Virtual ways out of the crisis
By Michael Stolz

Going online has become the new normal over a very short period. But how schools have responded to COVID-19 as organisations has little to do with implementing new technology. It has everything to do with their culture and leadership, and how they manage change. After switching to virtual learning, schools are now facing the challenge to understand the new environment they operate in, and must adapt how they communicate, recruit and enrol. 

 

From crisis to strategic communication

During the pandemic, school communication has reverted to personal messages full of empathy, solidarity and community support. Collaborating and listening rather than selling has been the main priority. School leaders have emerged as crisis mangers, delivering broadcast messages on their social media channels. It has been a massive upskilling exercise for all on every level, and there have been many good examples of how schools stood tall and managed to maintain close relationships with their communities. Mission-driven school brands, such as ISL Luxembourg, one of the first to donate masks to local hospitals, ACS International Schools, who helped develop emergency ventilators, or TASIS Switzerland, who provided campus screen savers to make their families feel connected during distance learning, are great examples of purposeful crisis communication.

 

As educators around the world are returning gradually to their campuses, schools will need to adapt their communication and increase their brand visibility again. It is a highly sensitive time when parents, students and teachers worry deeply about their health and their futures.

 

When is the best time for schools to switch from damage limitation to strategic messaging?

 

Engaging online school experiences

Working with the crisis presents the opportunity to get innovative and create engaging and meaningful online experiences. Virtual graduation ceremonies are an example and BBT University in Tokyo used avatar robots controlled by graduating students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkBZbPy7P24

 

Virtual tours and virtual open days can offer innovative and engaging online experiences too – and deliver much more.

 

Virtual campus tours

Welcoming visitors to an online event is a chance to connect with your local and global audience. As millions of people are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it is time to get them dreaming and planning again. Provide them with many good visual reasons why they should trust your school during those testing times. 

 

Many schools already offer 360° virtual walk-throughs based on panoramic photos or 3D productions. Sadly, these tours are often around empty school buildings and classrooms and do not build instant connections with your audience. To fully promote your school, you need to create an engaging experience. This student-led tour of the International School Düsseldorf https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vl0e9wTGT24&feature=youtu.be tells the story of their exceptional learning community benefiting from outstanding facilities, while also making an emotional connection.

 

Live hangouts, Q&A sessions with key staff, and being personally welcomed with a director’s message are increasingly common features. Live access to senior leaders (as offered by Berlin Brandenburg International School on its virtual open house: https://www.bbis.de/admissions/virtual-open-house) or by student reps or ambassadors might also be viable options. Showing visual examples of how your school is working through the crisis and publishing snapshots of your successful online learning and wellbeing programmes should also be core components. Including community-building features, such as being able to connect with PTA representatives directly, will help new families settle in quickly. If the global market matters to your school, you may want to think about multiple language versions.

 

Meeting expectations

While your social media content can be created spontaneously and may be recorded on school iPhones or iPads with an authentic look, website content or recruitment materials like school tours should not be produced on the go. If you invest into providing a quality education programme, hire outstanding teaching staff and promise your fee-paying families an exceptional learning experience, you will not be able to wow your community with handheld iPhone clips. Your audience can tell the difference and will expect a more professional introduction.

 

If you cannot generate fresh visual content, repurposing material can be the solution. By adding fresh graphic work and specific messages to content that exists, much can be achieved.

 

Virtual formats do not replace face-to-face meetings, nor do they build close relationships with your community. They are visual teasers that make your audience want to find out more. They could also be a great starting point to rethink your narrative and update your school’s story. 

 

Virtual tour planning kit

  • Define your platform, key components, and unique selling points.

  • Do not try to replicate your regular school tour. Be creative and think about what elements can make a difference to online visitors.

  • Make sure your content can be found online and is promoted across all channels.

  • Take stock of your existing content and repurpose it with fresh graphic work.

  • Make sure your tour is easily accessible, feels personal and exclusive.

Michael Stolz is the Director of EDUKOMM, which supports schools with digital content and strategic communications. Connect with Michael on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-stolz-324b2363 or on www.edukomm.com

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