How to create a successful virtual Open Day campaign

A virtual open day is a fantastic opportunity to showcase your school to families when they cannot visit in person, whether that's due to the current Covid-19 crisis or, more generally, because they are based internationally or live far away from the school.

But once you've planned your virtual open day to perfection by creating virtual tours and videos, how do you spread the word and get as many attendees as possible? This is where digital marketing comes in.

How to create a successful virtual Open Day campaign

Landing pages

Before you advertise your open day, create a landing page for when people click on your link. An effective landing page will guide people to either sign up or register interest for your open day. Below is an example of Maida Vale School's landing page. Make sure to include a form that collects their name, email address and basic information about their child so you can add the parent to your marketing database.

Facebook advertising

Facebook Paid Ads are a simple and effective strategy for your school to reach the kind of prospective parents you really want. The more niche an audience you can target, the better results you can achieve. Facebook targeting allows you to specify your audience’s interests, age, gender, age of child, location, employment status, marital status and more. So, rather than advertising to thousands of random eyeballs, you can use Facebook ads to attract your ideal audience to your open day. Here's our complete guide to Facebook ads for schools.

Google advertising

Essentially, Google Ads allows you to pay for traffic to your website or landing page through a range of different advertising instruments including search engines, video and display advertising. One type of Google advertising is PPC (Pay Per Click). This allows your school to appear at the top of Google when parents type in certain key phrases that you select. For example, if your school is in Gloucestershire, you could ensure that when someone Googles 'best school in Gloucestershire' your school pops up with a link to register for your open day. For more, check out our expert team's guide to Google Ads.

Email marketing

An engaged mailing list is one of the most valuable tools a marketer can have. Thanks to your paid advertising and landing page, you should have the email addresses of lots of parents. Now you can send them email reminders about the virtual open day. Make sure that you provide the essential details including the date, time, what to expect and how they can confirm attendance. Here are 3 clever emails to send to increase open day attendees and admissions. Don't forget to send an email afterwards to thank them for attending.

Social media

Aside from paid social media advertising, normal social media posts are a great way to spread the word about your virtual open day. In a previous guide, we explained how to create a brilliant school social media profile, with examples of schools who are doing it well. When it comes to virtual open days, try to get creative and think about why people should give up their time to learn more about your school and incorporate these findings into posts. For example, you could provide a video from your headteacher or pupils, or a link to an online prospectus.

We hope you've found these tips on creating a virtual open day campaign useful. For help with your digital marketing strategy, get in touch with school marketing specialists Digithrive for Schools.

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A Guide to Twitter for Schools

Since its inception in 2006, Twitter has become a platform for conversation worldwide. Whether it's humorous commentary about what's on TV or charged political debate, Twitter is all about short, snappy communication. It's a great way to get a message across in a concise and engaging way. While Twitter isn’t the most popular social media platform with Gen Z (who prefer Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok) Twitter is still an important platform for schools to use as part of their social media marketing strategy.

How schools can increase Twitter engagement

  • Write a brilliant bio
  • Tweet regularly
  • Interact with relevant tweets
  • Follow and engage with similar accounts

Before we explain in more detail how to boost your engagement, let’s look at why Twitter is useful for schools.

Why is Twitter useful for schools?

Quick communication

Whether it’s an open evening, sporting success or unexpected snow day, Twitter allows you to quickly communicate with parents and students. While you should still send out email newsletters, Twitter is a fantastic way to instantly provide information in just a couple of sentences. Twitter is also incredibly versatile. You can tweet serious/informative announcements, fun and lighthearted comments or pictures and videos.

Increased reach

Prospective parents who haven't heard of your school may come across you on Twitter. Interacting with other people's tweets boosts your visibility so more people are likely to discover your profile. This can not only lead to more followers but more website traffic and real leads too.

Builds your digital brand

Social media accounts are like online portfolios for your school - they can make a great first impression. Ensure that your Twitter account is kept up-to-date and looks professional and informative while showcasing your school’s personality. Your school’s Twitter account (in fact, all its social media accounts) should be like extensions of your school website or brochure. 

With parents conducting research mainly online these days, it’s never been so important to embrace social media. However, with so many platforms, all with their own algorithms and features, it can be tricky to know exactly what to do for each of them. Here’s how to increase engagement on Twitter specifically.

How schools can increase Twitter engagement 

Write a brilliant bio

Your Twitter bio needs to instantly capture your target audience in order to translate the profile view into a follow, and perhaps even a click to your website. Use the what, who, where rule:

  • What are you? For example, a boarding school.
  • Who are you for? For example, 11-18 year old boys.
  • Where are you? For example, Surrey.

Is there anything else that makes your school stand out? Try to mention that too - however don't cram information in!

Don’t forget to include a link to your website. You could even create a landing page specifically for prospects who come from Twitter.

Tweet regularly 

If you’re first starting out, post about a wide variety of things to find out what does well and what your audience wants to see. For example, if a video of your school’s football team winning a match gets a lot of likes and retweets, try to post a similar video once a week to keep your engagement high. 

Alongside the lighthearted and entertaining content, remember to post key news and information for parents too. You can use a tool like Hootsuite or Later to schedule lots of tweets in advance.

If you've been at Twitter for a while and haven't seen great results, try switching up your strategy. Test posting at different times of day, or change the type of content you're posting.

Engage with people 

Like most social media platforms, the Twitter algorithm rewards you for interacting. Put simply, the more time you spend engaging on Twitter, the more likely it is that Twitter will show your profile to a relevant audience.

Try to like, retweet and comment on as many relevant posts as you can (preferably to do with the school community) and respond to all the comments that you get.

Follow and interact with similar accounts 

It’s especially important to interact with other schools and educational organisations as well as local businesses and parent groups. This will get you more engagement in return and therefore your school will come up on more people’s feeds, leading to more followers and leads.

To find out how Digithrive for Schools can help you grow, get in touch.

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Full STEAM ahead: 6 top schools share their curriculums

STEM plus Arts equals magic, as children make connections that transform familiar school subjects into something creative, practical and vital for the future of innovation. Here’s an insight into six top schools and their STEAM strategies.

What is STEAM in schools?

STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics with Arts.

Looking for marketing inspiration? Here's how to re-engage old open day leads

How six UK schools teach STEAM

Eltham College

STEAM Eltham College

At Eltham College more than a quarter of timetabled subjects are allocated to core science, a subject which has a strong uptake at A level. Alongside the core sciences, the school offers Astronomy at GCSE and students can also study geology right up to A level.

The College has appointed its first specialist scientist to direct learning in the Junior School, helping to foster understanding and enthusiasm. Science Week creates links with other subject areas and a lively Science Society encourages students to present on any topic of scientific interest. Here, interdisciplinary subjects take things further. For example, a Visiting Music Teacher presented on the theremin and laser harp and discussed the physics of music.

With the Gerald Moore Gallery on site, there are endless opportunities to explore science and creative spheres together. Pupil collaborations here have included exhibitions on artists' interpretations of science, while Science Week this year hosted am 'Environmental Crisis' exhibition which was a large-scale collaboration between sciences and arts.

Referencing the arts within the science curriculum helps students to recognise transferable skills and interdisciplinary links. Those that don't see themselves as pure scientists build skills and interest through related areas – from photography to presentations. Students taking on the First Lego League competition have recognised the value of creative problem-solving as well as dramatic presentation.

Co-curricular activities generate enthusiasm outside the classroom. The student-led and organised Rocketry Club met twice a week online during lockdown. Inter-house science activities also inspire – be it the school's Science Society, or GreenPower Club. Design technology (DT) and art have become an essential part of extra-curricular activities, with CAD, laser-cutting and 3D printing helping to put ideas into practice. Peer-group learning and teamwork happens naturally here. In fact, students with practical experience of art and DT are seen as hugely valuable contributors to these science activities. Their knowledge of the aesthetic has also proved critical to the success of school teams taking part in the Galactic Challenge and UK Space Design Competitions – both of which Eltham College won this year.

Kingswood School

Kingswood School STEAM

While STEAM is now being fostered all the way through our schools, starting them young is the approach used at Kingswood School, Bath, which offers education from nursery years up to 18. By the time children move on to Senior School, they understand the potential overlaps between science and arts subjects and can start to forge their own connections.

Every child, from Reception to Year 6, has lessons given by the school's STEAM department. For younger children, the focus is on core skills and knowledge, while from Year 3 onwards lessons take a more cross-curricular approach. Teachers use project-based learning to help children develop skills they can apply to problem-solving situations.

Younger children’s lessons are mostly made up of art, DT, computing and outdoor learning, with science also taught as part of the curriculum. As they progress, science becomes a more discrete lesson. They continue to have art on top of the additional STEM lessons, computing, engineering and DT.

Kingswood has dedicated STEAM classrooms – located on the top floor of the new Tudor Brown Innovation Centre. Creative kit includes a kiln –useful for firing everything from dragons to Tudor roses. Much of the science curriculum is practical, with lessons developed
out of students' questions. Computing and engineering rooms are joined by a connecting door, encouraging a free flow of ideas and experimentation. Among all the equipment on offer the robots are stars, ranging from basic b-bots to Lego Mindstorms for coding fun. A CNC machine lets them design with plastic, wood or metal while the desktop vacuum formers are very useful for the Year 3 chocolate project.

The school, which sits on a huge site surrounded by woodland, has a Secret Garden for nature study and exploration as part of its outdoor learning programme. Leaf identification, roasting marshmallows, making catapults, den building, learning and forging links between science and creativity all happens here.

Hazelgrove Prep School

Hazelgrove Prep STEAM

At Hazelgrove Prep, Somerset, the spark of STEAM is stoked through teaching approaches designed to inspire next-generation engineers, mathematicians, artists and scientists. The curriculum is varied and incorporates the whole range of subjects, with academic and theoretical areas sitting alongside investigative and practical work.

Art and DT departments work together to run multiple cross-curricular projects. From the very-useful-to-young-people ideas such as creating skateboards and recycling fashion to the 'wow' stuff such as kinetic art-inspired hanging mobiles. Head of DT Bonnie Barton says: "Hazelgrove children embrace STEAM wholeheartedly in this way. Creating products that they have designed and made themselves is a highly motivating, tangible experience. Children use large laser cutters from Year 3 as well as 3D printers and a CAD embroidery machine that embroiders their designs at the push of a button". Outdoor activities are another way to keep children inspired and energised by the possibilities of science + arts.

The school holds a festival every year and its recent STEAMFest was filled with drama, including ‘Wonderlab’ investigation stations, animatronic dinosaurs, coding and programming workshops, daily Codebreaker Challenges and a fashion show focusing on upcycling and recycling. Children also worked alongside the e-NABLE Charity in creating a 3D printed hand, learning more its work to create hands and arms for those in need of an upper limb assistive device.

Bonnie Barton says STEAM is both creative and forward-thinking but, most important, keeps children at Hazelgrove engaged. "Running across the curriculum, children develop a genuine love for a range for subjects."

Mayfield School

STEAM Mayfield School

At Mayfield, the East Sussex boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18, breadth of education remains at the heart of their approach, with STEM and core arts subjects compulsory up to GCSE level. Uptake of sciences remains strong atA-level stage, too. One key facet of science teaching here is to encourage girls never to think of science as a stereotypically 'male domain', says Head of Biology Rachel Davies. The school focuses on female STEAM Heroes as part of its work to encourage this – from Mme Tussaud to Hedy Lamarr to the even more unsung pioneers, such as computer scientist Sister Mary Kenneth Keller.

There is a strong tradition at Mayfield of pupils going on to fields such as veterinary and medical, but that doesn't stop them pursuing their creative interests – or seeing intersections –with the arts. Rachel Davies cites one of their students who, with the aim of being a surgeon, learned loss of manual dexterity is becoming a problem in the surgical field. As a result, she has successfully combined hard sciences with ceramics at A level in order to add to her skillset for her future career.

The school's STEM Club is thriving. Rachel Davies says they find all young people have an innate sense when it comes to areas such as coding and robotics. There is a strong practical bent in much of their work, finding solutions to design problems and considering big-picture issues such as the environment. One recent challenge involved a visit from Dyson where the girls ended up putting together their own vacuum cleaner from
a pile of components – science and team problem-solving brought vividly to life.

STEAM links are forged throughout the school years by giving pupils opportunities to use technology in their art and design projects. There is also an eminently practical approach in PHSE sessions, where a lot of teambuilding work goes on. When your group is tasked to build a chair out of a cardboard box, with no glue or tape allowed, it's impossible not to think outside the box – also an object lesson in design-thinking approaches that lie at the heart of STEAM!

Blackheath High School

STEAM Blackheath High school

STEM sits at the heart of Blackheath High School GDST's approach but, says Head of Design & Technology Tim Masters (a trained architect), it does not sit in a silo. "Combining the subjects is essential to have a balanced and rounded view when creative problem solving," he says. The school is fortunate in its location, close to Greenwich Royal Observatory. "We have partnered with Greenwich’s Royal Observatory to study astronomy at GCSE in this world-class scientific location," says Deputy Head Natalie Argile, who is also a science teacher by training. A recent £18 million investment in school facilities has brought new science labs, but also an Apple Mac Suite, music rooms, music technology lab and art and textile studios. There is, says Natalie Argile, an approach of championing lessons across all fields.

Blackheath High believes skills learned in technical and artistic disciplines are complementary and hosts its own STEAM Week. Events have included lectures on creativity and AI and a session on using maths in jewellery design. Every STEAM Week there is a collaborative project between the Music and D&T departments. One notable project was the creation of the 'Musical Boghorn' made from a loo (bought new for music- making purposes!). This was played during whole-school assembly – an innovative and unforgettable way to celebrate and develop interdisciplinary thinking.

Blackheath High also encourages pupils to go create through co-curricular clubs – from Bamboo Bicycle Making Club to the Edible STEAM Club (think cooking meets chemical reactions). Natalie Argile says that interdisciplinary co-curricular and enrichment activities positively affect the way girls respond to core science and maths lessons. While they love the practical and hands-on elements, thoughtful discussion helps to embed an attitude of critical enquiry. Tim Masters says there is emphasis on understanding the design process – taught as 'PROCESS8'. This sets out a framework that can be applied to anything. "Once the idea is alive it requires developing and solving with the use of technical experimentation to-ing and fro-ing along a cyclic path," he says. In other words, students are learning the design-thinking approach considered
so critical to innovation in industry.

Dulwich College

STEAM Dulwich College

Having celebrated its 400th birthday last year, Dulwich College is certainly not resting on its education laurels when it comes to sparking enthusiasm for science and the intersections with the arts. Dr Joseph (Joe) Spence describes this as "no accident" and, when he joined as Master in 2009, he presided over an extension to the science building. Here, there are 18 labs, three preparation rooms and – pride of place – the James Caird Hall exhibition space that enables science to come alive and connections with other fields to be explored.

Joe Spence adds that firing the spark is about much more than just great buildings. It's about getting boys to: "experiment in science". This means lots of practical work, assisted by an army (more than 25) specialist teachers. All boys here take three sciences and Maths to GCSE, and many go on to A level. But throughout their time here, the school encourages them to also develop ideas – the connections you make when you look beyond what the textbooks say. "We don't work with two cultures here. Science is at its strongest when it is creative," he adds.

The approach does work, since the school's art students are constantly to be found working in the labs or creating pop-ups in what would be traditionally considered science spaces. Then, too, there are opportunities to bring science right into art lessons – for instance, focusing on dermatology and skin through an artist's lens.

Computer Science is also a key strength at Dulwich – with exceptional facilities to develop skills. The problem solving, information management and play available as boys learn more about computing can all feed into other areas.

Beyond the syllabus, Dulwich College keeps the STEAM spirit going through a dizzying range of clubs and societies, so that students can pursue their passions beyond the classroom. Free Learning is another pillar of the approach here, giving boys the opportunity to look outside the syllabus and pursue the things that interest them.

Dulwich College took learning further during lockdown by launching Thinking About, a series of live online lectures bringing together guest speakers from across arts, humanities and science. The project was in partnership with Southwark Schools' Learning Partnership, which meant Year 11 and above pupils from 13 state and four independent schools put their heads together – a perfect experiment in STEAM power and encouraging young people to think outside the science or arts silo.

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This article originally appeared in Absolutely Education magazine's Autumn/Winter edition.

To read more of Digithrive's guides for schools, click here.


school websites

3 Examples of excellent school websites

From providing information at the click of a button to next-day delivery for your shopping, the internet has completely transformed society. For schools, while brochures, telephone calls and in-person Open Days used to reign supreme, the internet revolution as well as the current Coronavirus pandemic has made online interaction with prospects more important than ever. Having a user-friendly and smart-looking website is essential for several reasons.

It makes a good first impression

A professional-looking website is a fantastic first impression for prospective parents and students. The internet is the very first thing most people turn to when researching anything, including schools. If your website is slow or unattractive, this will put people off progressing with an enquiry or application. According to research by WPengine, a one-second delay in page load speed can lead to 11% fewer page views, 16% decrease in customer satisfaction and 7% loss in conversions. Check your page load speed and make the necessary adjustments for it to be as speedy as possible. 

The application process is smoother

Likewise, your school website needs to be user-friendly in order to make it as simple as possible for prospective parents to find what they need. This could be an email address to get in touch with the school, a form to fill in to book an Open Day slot or simply somewhere to find out basic details about the school. Your website needs to be easy to navigate, and you should hire a professional web-developer to help with this.

It acts like an online portfolio

Think of a visit to your school website as a preliminary open day. It is a place to not only provide information but give insight into your school’s ethos and highlight the best things about your school. One way to do this is with a blog or news section where you post about students’ achievements, important events and letters from the Head. Lots of nice images and even videos will help communicate what your school is all about before parents and students attend a physical or virtual Open Day.

From easy navigation to excellent aesthetics, take inspiration from these three schools with good websites.

Eltham College

Eltham College’s website is immediately visually appealing, with a large image showcasing the school’s impressive grounds. If you hover over each icon, it shows a fact about the school such as “Over 80% of students gain a place at Oxford, Cambridge or other Russell Group universities”, a fantastic selling point. There is also a navigation bar at the top of the website with tabs for every category a parent or student could need, from Coronavirus Updates to Registration.

Scroll down and the school has a virtual tour available to watch online. This allows prospective parents to immediately take a look around the school itself — clearly, the school knows its facilities are a big draw and have highlighted this on their homepage.

Gordon’s School

Gordon School’s News section provides easy access to the school’s virtual tour as well as the latest school news. From sporting successes to charity ventures, this is a fantastic way to gain insight into some of the school’s goings-on and adds a personal, friendly touch to the very professional-looking website. The News section is right next to a link to the school’s Twitter feed, a great way to get more followers who are interested in keeping up to date with the school.

A strong colour scheme, easy navigation and quick page load speed together with a school calendar and information on each aspect of the school makes this an exemplary website.

St Dunstan’s College

St Dunstan’s College has found a creative way to direct prospective parents and students straight to their ‘Discover’ page. As soon as you enter the website, a pop-up tab provides the option of visiting the Junior or Senior school page, which has a welcome from the Head, details about the school, a button to register and more.

This is a great way to lead prospects to the exact location that you want them to go, rather than have them browsing the main school website which houses lots of information for different purposes. People who aren’t interested in this can simply click ‘X’ and proceed to the normal school website. What's more is that they have made this pop-up box suitable for mobile-users, which according to WARC accounts for 51% of global internet users.

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Brand identity for schools: why it matters

Brand identity is something you may hear a lot about in the world of marketing. A strong brand identity means having a cohesive look and feel throughout everything your organisation does, for example social media, advertising, newsletters, your website and more. Brand identity makes it clear what an organisation stands for — its values and purpose — as well as creating a recognisable look and tone that people become familiar with.

But why does it matter for schools? You may think that brand identity is something that only businesses and sales people have to worry about. However, brand identity is an important part of the way a school presents itself. A strong brand identity will help your school stand out to prospective parents so they always recognise and gravitate towards you. What makes your school different from the sea of navy and red out there, and how can you communicate this?

While colours, fonts and logos are all important, it's not just the look of your communications that need to be cohesive. What sort of language are you using and what does this say about your school? Is your school more formal and traditional or does it take a more personal and informal approach? These are all things to think about and ensure that everything your school puts out fits with its identity.

Now that we have explained why brand identity for schools is so important, here are three examples of schools who are doing it well.

Brand identity for schools: three excellent examples

Cavendish Education

Cavendish Education is a group of schools that provides specialist support for children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, Asperger's and other learning difficulties. Each school in the Cavendish family has its own distinctive character, atmosphere and facilities; but despite this, all the schools manage to keep a cohesive brand identity. One way the Cavendish group does this is with the use of their logo, a flower on deep purple background.

The school says: "At first sight this is perhaps just a lovely symbol but it carries more significance than that. The flower represents the blossoming of learning and life and each petal is a ‘C’, representing the main attributes we strive to instil in each of our pupils during their time with us. 

The 4Cs are:

  • Confidence, 
  • Competence,
  • Creativity, 
  • Character"

Schools in the Cavendish Education group are immediately recognisable because of the logo, which appears on all Cavendish marketing materials. It is also an important symbol of the school's ethos and beliefs.

James Allen Girls' School

James Allen Girls' School (or JAGS) has crafted a clever campaign to stand out from the crowd. 'Picture yourself at JAGs' speaks directly to prospective students, encouraging them to imagine the possibilities that a JAGs education can bring about. On the website, next to a portrait of James Allen (the school's founder) there are portraits of JAGs girls doing everything from karate to playing the trumpet. JAGs is clearly communicating that they encourage students to be ambitious, hardworking and pursue plenty of extra-curricular activities. They are also throwing outdated stereotypes out of the window, showing that girls can be anything from athletes to filmmakers to musicians.

This clear communication of values is extremely memorable and is repeated across different platforms, from their print advertising to their school website. This ensures that all prospective parents will come across the campaign.

The portraiture concept is extended even further, with the school's blog presented as a 'Story Wall' with framed images. They have done an excellent job of communicating their identity as a progressive girls' school in an entertaining and engaging way.

Dallington School

Dallington is another example of a school with a strong brand identity. Dallington is a Prep school for children ages 3-11, which is immediately obvious from their advert. The illustrations and charming logo create the impression of a welcoming, gentle and friendly school, further reflected in the mention of it being a 'family-run' school. The copy includes personal testimonials from students, a sweet touch that makes it clear that the children's wellbeing is the focus at Dallington, a visual manifestation of the 'Dallington Difference'.

Head to the Dallington website and the soft blue colour scheme and illustrated logo is repeated, along with a welcome from the Headteacher on the first page. This extremely personal and friendly introduction is the first thing that prospective parents will see when they reach the site, a brilliant impression for parents looking for a nurturing community for their child.

The three schools above have managed to create strong brand identities in order to communicate with and attract prospective families. If you'd like to find out more about how Digithrive for Schools can help your school grow, get in touch.


Print vs digital marketing: when schools should invest

Every school marketer knows how important digital marketing is, not only for improving your school's reputation and online presence but for attracting new prospects. However, print advertising should not be forgotten in the digital age; in a previous guide, we explained the benefits of print advertising for schools and how it can help build awareness and trust.

But knowing when to invest in print and digital marketing throughout the year can be puzzling. When will you see the biggest return on investment? When is your target audience most likely to engage? How can you combine the two types of marketing to create a cohesive strategy? In this guide, we explain when to focus on print advertising and when to focus on digital advertising.

Forward planning

First of all, mark out the school calendar and any upcoming special events as far in advance as you can. This will give you a clear idea of at least the next school year ahead.

Note down any open days, parents evenings, application deadlines and all the other important dates in the school year.

Next, look at your school's data to see when your largest influx of leads are. Is it a last minute rush right before applications close? Is it months in advance when parents are first looking? Decide whether you want to capitalise on this busy period, or focus on less busy times to create a more measured flow of admission leads.

When to focus on digital advertising

Digital advertising, such as pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and paid social media campaigns, is most advantageous when you have a specific target. This could be promoting a virtual open day and getting as many sign ups as possible, driving more traffic to your school blog or targeting local parents to get more admissions.

Whatever your goal is, digital advertising can make it happen thanks to the ability to target an extremely specific audience online, considering age, location, interests and much more.

Digital advertising is fantastic for getting tangible results in a short amount of time. For example, if your Prep day school for boys has a virtual open day happening in three weeks and you want more sign ups, a highly targeted paid social media campaign will show your advert to the most relevant people - parents living in the local area who are looking for a boys' Prep school.

During and after the campaign, Digithrive for Schools can track the results and either retarget people, or tweak the campaign to get even better results. Have a look at some of our past work with schools here.

So when should you focus on digital advertising campaigns? It completely depends on your school's calendar. But you should definitely increase your online marketing activity around the same time parents and children are looking and applying for schools. For example, if your application deadline is in January, parents will be starting to look for schools during the summer. This is a great time to target them initially, and then you can retarget them to sign up to your autumn open day later on.

When to focus on print advertising

Print advertising is all about brand awareness and building trust with your audience. It can be extremely effective when used as part of a holistic campaign.

Rather than expecting tremendous tangible results, like our previous digital marketing clients have seen, print advertising will support your school's overall marketing efforts.

While of course you can use your print advert to promote an open day, which many schools do, it's not necessary. Unlike digital advertising where a strong call to action is required, take advantage of the more gentle approach that print advertising has.

You don't need to advertise in every publication out there - select the ones that you know your target audience will be reading. For example, there's no point advertising in a national newspaper that has a completely different demographic to your school's. Just because they have a readership of one million, doesn't mean you'll see results. Work out your personas and you will find it a lot easier to locate your target audience.

For example, parents on the hunt for the best independent school for their child are likely to conduct thorough research and read education titles such as Absolutely Education. Advertising in publications like this will align your school with the top establishments in the country and make parents aware of the high quality education your school provides. The type of publication matters just as much - if not more - than timing.

While digital advertising should focus on specific targets, print advertising should be consistent but can be less regular - perhaps every month in key publications with the right target audience.

Need help with your marketing strategy? Get in touch.

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Lessons from Lockdown: 6 top schools reveal all

Recent months have been an extraordinary chapter for education and the classes whose public examinations never happened will certainly never forget this year. There has been – justifiably – much concern over the potential harm to young people of all ages and stages denied 'normal' school life, with all that this entails. But behind the negative stories, a quiet sense that something rather revolutionary happened in Summer Term 2020 is beginning to emerge. 

Schools around the country managed the unthinkable – shutting their gates but finding ways to ensure both academic continuity and their spirit of community carried on. Plans were brought forward, remote learning ideals became practical necessities and staff and school leaders dug deep to prove the old adage about the 'mother of invention' in delivering pastoral, extra-curricular, sporting and creative provision. In this article, Libby Norman asks six schools to give us their early impressions of the lessons learned from lockdown.

Lessons from Lockdown

James Allen's Girls' School - "Pupils are very resourceful"

At James Allen’s Girls’ School in Dulwich, remote teaching and learning swung rapidly into gear to support some 1,000 pupils aged 4 to 18. While there were inevitable teething problems, inventiveness saved the day. “If anything, this made the outcomes even richer as colleagues and students found creative solutions for common issues,” says JAGS Deputy Head Pastoral Samantha Payne. She describes a period of remarkable agility, especially in the use of technology, and with real enthusiasm from everyone to keep the learning varied and enjoyable. “An added advantage to working online is the ease with which pupils and teachers can share their resources, and the outstanding sense of collegiality that comes as a result of this.” The way in which pupils and teachers have been able to communicate more broadly is certainly something that the school wishes to retain. 

Wellbeing surveys and daily contact with form tutors enabled robust formal pastoral support, but clubs and regular assemblies have also played a pivotal role. Girls responded enthusiastically to extracurricular opportunities – virtual quizzes, sports and baking challenges and music, drama and art events. The JAGS’ Parent Talk programme also flourished. Larger numbers of parents engaged and some noted that it was far easier to join a Zoom event, so the school hopes to continue live-streaming to benefit parents who struggle to attend in person. Counsellors, nurses and chaplain made themselves available to staff and parents, as well as pupils, and this has informed future plans. “Online pastoral support will certainly feed into JAGS’ wellbeing strategy as we face the coming months – and we will adapt and tweak – and embrace good ideas, as ever,” says Samantha Payne. Read Digithrive's guide to communicating well with parents here.

Pangbourne College - "Parent communication and pastoral care are key"

Pangbourne College in Reading, Berkshire has spent the last few years rolling out a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ policy across the school. “Originally intended to cater for the increasing use of technology in education, this turned out to be a boon for a rapid transition to online learning. College students and teachers quickly adapted to a normal timetable of lessons conducted via Google Classroom, Meets, Hangouts and Gmail” says the school’s Director of Development Karen Hartshorn.

Inevitably, while some pupils thrived on remote learning others found the absence of classroom and social routines more difficult. “We were surprised by how quickly and how well nearly everyone adapted,” says Headmaster Thomas Garnier. “We quickly realised that good pastoral care and regular communication with parents were key, as school was suddenly more visible to them and they were more involved in the day-to-day education of their children.”

A key part of Pangbourne’s ethos is pastoral care. The College uses the AS Tracking system, an online assessment tool which monitors student mental health and can identify when an individual needs extra support. Combined with weekly online staff pastoral meetings, this ensured that teachers were able to provide support as and when needed.

Pangbourne also held virtual focus groups with parents to understand family expectations for a return to school – and any elements from the lockdown worth keeping. The overwhelming message was ‘back to normal, please’, with parents talking about how much they valued the social interaction, teacher-pupil interaction and co-curricular activity.

There were positives which may continue. Parents like the option of online parent-teacher meetings and the increased visibility of lessons and teaching. For times when pupils are unable to be in school, due to illness or circumstances, the College has invested in additional technology to enable hybrid learning and live broadcast of classroom lessons.

Queen's Gate School - “Digital literacy has been enhanced significantly”

Uncommon with other schools, Queen’s Gate rose to the challenge of moving its entire operations online almost overnight. “The management of this change was not in accordance with text-book advice, with limited time for planning and no time at all  for pilot schemes – but it had to work and it did,” says Queen’s Gate Principal Rosalynd Kamaryc. 

The school selected Zoom as its platform, and with a few quick lessons on the basics staff were ready to go. “We always encourage our pupils to take risks in their learning, to enjoy ‘having a go’ at something new and to learn from failure and what a wonderful opportunity we had as staff to lead by example as we learned how to set up meetings, send out invitations, share our screen, annotate and use break-out rooms. It was a steep learning curve, but one which staff embraced,” she adds.

GCSE and A-level pupils were particularly affected, so staff created Extend Programmes of taster lessons for the next stage of education, as well as lectures and enrichment opportunities – parents seemed to enjoy joining the lectures too. From the beginning, it was clear that social contact should be offered at every opportunity, so the External Relations team set up an online weekly newsletter. Before the end of term, there was a discussion about what might continue after Lockdown and staff were enthusiastic about continuing Zoom for some meetings, lectures from visiting speakers and collaboration with other schools. “Lockdown was a unique opportunity, but we now look forward to using the best of our experience to enhance the educational opportunities we offer our pupils,” says Rosalynd Kamaryc.

Repton School - “We can support those who need more hours in the day”

Repton found positives in online school life, says Deputy Head and Director of Digital Development James Wilton. “For us, Microsoft Teams was the killer app for Lockdown. It was extraordinary how quickly the staff and pupils got behind this.” Perhaps the greatest indicator is in the stats – 203 messages via Teams on 23rd March, as opposed to a daily average of 8,957 messages each day towards the end of summer term. 

The Derbyshire school took what James Wilton describes as an “arguably risky” decision to adhere to its regular timetable. Every class had its own Team, but also every boarding house, every sport and every single co-curricular activity. Not forgetting Chapel, which had two virtual Team services each week. Lessons were a blend of pre-recorded video, live streaming, interactive presentations and quizzes. Assignments set tasks to complete in the lessons and tried to leave it at that, avoiding additional ‘homework’ to reduce screen-time and the wellbeing issues that might follow. For overseas pupils and those who could not join live lessons, recordings were stored in Microsoft Stream.  

One key takeaway is the potential flexibility of online learning when it comes to co-curricular activities. “Remote learning showed us we could support those who needed more hours in the day; there is no longer any reason why a Repton pupil can’t participate in learning because they are on a coach to play sport or give a concert. They can learn actively from anywhere, on any device,” says James Wilton. “Perhaps most exciting of all is that great use of technology should give us time back to invest in the things that have an even greater impact.”

Southbank International School - “Primary age children have impressed us with their independence”

At Southbank’s three campuses in London for children aged 3 to 18, technology-enabled teaching held no fears, even for those at Primary level. “Our school community were already used to an integrated technology approach – especially our Hampstead campus, which has an Apple Distinguished status,” says Hampstead Principal Shirley Harwood. Daily ‘live’ teaching and pastoral meetings ensured teachers maintained a finger on the pulse. 

Another important facet of teaching was the social side and Principal of Southbank’s Kensington  campus Siobhan McGrath says here Google Meet proved vital. “It allowed teachers to develop social interaction across a class.” Staff found some things easier using remote learning – for instance, finding out what students could manage independently and when more support or instructions were required. “Some children really impressed us with their creativity and independence,” she adds. 

While Upper Primary children were able to complete and submit work independently and could ask teachers for a Google meet if they needed help, the youngest children did need extra support. Here short videos and live ‘meets’ proved invaluable. Staff rose to the challenge, often re-thinking how best to present new material or enable activities to continue. For instance, the Music department found ingenious ways to cut videos so that students could play along virtually with ensemble pieces from their own homes. 

 Hosting whole-school community events online has also proved successful. Siobhan McGrath says Southbank parents made the online journey easier. “We have always had a great community and although we were physically apart, this shared experience seemed to make us stronger.”

ArtsEd Day School and Sixth Form - “A hefty dose of positivity has meant the show did go on!”

For all schools Lockdown was a test, but for ArtsEd Day School and Sixth Form in Chiswick there was an extra challenge – the logistics of delivering its nationally recognised programme of creative teaching. Its pupils are used to singing, dancing and acting together, so how to create that ensemble spark remotely?

Well-laid plans, a switched-on IT team and a hefty dose of positivity ensured that the show did go on during the summer term. “In spite of not being in the same building, let alone the same room, students and staff made full and inventive use of remote platforms, with dance classes, singing lessons and drama sessions continuing right alongside Maths, History, English and the rest of the full academic curriculum,” says Headteacher Adrian Blake. 

“The smoothness of our transition to a virtual timetable was the result of our excellent teaching staff, our hard-working IT Team, and our dedicated pupils all working together. Regular one-to-one catch-up sessions also ensured the continuation of our pastoral care, and the educational and vocational guidance that is so valuable in enabling pupil achievement.” With Year 13 pupils heading off to leading drama schools, universities and direct into acting work, the graduating class of 2020 have certainly had a crash course in managing performance under pressure – surely experience to stand them, and their fellow pupils, in good stead in their professional futures. 

A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2020 edition of Absolutely Education magazine.

To find out more about how Digithrive for School can help your school achieve its digital marketing goals, get in touch.


4 Examples of schools with excellent social media profiles

Social media is a hugely significant aspect of digital marketing, and shouldn’t be seen as an afterthought for schools. In our guide to creating a successful social media marketing strategy, we explained how to engage prospective and current parents with your content, and provided you with 8 must-have tools for school marketers.

But what does a successful social media channel look like? We’ve found four schools who are doing it right, whether it’s beautiful Instagram feeds, frequently updated Twitter accounts or innovative YouTube videos.

4 School social media profiles to take inspiration from

ArtsEd

One glance at ArtsEd’s Instagram and you immediately know what the school is all about. Vibrant colours and action shots of performances show this is a dynamic, modern school with a focus on the arts. The Instagram Story highlights have cover images which also match the school’s bold branding.

They’ve made use of a clever tool for their Instagram bio, lnk.bio, which allows you to link to multiple web addresses so users can find the content they're looking for straight away, improving user experience and driving more traffic to your links. Later and Linktree are also good tools for this.

@artsedlondon, artsed.co.uk

King’s Ely 

This is a brilliant example of a creative way to promote an open day. King’s Ely created a YouTube video called ‘A Day in the Life of a King’s Ely Student’, which shows prospective parents and pupils what to expect from the Cambridge-based school in a fun and engaging way.

The school then shared the video to their Facebook page, with a call-to-action and direct link to reserve a spot at one of their autumn Open Events. Finally, they’ve used a number of relevant hashtags so the post reaches a wider audience.

facebook.com/KingsElyOfficial, kingsely.org

Cumnor House

Cumnor House School in Sussex’s Instagram page is clearly in-line with the school’s red and white branding. By focusing on a colour scheme, everything looks neat, cohesive and visually appealing, which is important for making a professional first impression.

As well as standard images, the school has included different types of graphics to appeal to prospective families, like testimonials from a current parent and an explanation of ‘The Cumnor Way’, the school’s values. This immediately informs prospective parents about the type of learning environment their child would experience.

@cumnorhouseschool, cumnor.co.uk

Merchiston

Merchiston School has several Twitter accounts for different departments - for example, there's one for sports, the library and sixth form - but their Merchiston News account keeps parents and pupils alike up to date with the school's events.

Video content is hugely important. In 2019, the average person spent an estimated 84 minutes a day watching videos online, which is set to rise to 100 minutes every day in 2021. Merchiston's video called 'What have you enjoyed about Merchiston so far?' shows pupils talking about everything from seeing friends to delicious lunches. Not only does this lighthearted content put parents at ease that their children are settling back in well, but it shows prospective parents how much pupils enjoy attending the school.

@merchinews, merchiston.co.uk

If you're inspired by these school social media accounts and would like help with your school's marketing, get in touch.


How to effectively communicate with parents

Effectively communicating with parents has always been important, but it’s now more crucial than ever. Due to Covid-19, parents are extra worried about health and safety, and may have questions about the ‘new normal’ we are all facing.

Both day and boarding schools should always keep parents informed about everything that’s going on, whether it affects the whole school or just their individual child.

But how do you address these concerns and communicate well, even if the parents are based internationally? Here are Digithrive for Schools' top tips for communicating with parents in the current climate.

Top tips: Communicating with UK-based and international parents

Post on social media

Posting regularly on your school’s social media channels is a great way to communicate with prospective parents. As it is a public medium, social media is the place to shout about your school’s achievements, whether it’s excellent exam results, an exciting project or a sporting victory. Social media scheduling programmes like Hootsuite are incredibly useful, as you can bulk schedule content in advance and choose the exact time and date for it to be posted. 

Keep your school’s profiles looking professional with sharp images that are in-line with your school branding. That doesn’t mean you can’t post candid moments, but make sure that they are taken with a good quality camera. Encourage parents to follow your social media accounts and post at least 2-3 times a week, and soon enough you will have built an online community that adds an extra dimension to your school’s communications.

It is also important to create a private Facebook group for parents, as not everyone is comfortable with images of their child being shared publicly on social media. A private Facebook group provides parents with a safe, discreet place to communicate with each other and staff. You have the ability to approve who joins the group, to make sure they are actually a current parent. This adds an extra level of security and allows you to freely post information that you only want parents to know, as well as more candid, casual images and videos of children.

Send email newsletters

Social media is fantastic, but email newsletters should not be overlooked. Not all parents have social media, and you don’t want them to miss out on important announcements. Plus, social media is better for visual, snappy and informal content, whereas emails are better for longer, more detailed and formal content. Both are key to successful communication.

You should have a school email newsletter that you send out to parents at least every month (if you don’t, read this). It may include a note from the Head, extra-curricular news, dates for the diary and other important information. 

Segmenting data is extremely important for school mailing lists. By dividing your newsletter subscribers into categories, for example by year group, you can send them personalised emails that are relevant to them. For instance, while parents of year 11 pupils should be kept up-to-date with the latest GCSEs news (e.g. coursework deadlines and revision clubs), this wouldn’t be relevant for year 8 parents.

Frequently update the website

Your school website will often be the first port-of-call that prospective and current parents alike turn to for information. Make sure the site is regularly updated and accurate so parents are clear on everything they need to know, from how to contact the school to upcoming open days.

You should also have a school blog or news section on your website. This doesn't have to create a lot of extra work for you - after sending out your email newsletters, you can repurpose the newsletter content on your school website, which allows prospective parents to see the impressive news too.

Schedule digital meetings

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, teachers and parents are not able to communicate in-person in the manner that they used to, for example open days are now mostly either private tours or virtual open days. 

Hosting regular virtual meetings between school staff and parents is a great way to keep them up to date with their child’s schooling and address any questions and concerns they may have. Both group meetings, where the Head or another senior staff member addresses lots of parents, and one-on-one meetings to discuss individual grades and progress, are an effective way to communicate during the pandemic, particularly with parents who are overseas.

After the meeting, send an automated follow-up email thanking them for their time and check if they have any further comments or questions.

Listen to feedback from parents

It’s important to give parents a chance to have their voices heard. Read our guide to online review management for schools and how to increase good online reviews for more. Not only will good online reviews improve your search engine rankings, but it shows parents that you are open to feedback.

All reviews and comments, both online and offline, should be listened to and treated with respect. Rather than making excuses, or trying to change the parent’s mind, show that you have taken their comments on board and that the school will take steps to justify the matter, or at the very least, discuss it.

To find out more about how Digithrive can help with your school’s communication, book a consultation now.


Email remarketing

How to re-engage old Open Day leads

You’ve done the bulk of the hard work - raised the level of awareness surrounding your school and attracted prospective parents and students. But now they’ve dropped off the grid entirely. 

This could be due to a number of reasons; the initial impact of Covid-19 and the time restrictions brought on by homeschooling, parents assuming your Open Days are now cancelled, or those that merely couldn’t make the last date you had in the diary pre-lockdown.

Reengaging with old leads via email remarketing is one of the simplest and most effective ways to boost leads for your now virtual open days.  Here are Digithrive for Schools' top tips to help you achieve new admissions through email remarketing. 

Email Remarketing: How to engage old leads

Utilise your Data (Cookies)

For email remarketing campaigns to be successful, you will need a browser cookie installed on your website. This cookie will monitor your site visitor’s experience and collect information on them. For instance, by using cookies you will be able to understand which Open Day your prospective parent was initially interested in attending, as well the factors they cared most about, whether it be your school’s academic achievements, school facilities or fees. This is all done by tracking the pages visited on your website. 

Automated Email Sequences 

Once you’ve collected this data, utilise it by segmenting your audiences into relevant categories, for instance academic year groups or day/boarding, then send them highly bespoke automated sequence email campaigns that provide answers to your prospective parents’ questions. As the sequence is automated, it creates multiple touch-points with the perspective parent and guides them down the sales funnel. Not only will this majorly increase your chances of conversion, it’s a relatively low cost digital marketing approach as it utilises the CMS you should already have in place. 

We use Hubspot and highly recommend it for setting up sequential email marketing campaigns.

Remember, it's not only website visitors who haven’t made direct contact that you can add to email remarketing campaigns. What about those parents who have contacted you via telephone, contact forms or school events, but haven’t taken the next step? Or what about those who have previously signed up to an Open Day but were unable to attend?

For example, if someone doesn’t attend an Open Day, you can send them a ‘Sorry we missed you’ email with details of the next one. Then once they've signed up, you can send them a second email can be your prospectus and vital information about the school that parents need.

Less is more 

Within your email, keep the information relevant and concise. To help parents take the action you want them to, you need to be specific. If they were looking at an Open Day for Sixth Form, don't mention other year groups in your email, only the dates of the upcoming Virtual Open Day for Sixth Form.

Make sure you include a clear CTA button that takes them to a sign up form (landing page) . Keep this specific to the event and easy to fill in and easy to navigate. 

Give options

Not only has the Coronavirus pandemic changed the way schools conduct open days, but it has also changed the behaviour in prospective parents when researching and considering schools. Some may dread the thought of attending an open day and feel most comfortable on a one to one zoom call with the Head or Q&A with the admissions officer. Whilst others maybe less risk adverse and simply couldn't select a school without experiencing a physical tour and talk. 

With our current campaigns, we have found giving three options work best for parents, with mixed results per event per school. These include:

  • A pre recorded tour of the School
  • Personalised Q&A session (via Zoom)
  • 1-2-1 Zoom interview with your Headteacher. 
  • 360 Tours of the school (if you have the time and resources)

Reset & Repeat

Another advantage of using email remarketing is once you’ve created these sequences, you can easily reproduce these campaigns and create an automated funnel for prospective parents going forward and open events in the future. This can easily be done by creating a ‘trigger’, that automatically enters parents into a remarketing funnel once they’ve taken a specific action on your website.

To read more of our guides for schools, click here.

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