A Guide to Content Marketing for Small Schools

Let’s face it. As a small, nonprofit school, sometime you barely have the money to replace tables when they break. You definitely don’t have the money to pay for extensive print advertising or radio campaigns. But you also need to attract new families each and every year in order for the school to stay afloat. Content marketing may be the solution.

Content marketing defined

Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable content to attract, inform, and engage your target audiences while also promoting your business/organization. Content marketing is about getting to know your prospective audience, their dreams, their challenges, their personalities, and creating content that actually benefits them in some way. This is about more than just creating an appealing or engaging advertisement.

Why does this matter for small schools?

For schools, this can and should look like developing engaging content in order to attract more prospective families, increase alumni engagement, deepen relationships with current families, etc. By providing constituents (e.g. enrolled families, alumni, donors, prospective students, etc.) with relevant content, schools are able to position themselves as experts in their field and, in turn, drive traffic to their websites and increase admissions.

This form of marketing generates nearly three times as many leads at only one-third of the cost of more traditional marketing efforts such as printed advertisements (The Power of Visual Content). For a small, nonprofit school, content marketing can be a game changer.

Below, we outline the steps of effective content marketing and share some examples of schools who utilize this strategy with incredible results.

Strategy: SMART goals, personas, and content mapping

“Communications and marketing directors are strategic leaders who support heads of school and leadership teams with messaging and positioning to advance the mission of their schools.”

– Joanne Mamenta, National Association of Independent Schools

STEP ONE: Set your goals

Your goals should align with the overall mission and vision of your school. If you are a nonprofit and have a Strategic Plan in place, make sure your goals align with this as well.

These goals should be S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Setting goals that are unattainable or unmeasurable does not set you up for success in the creation of your content marketing strategy.

STEP TWO: Determine your target audience

Your currently enrolled families are the key to figuring out your target audience. Who are your currently enrolled families? What are their demographics? Their wants and needs? Behavior patterns? Compile this information. You can even survey current families to help inform this process (e.g. Why did you choose this school? Which activities are you most involved in and why?).

Use the information you gather to create different “personas” of prospective families. Everything you create should be grounded in these personas. Your content should meaningful to them and addresses their main questions and interests.

STEP THREE: Content mapping

Inventory all of the content your school already creates. Looking back at your listed personas, who does each piece of content appeal to? Which mediums were used to distribute this content? Where can you improve and which personas are lacking consistent content? This inventory, along with your goals and personas, will be the backbone of your content marketing.

Creating and distributing your content

You have your SMART goals, you have your family personas, and you have your content map. Now what? Think back to your content map and create content to fill in the gaps. Could you start a school blog focused on providing desired information to one of your family personas? Could currently enrolled families contribute to the blog? What about alumni? Do you have social media accounts? Do you use photos? Videos? Both? Have you considered creating a school podcast? Could you create some sort of downloadable guide for prospective families if they sign up for the newsletter?

There are countless options for the creation and distribution of content. Whatever you choose, make sure it is grounded in your overall strategy. Do not create random content and distribute it haphazardly. Make sure all of your content is targeted towards one of the personas from your strategy and link everything back to your school website! Once again, sticking to a solid content marketing strategy will set you up for success.

Use metrics and analytics to measure success

Look back at your goals. Your measurements should be based on the SMART goals you set when developing your content marketing strategy. Look at the metrics and/or analytics tied to your content. Look at enrollment numbers over a long period of time. Track increases in your newsletter subscription. Survey incoming families to see how they heard about the school.

If your strategy didn’t work, reassess. If one type of content brought results better than your set goal, continue down that path. Remember, you are supposed to be creating content that is relevant and engaging. Reflection is a key part of content marketing. The numbers matter.

Examples of successful school content marketing

Now that we’ve outlined the process of creating and implementing content marketing successfully as a small school, let’s look at some incredible examples from real schools.

Providence Country Day School’s “Raising Great Kids” blog

The Providence Country Day School’s blog was created to share inspiration, ideas, and stories to help parents navigate the “messy process” of parenting. Posts include how to communicate with children, help them balance athletics and academics, how to help them build resilience, etc. The blog is valuable to families because it helps answer questions they have about their children.

Stuart Country Day School’s #LeadLikeAGirl Conference

A conference does not seem like marketing content at first glance. But the #LeadLikeAGirl conference was created to drive brand awareness for the Stuart Country Day School, an all-girls school in Princeton, New Jersey, and focuses on sharing the school’s values of women’s leadership. This FREE conference has gained national attention, regularly sells out, and has a waitlist of more than 200. Now the school uses the #LeadLikeAGirl theme across all of their marketing initiatives.

Hilltop Children’s Center’s Institute Blog

Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle, Washington, has established themselves as a leader in the pedagogy of Reggio Emilia. Although they are only a small school, they created their own “institute” to teach other educators and families about the philosophy behind their approach to early childhood education. Their blog is now read all over the world and frequently distributed among early childhood circles. They are known as experts in the field because of the content they produce!

Mercy Academy’s “Prepare for real life” campaign

“You’re not a princess. Prepare for real life.”

“Don’t wait for a prince. Prepare for real life.”

“Life’s not a fairy tale. Prepare for real life.”

Mercy Academy, an all-girl high school in Louisville, Kentucky, took the idea of fairy tales and gave it a new twist in the creation of their “Prepare for real life” campaign. The message behind their content resonated so well with the public that the campaign received national media coverage.

For more detailed information on content marketing, check out the following resources:

Practical Content Strategy & Marketing

Content Marketing Institute

Content Marketing Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide

Jocelyn Catterson grew up in a small town in the mountains of Colorado. Her childhood was full of barefoot wandering, fort building, mudpie making, and camping. These days, she loves to collect edible plants, backpack with her husband and two dogs, and nurture her childlike curiosity of the natural world.

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