Looking for some fresh ideas to spice up your web site?

“Content is King!” is a common web mantra, but how do we make sure that the information we post is relevant, timely, and truly “news you can use”?

Like good cooking, strategic communication on the web takes advanced planning and attention to detail. The key to creating savory web sites is to slice your audiences into wafer-thin segments and then develop your content accordingly.

“Segmenting” is dividing up your audience and their needs and interests so that you can give them content that’s appropriate. (Advertisers run beer commercials during the Super Bowl. You see the point!)

Rather than lumping all parents together as one massive audience, try segmenting their needs and interests by grade level, neighborhood/proximity to the school, shared values, technology access and sophistication, years of residency, employment, community activities, or level of involvement in the classroom.

Then, identify several opinion leaders in each of these segments. Opinion leaders are those “EF Hutton” folks whose ideas, concerns, values, and interests influence the opinions of others in their group: Whether they represent business executives or the maintenance crew…When they speak, people listen.

A matter of focus

Now, take a look at what your web site offers these newly identified VIPs. You may discover that your home pages simply repeat the district’s promotional brochure or offer a limited menu of poor quality photos, calendars, enrollment procedures, and maps.

You may need to regroup. The critical question you need to address is, “How can our web site help each target audience in a unique and time-saving way?” If you can’t answer the question, you might need to: 1) find out more about your audience’s communication needs via a “pop up” survey, “guest book,” or other research techniques, or 2) pursue a different channel of communication.

The key to targeting any audience more effectively is to focus on their cares, concerns, values, and interests. Too many of us focus only on what we think is important, as evidenced by the rash of board members’ photos, discipline codes, and curriculum “mumbo-jumbo” scattered across the nation’s school web sites.

Maybe elementary school parents would appreciate teachers’ tips on choosing high-quality books or toys, child rearing, helping with homework, coping with divorce, or juggling family and work demands.

Most parents are also desperate for online information and registration for after-school activities, summer camps, and enrichment programs. To add even more value to your web page, add links to related community resources on the web, such as the YMCA’s latch-key program or the zoo’s junior safari classes for kids.

For high school parents, try providing information and links to reputable sites on career planning, technical training, job market forecasts, summer internship opportunities, local colleges and universities, and college search and financial aid sites. At the very least, provide eMail addresses for your guidance and counseling departments.

By segmenting your audiences with greater precision and by matching your messages (content) to their needs and interests, not only does your web site become a preferred communication channel for your key constituents, but you also strengthen your school’s position and image as a valuable community resource worthy of trust and support.

Did your town’s largest employer just announce a merger or a move? Post sample resumes, and highlight ways your district or community can help adult workers attain the new skills they need.

Model web sites

Here are a few school web cites that match message to audience exceptionally well:

€ A national award-winner, Farmington (Mich.) Public Schools’ web site has special features for specific audiences, including a new alumni information section and an on-line catalog and registration for adult and community education. Farmington’s “Just for Kids” section includes a listing of community youth services, the daily lunch menu, and other news. The “Announcements” pages give parents, staff, and the media a quick, complete look at current district news, activities, and events.

http://www.farmington.K12.mi.us

€ Anyone who has helped a teen struggle through a first research paper will appreciate Jackson (N.J.) Memorial High School’s home page, which includes a highly detailed “research guide.” Jackson also offers a virtual tour and updates on block scheduling, computer technology, guidance department services, sports, clubs, and activities. A survey and “eMail us” button help Jackson’s web masters keep their electronic fingers on the pulse of key stakeholders.

http://www.cybercomm.net/~jaguarca

€ Francis Tuttle (Okla.) Vo-Tech Center’s “Future of Learning” home page targets students and faculty effectively by hosting special chat rooms and sections designed just for them. Francis Tuttle’s “Cyber Student Union” includes a student forum, online class schedule, tips for building your own web site, ride-sharing information, and campus job listings. Teachers can tap into the faculty “cyber lounge” to discuss business needs in education and other topics. Committed to “one-to-one” marketing and service, Francis Tuttle also makes it easy for patrons to provide feedback on the site or contact staff members with specific questions by eMail, phone, fax, or mail.

http://www.francistuttle.com/

€ Our own web site, the Cooperating School Districts (CSD) of Greater St. Louis (Mo.), shows why linking key audience segments with other web resources makes strategic sense. Since adding links to other educational and cultural institutions such as the St. Louis Science Center and Missouri Botanical Gardens, hits by teachers, administrators, students, and other web surfers have increased dramatically, according to Carl Hoagland, director of educational technology. CSD’s link to the United Nations is its most frequently visited site, followed by its online catalog of videos, and correlations that match videos to the state’s new academic standards. Thanks to online ordering, teachers can request audiovisual materials from CSD at their convenience, 24-hours-a-day.

http://info.csd.org/

€ Richland County (S.C.) School District One has segmented its home page very effectively, with special features for parents, job seekers, and teachers. (I especially like their “Getting Involved” primer for parents.) Richland also manages to trumpet its good news announcements and updates without slowing down or annoying its web visitors.

http://www.richlandone.org

Knowing your customers on a one-to-one basis and then building an ongoing relationship with them are the basic ingredients for all effective web communication. Spicing your efforts with personalized, tailor-made information, interactivity, and relevant, meaningful content might just give your marketing mix the additional flavor it needs.

For more information, contact Nora Carr: nora@info.csd.org.

Farmington Public Schools

http://www.farmington.K12.mi.us

Jackson Memorial High School

http://www.cybercomm.net/~jaguarca

Francis Tuttle Vo-Tech

http://www.francistuttle.com/

Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis

http://info.csd.org/

Richland County School District One

http://www.richlandone.org