A Three-Prong Content Strategy (or Where Should We Post the Lunch Menu)

When I'm working with a school to redesign their website they often ask me questions about where certain content should go. These decisions can be tricky if the school hasn't thought through their content strategy. Without a broader strategic view every piece of content has to be considered and weighed and debated. The lunch menu is the classic example. Lunch involves school life so should it go in that section of the site? On the other hand the audience is primarily parents so perhaps it should go in that section? Or is this information private? Should it go behind the password?
Here are a few tips to help schools think broadly about their content strategy.
Remind me why we have a website?

The first step in establishing a content strategy is to gain broad understanding and buy-in about the purpose of your website. An easy way to help with this conversation is to ask where the budget for the site lives. Of course your site may serve multiple audiences so consider ranking the goals of your website in order of priority. You may come up with a list that looks something like this:

  1. Admission (attract new families to the school)
  2. Development (encourage giving)
  3. Communicate with existing families (keep families happy)

A website that exists as a marketing tool for new families will have very different kinds of content than a site that exists to encourage giving. Let's assume for a moment your site serves primarily marketing purposes. The next question is what kinds of content are best suited to marketing?
Articulating your authentic best.

Most of the content on a marketing focused website falls into the category I call 'authentic best.' It is authentic because you are really going to tell stories about your real students but it is also your best because they will be carefully curated stories selected to effectively tell your story. The same goes for the photos and videos: they should be visually stunning, carefully selected, and well produced. Families would expect that most of the content on your website falls into this category.
Show (some of) your warts.

Families today are also savvy media consumers. They will be able to identify slick marketing messages and will be interested in looking behind the curtain to find out what you are 'really like.' Give families an opportunity to experience the behind the scenes look at your school on your own terms by offering 'authentic' style content. This type of content is less formal and polished but still on message. Did you have a great spirit day? All of your students in face paint eating jello with chopsticks might never make it on your homepage but what a great way to show what a fun community you are.
Many schools highlight their authentic content on blog pages or social media pages. This is a great way to continue to control the message while still offering families a glimpse of less slick marketing materials.
Be incredibly useful to current families.

What if parents knew there was one place online to go to find out everything they needed about their child's life at school? Train families to log into the website for logistical information like event calendar, grades and transcripts, and other nuts and bolts information. Many schools choose to use a Learning Management System or other school portal software for this function.
Remember good communication isn't just a nice thing to do: well informed parents are happy parents and happy parents will reenroll.
What did we learn?

Every school has different kinds of content for different audiences. Here are the four steps to developing a content strategy:

  • Achieve clarity and buy-in on the purpose of your website
  • Focus most of your website and authentic best content to support that goal
  • Offer some behind-the-scenes content in front of the password
  • Offer logistical information behind the password

So what about that lunch menu? If the school has an organic farm, the meals are catered by the Four Seasons, or the menu is in some other way distinctive then the lunch menu belongs in front of the password as authentic best content in the marketing section of the site. Otherwise it belongs behind the password where parents and students are trained to look for it.
What do you think? How do you think about your content strategy? Let us know in the comments!

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