Sunday, September 30, 2012

5 Suggestions for 21st Century School Leaders on Web Presence Management

According to Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes, in the book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age, school leaders should

“Think of your website as home base for your school information platform.”

A great deal is written about school leaders engaging in the use of social media. I myself have done the same. But, most of us have a more powerful way to communicate information and image to the broader world than social media, and that is our school or district web presence.

My own experience is that most districts do not spend a great deal of time deliberately thinking about their web presence. They simply post a web site because either “everyone’s doing it” or there’s some written or unwritten mandate out there that says they must. The result of this often means a school or district has a web site, but it is highly underutilized and poorly updated, and that is a shame. A web site is an opportunity for a school or district to get its message out to the world.

I am going to propose a new idea: “21st century school leaders need to take charge of their web presence.” In other words, school leaders need to make their web sites purposeful places of information and news about their schools and districts, make it a tool of public relations and organizational promotion.  To do that, here’s some simple suggestions:

1. Do not delegate updating the web site to someone else. I can already hear the protests on this one, especially from those “not-so-tech-savvy” school administrators, but hear me out on this one. Too often, school administrators have no clue about how web sites work, and how important web presence is. If a school leader takes on the role of updating and monitoring their school web site, then what goes on it matters. They also know what’s on their school web site. I am afraid there are probably administrators out there who don’t even know everything that is on their web site. By taking on the role of managing your web site, you know what is there. You can also make sure it projects your school mission and vision to the world. In a word, when you take on the job of managing your school site, you take its content personal, and that is important.

2. If you do delegate your web site management and maintenance to someone else, make sure you are involved. Too often, web presence is delegated to someone who knows how to do it, then the school administrator rarely assists in its management and maintenance. If a school leader is going to delegate this task, she needs to meet periodically to review the site and examine it for content, style, aesthetics, etc. This periodic review also needs to look at the site’s statistics. By looking at analytics such as web traffic and traffic sources, school leaders can tell if they are getting the most out of their web presence, and look for ways to increase traffic to their site, after all, why have a web site if you aren’t interested in its traffic?In the 21st century, just having a web site isn’t enough. To utilize that web presence to fullest, school leaders need to be involved in its management and maintenance even if the mechanics are delegated to others.

3. Use social media tools to direct traffic to your web site. While social media can be used to make announcements, which I do myself, it can also be used to promote your web site. This is especially important for those longer announcements and more detailed information that can’t be shared on Twitter in a 140 characters, or on a Facebook page. Using social media tools to direct traffic to your web presence, simply means posting using social media tools when there’s significantly new information, or just important information on your web site. Ultimately, my personal goal is to get parents, and the larger world,  to visit our web site regularly without prompting, even getting them to subscribe to changes with RSS, if that’s possible. Ultimately, social media is a means to call attention to our school or district’s web presence.

4. Update and revise your web site often. If you want people to visit your school or district web site often, then you have to give them a reason to do so, and this can be done by constantly providing new and engaging information. If you take a moment and visit some school or district web sites today, and you return to them a year from now, you will probably see little change. Maybe the calendar widget has changed, or the little announcements box has new items in it, but if you click on the “principal’s message button” you are treated to the same message he posted last year. If you want people to return to your site again and again, you have to give them a reason to do so. This means updating and providing new and engaging information about your school on a regular basis.

5. Carefully and deliberately select your web presence manager. Too often the role of web presence manager is simply “dumped” on someone with the tech savvy to operate the software. This is a big mistake. Instead, 21st century school leaders should delegate their web presence management to after carefully and deliberately selecting the person who will take on this role. Yes, the person needs to tech know-how, but they also need to be expert communicators, knowing how to make the most of the medium. They need to be able to do more than just “update the web page with latest announcement.” They need to know who to make the most of web presence in promoting school or district. Simply selecting someone who knows how to work the tools makes little sense in a digital age when you are projecting a global image by your web presence.

The reality is, a number of school leaders view just having a web presence as enough. The truth is, those who think that are missing out on using an effective tool to get their school or district’s story out to the world. To get the most out of our web presence, you have to start looking at our web site as “information central” about your school and district, and take an active role in its management and maintenance.