Is Marketing Your School District a Thing? Part 2: Storytelling
Stories are all around us. Researchers found that personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversation. Some stories are as small as 6 words or 280 characters, and others are the length of a book or a movie. Your best stories are told in multiple lengths and forms.
For successful branding, districts need to showcase the characteristics and stories they want their audience to know about them through good storytelling. Let’s not forget that great leaders are intentional about everything they do, so it is important to be intentional in telling the great stories of your schools: focusing on the positive things happening in schools gives leaders more drive and has a tremendous impact on school culture.
Why tell your story?
Storytelling is a key component of defining your school’s or district’s identity and brand. It is important to use it to show the amazing things going on behind your doors. Use stories of your schools as tools to emotionally connect with your audience, influence culture, build trust with your community, establish the brand of your district and spur innovation.
As best-selling author and former educator Eric Shenninger explains in his co-authored book BrandEd, branding for schools is about (story)telling, not selling. By telling families what is happening in your schools, what you are achieving and how you are achieving it, you build a brand that encourages families and teachers to move into your community and attend or work at your school.
It also has the added benefit of inspiring pride in your current student body and their families, as well as recognition of the community of practice from within and outside the district
How to tell your story
In the digital age, storytelling is a critical aspect of school communications. The fact is, if you don’t tell your story, someone else will, and it’s rarely told the way you want it to be.
You are making a difference every day and your work deserves to be shared and recognized. Tell your story with accuracy, transparency and consistency. You should share your stories of school and district successes and student accomplishment, but also be clear and honest about negative things that happen. Clear communication helps you avoid controversy.
Mediums to share your story
Storytelling should not only be through traditional channels like newsletters, flyers and websites .You should also use social media , media aggregators, blog portals, partnerships and specialized websites and organizations to share your story properly, take control of your public relations and become the storyteller-in-chief.
- Your blog: if you don’t have a blog, you’re missing out on a highly-effective way to attract new students, engage with your existing students and parents and communicate with your entire community. Your blog is by far your most powerful communications tool. There is no better medium to share innovative strategies, ideas and success stories related to learning and accomplishments happening in your organization. The simple fact is that a blog has so many benefits that it’s just too important to ignore. Many schools use blogs to share their stories and shape their own narratives.
- Social media: No discussion of branding and story-sharing would be complete without a mention of your social media presence. Social media channels are vital to keeping your brand alive and garnering exposure. These channels provide an invaluable opportunity for your community to interact with you: teachers, parents and students alike are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—this is why you have to be there, too. These platforms provide excellent outlets for telling your institution’s story. While social media can be a great place for real-time updates and news, you should also use it to shape your brand identity with stories you share through your content, such as photos of teachers and students, the design of your classroom, videos, etc.
- Twitter – a platform that allows any educators to share their story in 280 characters or less. These tweets can be a dynamic combination of text, pictures, videos and links to websites. You can create a unique hashtag for your school or district, or use established hashtags to increase exposure of your stories by capitalizing on a hashtag’s pre-existing audience. Some of the districts we partner with are great examples of using Twitter not only for their storytelling, but also as a professional development tool for their teachers, and a way to share their learnings and techniques with the education community. If you’re interested in the topic of Twitter for professional development, check out the blog posts Tweeting Our Way to Collaboration and Personalization and It’s Not About Twitter, It’s About Teacher Collaboration.
- Facebook – this social media tool has really become the storytelling hub for a lot of school districts. Compatible with all formats of content including website links, pictures, videos and copy, Facebook is also one of the biggest sources of viral content, with popular videos, especially, racking up hundreds of thousands of comments, shares and likes. It is the favorite social media platform for parents. Facebook also allows the creation of organization "pages" which can be used for branding and content-sharing purposes, as well as groups which schools or districts can leverage to share news and announcements with families and community members.
- Video: Video is one of the most powerful storytelling tools available to your school. Branding is all about telling a story and videos are the most direct and appealing way to do that. Creating a YouTube channel for your school or district allows you to capture your story with more detail. As a partner, we have developed videos for many of the school districts that we work with to showcase their work (and ours), and to share their experience overcoming barriers during the implementation of innovative initiatives. Videos give voice to the students, the teachers and the administrators. Videos do not only show the work, but also help the community of practice identify themselves based on the barriers they have encountered, the issues they are solving, the initiatives they are implementing and the demographics of the district or its size. Districts get recognized for their work and efforts through the story they are telling and sharing.
- Partners and community websites: As mentioned above, we help our district partners tell their stories and share their successes. But there are also other channels that help school districts tell their stories, such as BLU for districts who are implementing Blended Learning and Personalized Learning. BLU is a platform by the Christensen Institute that helps school districts build their brand by creating their own profiles. Schools and districts can use these profiles to tell the stories of their journeys to implement blended learning, and share that out with stakeholders, their communities and more, which is good for getting recognition as leaders in this work. These stories contribute to a growing database of global blended-learning models that can in turn be studied and shared back out to highlight trends and bright spots.
Do not let branding and marketing make you feel uncomfortable because it implies that there is a sale to be made. In this modern era, schools need to compete for talent, students and community support – so if you’re not branding your schools and sharing your stories, you’re falling behind. You will not only build a greater appreciation within your community for the amazing work happening at your schools, but also catch the eye of the mainstream media who will then look to you for positive stories and examples of progress and innovation. Never underestimate the power of your stories.
Read about branding your school district, on part 1 of our series: Is Marketing Your School or District a Thing? Part 1: Branding