- 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 communications team, one of our major strategic goals was to showcase school life through authentic written stories. The school didn’t have a blogging system in place and wasn’t prepared to invest in new software so I used their 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. To create shareable articles and drive traffic to our site, we needed to improve the layout, content, and distribution.
I adjusted the style and layout of the news story detail page in Severn’s CMS (Blackbaud OnMessage) to mimic familiar news-blog styles. Using standards for SEO and accessibility, I created an HTML template that incorporates semantic headings, blockquotes, and placeholders for images. I applied custom styles to those pages 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 was to change how the communications department connects internally with our community. Previously, the department relied on weekly emails asking teachers to submit quick descriptions of events and programs — resulting in lackluster responses with little detail. We needed a more purposeful strategy to showcase the full value of education at Severn and to share the many voices that comprise our community.
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 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.
I also created a series of articles to inform prospective families more specifically about Severn’s admissions process. These focus less on specific stories from the school and speak more generally to the school culture, providing essential information to families and answering the question, “I’m interested, now what?”
Share It. Everywhere.
Previously, the communications office published previews of the news stories to the homepage of the school’s website for two weeks and later moved them to an archive that families could access behind a password. I reviewed Google Analytics and found that click rates to these stories from the homepage were very low. We simply weren’t getting them out there.
We still publish these stories to the homepage, but that’s only one of many channels we use to connect our community with the content. I created a plan for sharing and resharing our newly structured stories on social media, included links to previous stories in the sidebar of each article, 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 information current as we create new stories each week. At the end of each month, we compile all recent stories and videos into an email newsletter which reaches every member of our community. Read and click rates for these newsletters has steadily increased each month.