The COVID-19 crisis has necessitated that independent schools pivot to engage admitted and prospective families. This means that virtual admission tours, events and personal connections are an essential part of your school’s strategy.
This uncertain time requires admission and marketing teams to think differently and communicate more frequently, empathetically and transparently.
But how do you get families to visit your campus when school is closed? And, as it is with many states with stay-at-home orders, how can you create a virtual tour when non-essential school personnel (admission and marketing staff) can’t get to campus to create it?
There are plenty of creative, low-cost, low-production ways to “get” families to your campus online and through social media.
Before you hit “record” to make a tour or plan a virtual event, make sure you’ve gone “old school” first with every admitted and prospective family: pick up the phone and call them. Just hearing a friendly voice is so important right now.
After a month of staying and working at home, many people may not be eager to immediately jump on a video conference. The phone remains a highly effective, human-centered form of communication. Mobilize your troops. Ask your students, faculty and parent tour guides to call or FaceTime prospective families too.
Video is king, now, more than ever.
Yes, you need a virtual tour (more on that in a moment), but first mine your school’s remote learning schedule for virtual events for admitted and prospective families who can’t come to campus. Do you have virtual community time? A weekly Chapel service? If your regular school community online event is engaging and fun, invite admitted and prospective families to join in.
In addition to putting the event on your social media channels, create a video gallery page on your website with a link from your homepage to capture all the different videos you create. Include the direct link to this gallery on the email signature for your admissions team.
Film yourself or members of your team weekly with updates. This can be as simple as a “Hello and check-in.” Share an interesting online class experience from the week.
Ask your Head of School to film a weekly message. Connect it to your school’s mission and culture. If your Head is doing video messages for your students, share those with admitted and prospective families.
- If you are a preschool or have a preschool division, have your head or division head read a favorite book and send the link near bedtime.
- For faith-based schools, perhaps there is a Monday morning prayer for the week that you can share.
- If school were in-person, is there a much-anticipated event (prom, traditional speaker series, spirit week) that the Head can address online?
- If a speaker was scheduled during spring, perhaps he or she is willing to do a taped Zoom call or Facebook Live with your Head about what would have been the topic of the speaker’s presentation.
Involve other members of your community. Yes, your teachers are going above and beyond with online learning, but you could reach out and see what they are willing to do.
- Coaches, physical education teachers and your team captains could film a few short workout/conditioning videos to share with admitted and prospective athletes and for all families. And put your summer team workouts online now for all families.
- Could an art teacher create a simple sketchbook challenge for all your families, which you post on school’s social media (with a relevant hashtag) and the teacher films a short instructional/hello video? Then ask families (prospective, admitted and current) to post their artwork to their Instagram account along with the designated hashtag.
- Ask your student musicians to post videos of themselves practicing or playing on a Zoom conference (that you record) and post as a concert.
- Ask students to post photos of themselves in your school gear working at home to share with prospective families.
- Some schools are doing web conference Open Houses. Families can register and join a group information session or meet with a specific faculty member.
If you have digital access to the school photos for your faculty, consider asking current students (or seniors) to print out a teacher’s photo and record a message (holding the photo) about why they love that teacher and what he or she has taught them that has made a difference. Be sure to ask the faculty first if they are comfortable with this and ask all students to share the videos with you first (no posting without review).
Virtual tours require creativity, too.
If you don’t have a virtual tour, now is the time to create one. It could be as simple as using B-roll from your recent video shoots to create a one- to-two-minute campus tour.
A great DIY version is to create a simple PowerPoint tour complete with campus, classroom and student pictures that can be shared with prospective families. Ask your Head of School or head student tour guide to record the audio for it, based on a simple script.
You could also ask your student tour guide corps to record a video of them with a picture of their favorite building, discussing why they love it and what it means to them. Then edit these together to show a student “favorites” tour of your campus.
If you are a boarding school, ask your on-campus faculty who are on campus to give a tour on their phone, including dorms, common space and outdoors. A photo gallery of faculty pets can also be fun (or a video tour “narrated” by a campus pet). Humor goes a long way now to show a school’s authenticity and humanity.
Creative, fun and informative virtual spring events also can connect with your families.
High-touch engagement through virtual events is critical. You won’t be able to duplicate the physical event virtually, but you can capture the feeling of it.
Before you plan a virtual open house or event, make sure you discuss with your team what questions the event will answer for your prospective families. You need to strip your virtual event down to the “pain points” your families most want to hear. This means that you should speak to specific questions for specific audiences through different events.
Have your Head of School hold a video conference “Morning Coffee” with prospective families and students. Use your digital marketing to direct families to register for the event, then call them to confirm.
What about virtual classroom visits? Don’t recreate one of your remote-learning classes – your prospective students are doing their own classes already. Take one of your differentiators (STEM, art, etc.) and create a special, virtual class just for prospective students.
- Teach an art project to younger students or invite them to meet-up for an online “bring your pet or stuffed animal” to a morning Open House.
- Ask your STEM teacher to host an engineering challenge as a video conference to make a paper bridge, etc. Have families gather materials prior to the scheduled call then do the challenge in real-time with other families. Ask the winner to snap a pic of the bridge and post it.
- Are any classes doing a great project at home? One school just did a mash-up of videos from a science class’s egg drop project. You could give prospective students the list of materials and invite them to do the project and send in their video.
- Your Director of Athletics could host a video conference about sports, clubs and what your coaches are recommending student athletes can do to stay in shape.
Take a cue from all the creative social media right now. Was your spring musical in full rehearsal before your school closed? What about a Zoom conference where cast members each sing a line from one of the songs? The original cast of “Hamilton” did it on John Krasinski’s SGN YoutTube show. So can you.
For newly enrolled students, create a virtual event for them to meet their new classmates. Perhaps it is a spirit week event where they wear the school colors and hang out with classmates (make sure you have a strong current student moderator to guide questions). Maybe it’s online BINGO or a real-time scavenger hunt over the video conference – anything to build connections.
You must adapt your digital marketing, too.
Be sure to update all your landing pages to promote these virtual events. Drive admitted and prospective families to your mobile-friendly landing page to promote your spring virtual event and have them register for it online. Keep the form simple!
In addition to sending them an email confirmation, you want to take the extra step and call them to confirm that they will be attending online.
Now, more than ever, you need to explain the process as you won’t be seeing these families on campus. An ideal way to engage prospective families about the independent school admissions process is to provide them with a useful resource. Use your digital advertising to promote a downloadable PDF guide, by directing families to your unique landing page to register for it.
And make sure that your school has and is marketing its emergency Financial Aid strategy. As your Head and Board work in partnership to address some of these concerns, be sure you are messaging this to all your families. Many families, current and prospective, may no longer be full-pay families.
Be open and flexible in how your school is addressing these immediate needs. This is the time for a phone call first, followed by an email. Find lessons in your school’s 2008 response to the recession and use what was successful then as a starting point. Consider hosting a virtual event on financial aid with your Head of School, Board Chair and CFO answering audience questions sent in ahead of time or in real-time during the chat.
How can we help your school navigate this turbulent time? Contact us.
Read more for our best-practice communications around admission and enrollment.