they are. If you take them to a museum, what was their favorite part? And why? Better yet, let the kids ask the questions! Putting these videos up on your classroom site is a great way to get students involved in using technology and reaping the benefits, and parents will love it so they can see what their kids do all day.

All of these ideas will show your audience (students, parents and community) that you and your school district have a dedication and commitment to using technology. Even if you only posted these on your own classroom site, a classroom site is simply an extension of the district brand.

Why Build a Brand?

When my family moved from New York to Texas, my mom had to figure out where to send my brother, sister and I to school. However, just by looking at a few Web sites she easily chose a school district for us to attend, because she couldn't get a feel for what some district Web sites were trying to say, couldn't sift through the clutter, or just really couldn't get a feel for the school's goals or values. How else would you choose a school district from 1,000 miles away other than calling the school? I wouldn't want to be the school district to get overlooked based on a poorly designed Web site with no purpose. District Web sites mean more than some may think.

A brand sets you a part. It differentiates your school district from the next. It's an experience. Why not be the best? Your school district works hard to fulfill its potential. Don't fall short because your Web site doesn't perform, become a "Brand-Ed" school district.

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Blogger Amit Guha said...

There are some great thoughts on not just about branding but how to implement and extend a district's brand. The district website is emerging as the absolute number one tool that centers all of its public relations and communications work; it is now, perhaps the most important representation of its brand and must be managed with great content and design dexterity and integrity. I agree that a really good CMS can play a big role here. A truly functional CMS has to deliver on the promise of putting real content management (including videos, blogs, slideshows, tabbed content etc.) into the hands of more and more content creators across the district without demanding of them any design and technical training. This will end up extending the district's brand most positively to its intended audience.

2/9/10, 9:42 PM  
Blogger Trisha EdVentures said...

Katie...Thanks for the props for Eric and for me. I feel that this type of thinking is a must for school...It's very simple...if we define branding as THE SUM TOTAL of EXPERIENCE that one has with a service or product, both VISIBLE and EXPERIENTIAL, and I like that definition from branding guru, Jason Miletsky....then it's a no brainer...SCHOOLS are built on providing a service that is experience's time for us to use the digital world to explode that experience...and to create the visible anchors of branding for a community! Your ideas of using the web are fantastic, doable and really in synch with my thinking... Let's skype asap!!!

2/10/10, 10:10 AM  
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