Friday, October 19, 2012

Improving Secondary Schools' Recruiting With Web Design Redux

[photo: frankh via Flickr]
In my previous post I discussed some key challenges for secondary schools’ recruiting process with regard to website design. In doing so, I provided a prospective parent’s view. You’re inside the head of the folks who sign the checks.

Let’s switch gears now to a different perspective. I’m also a consultant who’s worked with secondary education institutions to improve their use of social media and websites. I’m offering you a lagniappe here, the kind of material for which I’ve billed schools and businesses. 

Your institution represents a capital investment to students and parents; they want to invest in something they can believe in, a brand with a great image and reputation. Your recruiting success along with the other goals of your institution depends upon the brand you're building.

When selecting website design firms, most schools generally use criteria different from that of for-profit businesses. Schools select firms based on what other schools have chosen, or based on feedback offered internally; they don't think in terms of branding. It’s rare that any school sets out specific, measurable goals and then looks for a design firm used to helping for-profit businesses meet these goals, let alone firms that support nonprofits.

Your institution has quantifiable aims--XX% more new students, YY% more endowments, ZZ% more new placements of your students at hiring firms. These are just as specific as a corporation’s need to realize XX% more revenue, or a nonprofit’s need to increase donations by YY%. There’s a lot of science behind web design supporting these for-profit and nonprofit goals and their respective brands; your school should find a firm with a track record of delivery.

Network with your largest business donors as well as significant nonprofits located in the same state as your school. Look at their websites and ask these entities if the sites are successful, supporting their mission in a quantifiable fashion. Then ask about the design firm. Look for several and submit RFQs to several firms for site redesign.

Be prepared to discuss your mission and vision. Do some homework on your school’s site; does your school’s site truly reflect your mission and vision now? Will it return at the top of search engine results if you entered the school’s name AND key words from the mission statement? Does every page at your school’s website convey the same mission-driven brand identity mirrored by the front or splash page?

And does your school’s organization have a recent SWOT analysis? What are the key strengths website design should convey? What are the weaknesses of the institution, and how is the school addressing them? Does the website communicate ongoing improvements? What new programs and curricula are likely to draw new students and funders--does the website adequately promote these? What threats to the school’s short- and long-term goals should be countered in the website’s design?

All departments and functions should likewise reflect the school’s mission. Certainly, the School of Medicine should not be a clone of the School of Engineering, but both should be clearly and readily identified as belonging to the same parent institution. Subpages created by instructors and assistants should likewise reflect their school and institution.

As mentioned in my previous post, don’t seek to be like the FaceBook. Seek to be the preferred school mentioned most frequently by targeted students, their parents, your donors, and your students’ prospective employers. Your school’s website design should make it very easy for these constituencies to share information about your institution within other forms of social media, but it should not become social media itself.

Your institution also needs to have a social media policy, so that all communications emerging from the school also uniformly reflect the mission, vision, and values. Don’t forget that decreasing liability through uniformity in social media supports your school’s brand.

Lastly, take a survey. Find out from your key constituencies what works on your existing site and what doesn’t. Take performance measurements and check them along with the survey results against your institution’s specific goals. Take more surveys after the redesign on a regular basis along with more measurements. Act on the data received from these surveys and deliver success.

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