Simon Hepburn, of Marketing Advice for Schools, discusses the new ways of marketing your school and how you can get on board with the trends
Schools have always needed to communicate well with parents and their wider communities, but the need to do this has increased significantly in recent years with the rise of new channels which allow much more opportunity for two-way communication.
These changes have been tracked through a series of surveys carried out by Marketing Advice for Schools and a number of partner organisations since 2015. The latest survey* took place in June and July 2021 and showed the impact of the COVID pandemic – as well as the challenges facing schools in the future!
School marketing comes of age
The first overall theme was that school marketing has ‘come of age’ in response to the challenges of COVID, income generation and student recruitment. Marketing budgets have risen by 50% in five years, and this has been accompanied by innovative use of video, social media and other digital communication tools. For example, 81% of schools had introduced virtual tours, 39% had used drone footage and 35% had live-streamed video in the past year.
These changes have made significant demands on schools and marketing and communication budgets have risen significantly; independent schools now spend around £75,000 per year (excluding salaries) – a rise from around £40,000 in 2016 – while state schools average £16,000, up from around £10,000 in 2016. The largest component of this spending for both types of school is the school website – the essential ‘front door’ in the digital age!
As well as spending more, schools have had to learn new skills. The biggest skills areas in demand are social media management and marketing strategy, both cited by 73% of schools, followed by website development at 50%. Unsurprisingly, given the focus on remote marketing, videography has seen the largest rise over the past three years, with 40% of schools looking to develop their skills in this area – and a huge increase in the state sector, rising from 14% to 36%.
No No to Tik Tok?
Looking at social media, schools have become more flexible in selecting the right platform for their audience – Instagram, used by students and younger parents, is now used by 64% of schools while Twitter use has dropped from 90% to 79% over the past three years; a majority of schools are using LinkedIn to connect with alumni or local businesses. Facebook is now the most popular platform, used by 86% of those surveyed.
Despite its popularity among students, only four per cent of schools are now using TikTok – it will be interesting to see if this increases or follows the path of the last ‘trendy’ platform SnapChat, which has never been used by more than four per cent of schools in any survey!
Looking to the future, schools are anticipating a wide range of communication challenges in 2022. Over half of multi-academy trusts surveyed are looking to add more schools and 55% are creating communication plans to bring new stakeholders on board in order to do this. They are using a range of messages as part of this strategy – 90% are sharing their vision and values, 59% their support for school improvement and 52% the benefits of working for them.
For 53% of private and 41% of state schools, the biggest challenge they face is filling all places in the school, while recruiting teachers and income generation are the biggest issue for 14% of all schools. To manage these challenges, 64% of schools are set to increase their spending on their websites, 53% on social media management and 52% on digital advertising. By contrast only 10% are going to increase spending on printed advertising and 5% are cutting spending in all areas of marketing and communication. Interestingly, 33% are looking to spend more time connecting with former students – something that could help with a range of challenges, including income generation.
One interesting issue for the future is how schools will run external events such as parent and student open days. Given the ongoing threat from COVID, only 30% of schools are looking to run all events ‘face-to-face’ while 76% will keep both virtual and face-to-face events.
Website accessibility issues
One challenge facing school websites is to meet accessibility standards – both in terms of legislation and to ensure that all stakeholders can access information. Worryingly, only 42% of schools surveyed were sure that their school’s website was accessible, and only 37% felt that it met the UK government’s accessibility standards (https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps). Those schools operating internationally should also check they meet the specifications of other countries.
*The survey of 82 schools and colleges was carried out by Glove Consulting, Concept4 and Marketing Advice for Schools in June and July 2021. For a copy of the full survey visit https://www.educationsurvey2021.co.uk/