The need for community is stronger than ever
The coronavirus has amplified feelings of isolation. No more so than in schools. Where, the closure of schools is devastating school communities at all levels. In the case of pupils, leading child psychologists are reporting on the damage of children not seeing their friends. Parents rely on face to face interaction too. Not helped by the fact that government is discouraging parents hanging around the school gate. Also, school community events are wiped from the school calendar. Instead, active parents volunteers are homeschooling.
Staff are also experiencing high levels of anxiety, with the evolving Government advice often at odds with the view of some parents. The logistics of managing safe school re-opening is a huge burden on senior leadership, as is managing sources of information used by parents..
Social media is not fit for purpose
Social media has become increasingly difficult to manage. A well-meaning post shared in a school WhatsApp group can lead to a flurry of enquiries at school from concerned parents seeking reassurance. This in turn, increases the stress and workload of staff and teachers. Without any school input, news and rumours can easily spread and escalate. Social media platforms historically provided an outlet for a school to build its brand; however less than half of school marketing professionals believe social media provides any level of return on their investment, not helped by social media algorithms that favour paid sponsors.
Marketing professionals are also questioning the value of social media marketing as a tool to build their school’s brand. Where less than half agree that social media is giving them any return on investment. This is due to changes to social media algorithms that favour paid sponsors.
Which is why leading schools are investing time in offering their community a safe space that they own and control. Why community management is the most cost effective marketing tool right now for schools to apply. Schools can take a leaf out of some of the world’s top companies to build their reputation, encourage more parent referrals and retain existing pupils.
Increases brand awareness
Successful schools harness the power of community to increase brand awareness, understand their parents, improve their service and build loyalty.
Word of mouth is still the most effective way to raise awareness and in the case of schools recruit new pupils. Interestingly, people are 84% more likely to trust a referral or recommendation if it comes from a friend. Headteachers tell us that 80% of their new pupils are from referrals by existing parents at the school.
One of the main ways to raise awareness is through ‘brand ambassadors’. Schools have a ready made solution – it’s called their parent association or PTA. Giving them access to community building tools incentivises them to do more for the school. Inexpensive community management training for staff and the PTA can quickly raise their skills levels up to the leading branded communities. Remember Nike, Fitbit are doing this to recruit and retain more customers.
Meets increased expectations
School communities not only help recruit new families, but they are an invaluable source of feedback for management. Traditional focus groups and surveys aren’t so reliable. Researchers found when participating in traditional research, people suffer from the Hawthorne Effect. When people know they are being studied they change their behaviour. This doesn’t occur in closed safe communities when members are encouraged to ask and answer each other’s questions.
Parents are juggling through a lot of digital noise. So, the questions raised by your school on your community forum is an indication how well you are cutting through this and communicating key messages. What they understand and remember.
Also, to gain insight into what they like or feel the school could do better. Some schools are resistant to hosting community wide conversations. Out of their own fear it could give rise to negative comments. In our experience this doesn’t happen. Comments are constructive and gated within your school’s own space. More of an opportunity to test and refine your proposition. Therefore attract more pupils.
By parents answering each other’s questions, not only does this build a sense of belonging amongst parents it saves considerable admin time. Parents also respond outside of hours and on a timely basis.
Keeping current parents happy is just as vital as attracting new families. In our experience, parents continue to evaluate if younger siblings will attend the same school. A positive and welcoming community, where families interact with each other. Ultimately leading to bonds forming outside of school is a significant factor in building loyalty. An obvious point – the acquisition cost of converting siblings is much lower than gaining first time parents.
The PTA plays a key role in fostering loyalty. By offering a parents a chance to participate in community initiatives, they invest in the school and appreciate it more. It’s called the Ikea effect – when a consumer invests time in building a product or service they overvalue the brand.
Parent Commitment Curve
The Commitment Curve Framework is a recognised community management tool, based on the idea that asking members (in our case parents) to make increasingly, incrementally harder asks. This in turn leads to incrementally more commitment. Any given ask on that commitment curve is only slightly harder than the one before, so it never seems like a huge jump. Using Classlist’s platform, we find school communities ramp large numbers of parents up the curve to ever-higher levels of commitment. Now that is a good return on investment!
Susan Burton is the CEO and Founder of Classlist. Classlist is a free mobile, inclusive, community-based solution to school communications. Parents can make friends and stay in the know about school events. Schools manage their fundraising all in one secure location. The PTA can sell tickets and organise events with ease.
Classlist is used in thousands of leading schools around the world.
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