Importance of Emotional Connections
As school marketers, we know that emotional connection matters more than customer satisfaction. There’s a lot of research in the area of marketing that shows the emotional connection to a brand is very important. Customers that have an emotional connection with a brand are less price sensitive, tend to stay longer, and they’ll recommend your brand. So that means for schools, emotional connection is also very important, and parents are a big part of that.
We also know from schools and church building, that volunteering does more for growth and retention than any other area. It’s a key aspect of building a college. Not only because you benefit from the hours of work that are done, but people that volunteer feel connected to your cause, and therefore are more likely to recommend your college to others and stay long-term.
How to Build Community
So, how do we build community in our college? First of all, it takes good communication. It takes regular and consistent communication from the marketing department. And this needs to be across various platforms. It’s no longer good enough to say, “Well, we put it out there. If they didn’t see it, well too bad for them. Tough luck, they missed it.” It’s our job to communicate in a way that is accessible to people and gets the message across. If you feel that parents are missing things; you might need to try something else. You can communicate across several platforms, including email, letter, SMS, social media, and many others.
It also needs to be two-way communication. We’re very good at talking to parents. But we also need to develop our skills in terms of listening and helping parents to feel heard. You need to have staff members that are able to empathise with parents and listen to their concerns that they bring forward to staff. It’s important that we don’t just answer people’s questions if they have a complaint. But it’s important that we actually make them feel heard and empathise with them. Often, it’s about them feeling heard and not actually fixing a problem.
The next thing in terms of building a community is that it needs to be based on real relationships. We need to address the human behind every interaction. That means staff at the front desk and teachers need to look people in the eye when communicating with them, they need to talk face to face, and they need to be relatable. They need to be human and approachable to parents. It also means that we need to facilitate relationships between parents within the college so they can build meaningful friendships. If they are ever going through a rough time, you know that there’s a community that will know about what they are going through and be able to help them through it. This way we can facilitate things like gift clubs for birthdays and things, or cooking for a family that’s going through illness or something like that. It’s very important that we facilitate that process in a real way while not getting too involved.
Structures to Facilitate Growth
Building a college community is an organic process that requires some structure to facilitate growth. The structures that we, as a college, can put into place, include things like installing a parent rep system, where we have one parent rep per class or one per year level or house, to be the facilitator between the college and parents.
Another great structure that we can put in place is to have staff committees. Staff committees that talk about building community and implement plans and projects to build community within your college. Community building is a whole world of its own and can take up a lot of time, and a staff committee can help with this process.
Measuring Parent Engagement
One of the important aspects of building community is measuring your parent engagement. Often parents that become disengaged, soon after that will become dissatisfied parents. So, it’s important that you keep track of your parents by scoring them every time they open up communication, every time they click through to your website, and every time they register or attend events. You’ll soon get a picture of which parents aren’t engaging with you at all, and they probably aren’t up to date, they’re not tracking with their child’s progress in terms of the academic work, and they really aren’t engaged with your college. It’s important for you to address those parents and to find out if there are ways that you can communicate to them that would actually be beneficial.
I hope that helps you and gives you a few thoughts and ideas around community building for your college. I know that as school marketers, we wear so many hats in a college, and community building is another one of them. But it is actually really important for the long-term success and growth of your college.
Any ideas that I missed? What works well for your school? Remember to join the discussion in the Marketing Mastery For Schools Facebook Group.