Digital Publicity Strategies for Private Schools
Digital publicity is a means for private schools to increase their online positioning and presence at low or no cost. It is the way marketing is trending for the foreseeable future. As such, it should be viewed as a critical part of your overall marketing plan.
So, let's launch into some frequently asked questions, so you can begin to map out your plan, figure out some best practices, and get some practical tips to increase your "digital footprint."
What are the advantages of digital publicity? Ranking high in search engines, building brand awareness, and developing a strong following are just some of the many benefits of a digital publicity plan. By viewing your team "as the media", you can take charge of how your website ranks, elevate SEO (search engine optimization), potentially lower marketing costs, and measure results.
Why are private schools going digital? Some of the reasons include: expanding reach, targeting, building authenticity and trust, lowering costs, and getting noticed quickly.
Which digital formats can private schools use to increase their online footprint? The list includes: blogs, YouTube or Vimeo channels, podcasts, email newsletter archives, and national/hometown news release platforms. When you think about these platforms, remember they put schools in control of the media, rather than traditional media outlets controlling your presence and reputation.
What is the cost of traditional vs. digital media? There is no question that radio, tv, and print are far more expensive and pose more difficulties in measuring ROI than digital. Even if you outsource blog writing and videography, you will end up with more content that is highly authentic and could even lower expenses. This allows you to direct your budget to the key marketing drivers of enrollments (typically organic search, paid search, referrals, and education sites like Boarding School Review). National press releases can be a bit pricey, so ensure you have something very newsworthy on a national scale.
How easy is it to publish digitally? While it it often tough to get picked up by traditional, it's relatively easy to publish anything in the digital world. The hard part is working up the content. With a multitude of easy and free platforms, you can publish stories and articles on a shoestring budget.
Should schools use national and hometown news platforms? There are some paid platforms for national news such as PR Newswire, as well as platforms for hometown news like Read Media/Merit. Merit offers schools a chance to consolidate time-consuming work in releasing general (e.g. new programs, facilities, new hires) and personal releases (e.g. graduation announcements, awards). For national platforms, they allow specific levels of targeting, but the articles themselves should have more general national appeal.
Do some schools hire PR agencies or a publicist? It depends on the budget and the current situation. If the school is trying to improve their reputation or address crisis communications, an agency may be necessary. When thinking about agencies, one of the key benefits is they partner with media contacts, bloggers, journalists, and influencers to maximize exposure. However, for private schools, an agency might not be needed or beyond the budget, so there are some ways you can do this directly. Alternatively, you can also consider using lower-cost service providers. For example, you might find someone to work up press releases and do blogs for a set fee. This type of outsourcing can free up time, so you can focus on your key talents and strengths. If you do work with a PR agency, you also want to focus their efforts.
How do you target audiences? Unlike traditional media (radio, tv, print), online publicity is much simpler. Many platforms offer ways to target audiences by location, interests, age, income, and much more. Bear in mind, targeting is also integral to search. Search engines like Google and Bing have the sophisticated algorithms to move your content upward if it is relevant to the search.
What is the best way to find blog topics? Increase your chances of being found and rising to the top of searches, by checking out other blogs under a key topic. For example, do a search for “top blogs for dyslexia” or “top blogs about private schools.” As expected, some national associations or websites rise to the top, making some search activity highly competitive. With this in mind, consider less competitive and niche oriented topics and keyword use for digital content. A great way to plan out your annual content is to think like a prospect and brainstorm questions or topics that families typically ask about your school. These can be addressed in a series of blogs that span months or even the entire year.
How do you target segmented or niche audiences? There are a number of tools to help you identify and target niche audiences. Simply do some online searches to find the best topics to address. The Google keyword planner is also an excellent tool. It will not only help you identify the best keyword phrases for SEM/Google Ads, but it will help you find your niche. If you have a Google Ads account, you can find the Keyword Planner in the top toolbar under Tools and Settings/Planning/Keyword Planner.
How long does take to go live with traditional? With print or broadcast publicity, schools have to pitch story ideas and then wait and hope for possible coverage. However, if you think of yourself as the "digital broadcaster," you can write a blog post, create a podcast or video, use Merit for hometown news, and publish immediately.
How can schools repurpose content? Here are some ways: Take a blog post and send it out in an email newsletter. Abbreviate and restructure the format for a press release. Create a series of social media posts on various platforms. Turn it into a podcast. Convert it into a video or multiple videos for your YouTube or Vimeo channel. Do a post on Linkedin or respond to a question on Quora. If you need more ideas, check out our blog on how to repurpose content.
Does digital publicity help with visibility in search? Blogs, online news articles, videos and other digital content can be found by the search engines. The good news is that search engines do most of the work. Make sure you create strong research-based content, edit it carefully, use compelling headlines, embed links strategically, and follow the best SEO practices for each platform. Keep in mind though that this is not an overnight process, but it is one of the most reputable long-term strategies for improving SEO.
How do you analyze digital results? This is one of the key benefits of digital vs. traditional marketing tactics. There are a number of tools to help you analyze and take action based on data. Check out the following: Google Analytics, Alexa for news sites, RSS feeds, open rates for newsletters, referral website traffic, number of shares/retweets, and your Linkedin audience size, groups, and level of engagement.
Does digital really help build relationships and engagement? Social media builds connection, creates interest, informs, and builds followers. On sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google My Business, you can share valuable content, offer a "lead magnet", and encourage prospects to follow you. If you provide a public service, people will want to learn more, share info with friends, and could become viable prospects.
Should you have a news section on your website? Most private schools have separate libraries, one for blogs and another for news. These sections should be easily accessible from the home and about pages and should be organized by category. For example, academics, athletics, campus life, and other categories. Whenever you do get any publicity, published articles should be uploaded and become part of the news library on your website. Some schools also include news that they generate, but that they do not release or get published. Remember, not everything you send to the media will get published, so it is okay to have some news stories live on your site to keep families informed.
Does digital perform better than traditional media for schools? With digital, prospective families can access news articles about your school, blog posts, and video, around the clock. With traditional media, like TV or radio, a show’s ratings will often determine whether or not someone even sees your story, when it is live, and who it reaches.
Should schools pitch bloggers or influencers? Most private schools elect to do their own blogs, but you may have some key contacts with professional bloggers or influencers interested in your content. In this case, it is generally easier to pitch them vs. traditional media. These kinds of professionals tend to do lots of linking to high profile blogs and have a strong following.
Who should write school blogs? It depends. You want to get the very best writers to compose and develop blogs. Schools sometimes assign blogs to outside SEO agencies, freelancers, students, administrators, or someone in marketing. Keep in mind, it is very time-consuming to generate quality blogs, but they can be quickly repurposed into press releases and other formats. Before you take on this responsibility, remember a quality blog should ideally be at least 1200 words and can take anywhere from 2-7 hours to write, embed links, add media assets, and schedule on platforms.
Should we hire a freelancer, agency, or contract worker? Increasingly, private schools are using external content creators, copywriters, publicity experts, and blog writers. These professionals are familiar with best practices and understand how to write, embed links, build headers, embed links to internal website pages, do external links to reputable articles, and use the very best keyword phrases. Writing good press releases, blogs, preparing for videos and podcasts requires both creative and analytic talent, drive, and discipline. If you do not have the time to develop content, then contracting someone from the outside can be a very viable option that yields strong returns.
Can other schools use our content? Although, no one should copy you, keep in mind that everyone is sharing information these days. Don’t be surprised by blogs with similar headlines and content as you search online. Remember, it is more important to create content, than to try to track down copycats. Also, most professionals in education are familiar with ways to avoid direct duplication and frown upon plagiarism.
How should schools deal with negative or inappropriate comments? The Internet opens up the world of information, but also the ability to comment anonymously. Where you cannot comment on a hard copy newspaper article, blogs and other platforms do have comment functionality. A few key tips if you get negative or inappropriate comments: first, respond quickly to comments (good and bad), second, have responses ready-to-go to the most common types of comments, and third, offer a means to connect to discuss the situation in more detail.
What is the best way to correct errors on digital platforms? For website blogs, it is fairly simple to edit even after publishing, but a podcast or video has more complexities. National and hometown press release platforms will ensure you approve before publishing. Once it is published, in some cases, it is touch to go back. If you have a WordPress website, the blog However, if something was written and published by an outside source, try to identify the contact info, reach out, and politely request the correction.
In conclusion, it is important to have an annual marketing plan that includes all of your digital strategies and tactics, including those for publicity. Publicity is often referred to as the "best form of advertising" because it is authentic and trusted. Prospects hear about you from sources they trust, become engaged, and sometimes even share your news with others. The power of numbers and low cost options in digital publicity, really can be a formidable force in your marketing toolkit.
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