- Boosted Severn School’s digital presence with weekly published web content
- Balanced the informational, procedural content on the school website with stories that simultaneously show school culture and showcase the breadth of academic and extracurricular programs at Severn
- Strengthened the school’s brand identity by creating an emotional connection to the Severn community
- Doubled engagement on social media platforms across the board
When I joined Severn’s marketing and communications team, one of our major strategic goals was to showcase life at Severn through authentic written stories. The school didn’t have blogging system in place and wasn’t prepared to invest in new software so I used the school’s existing “news” platform as a publishing tool. Previously, the school published news stories that consisted of a paragraph or less of text and a single image — these were essentially announcements rather than fully formed stories. If we wanted to create shareable content that gets attention, we needed to guide the reader visually through each piece and show them where to go next.
I adjusted the style and content of the news story detail page in the school’s CMS (Blackbaud OnMessage) to mimic familiar news-blog styles and created an HMTL template for each story that incorporates headings, non-text elements, white space and images, resulting in an engaging experience for our readers. With this new layout, we could easily include video, quotes, and photos to give shape to each story.
Build a Strategic Workflow
The next step in our content strategy was to change how the communications department connects internally with our community. Previously, the department relied on weekly emails asking teachers and students to submit quick descriptions of events and programs. I changed our workflow to be more proactive about the types of stories we share and how we use those stories to show prospective and current families the value of a Severn education.
Working with the Director of Communications, I established a set of personas and content themes to shape our stories throughout the year:
Personas by priority:
- Prospective families
- Current students/parents
- Academics Innovation
- Student Life (Activities/Athletics)
- College Preparatory
With our personas and themes in place, I looked at the school calendar to pinpoint events that we would feature and created an online survey asking teachers what lessons and activities they would like to showcase. From this strategic viewpoint, we could intentionally plan most of our content for the year and make sure that each piece aligns with our goals.
Make Each Moment Memorable
And finally, the most critical piece of our written content strategy, the story. In order to tease out a full story from school events and activities, I incorporated interviews into my story writing process. I set aside time to meet with every teacher, student, and administrator to be featured and spoke with them about what they do best. Although time-consuming, I found this to be the best way to get to the heart of what makes Severn a special place. It’s more than you can read in a list of dates and details — it’s the anecdote a teacher shares when talking about a memorable day, it’s the look on a student’s face when they get the chance to share their perspective. There’s a level of authenticity in face-to-face interaction that translates into relatable, captivating stories.
The independent school community in Severn’s area has a lot to offer. Most have robust academic, athletic and extracurricular programs, small class sizes and impressive facilities … just like Severn. What sets Severn apart is something less tangible. It’s a feeling of being known and valued, being part of their community from the first second you walk in the door. This type of content conveys what differentiates Severn from competing schools in their market.
Share It Everywhere
Previously, news stories were published on the homepage of the Severn website for two weeks and then lived in a content archive that families could access behind a password. If we were putting so much effort into crafting these stories, it made no sense to let them die after two weeks on a homepage where they may or may not be seen by the audience for which they were intended.
I created a plan for sharing and resharing these stories on social media, included links to previous stories in the sidebar of the actual story pages, and distributed them across the website in areas that made the most sense. Updating these stories throughout the site is as easy as clicking a few buttons, keeping current information throughout the site as we create the stories each week.