How do you beat sunny spring weather in the home of the Happiest Place on Earth? Add some of the education sector’s best and brightest, plus opportunities to collaborate and share approaches to challenges like enrollment, communicating across channels, and school storytelling. That’s exactly what happened at Finalsite University 2023–a three-day in-person and online event earlier this month in Orlando, Florida. Finalsite, the education sector’s leading provider of school websites and communications tools, played host to hundreds of marketing, communications, and IT professionals from schools across the nation with an important goal in mind: collaboration. Of course Class Intercom was there, helping school marketing and communications teams align social media with broader goals and strategy. In case you missed it, here are three key takeaways from our time together. .
1. Schools that think like brands have a huge advantage.
School communities are multi-faceted, and there was much discussion to be had about how schools stand out, and how they convey who they are and why it matters. FInalsite CEO and Founder Jon Moser kicked things off with an energizing keynote on the power of collaboration and the important impact innovation can have on schools, students, and the teams who serve them. In breakout sessions, speakers and schools shared strategies for building awareness and interest by leveraging storytelling and connection in the school environment. That includes capturing meaningful moments happening at our schools and in our classrooms on a daily basis and curating them for various communication channels–including school and district websites, social media pages, and newsletters. Sessions also highlighted the importance of accessibility and inclusivity, diving into topics like language translation and ADA compliance.
A number of sessions also discussed strategies for activating stakeholders across school communities to spread the word about schools and programs. Session leaders and attendees discussed how to turn parents into ambassadors by making intentional asks and building programs that keep them engaged over time in mentorship, events, and other initiatives.
Wharton Business Professor and renowned brand guru Americus Reed focused his keynote on the power of brands and, more specifically, a brand as a meaning system for conveying information and building connection. He challenged the audience to consider their brand a “fulcrum of connection,” pointing to some of the world’s biggest brands as examples of meaning systems that have evolved from a name and a logo to more cultures and identities. Behind them? A powerful concept called identity loyalty, where brands (and in our case, schools), can create powerful marketing opportunities by building in the notion of self expression.
Not surprisingly, the relationship between collaboration and innovation remained a hot topic. Keynote speaker and lifelong education leader Dr. Susan Enfield added equity to the conversation, sharing lessons learned from over a decade leading Washington’s Highline Public Schools. “Can we afford not to innovate,” she challenged the audience, explaining that innovation is a constant in our lives as well as our students’ lives. At Highline, focusing on equity allowed Dr. Enfield and her team to narrow in on the students who were furthest away from opportunities and find ways to bring them closer. Along the way, they took it upon themselves to ensure that every parent and every community member saw their own child in the work the school was doing.
2. The human component is crucial.
No matter the challenges and opportunities facing a school or district, it has never been more important to highlight the humans at the heart of it. As Dr. Enfield explained: ”It’s critically important that people know who you are and what you stand for. You have to lead with your values.”
To do so, session leaders dove into practical strategies for school storytelling, including ways to capture compelling content that centers on the people behind those stories, plus how school marketing and communications teams should be thinking about using that content across channels. One session highlighted the trove of opportunities schools have to capture content within a school community and then challenged attendees to think like a photojournalist to find them: Go where the story is; look for the narratives behind memorable moments; surface and highlight the people behind seemingly everyday things. Another session offered practical tips for capturing great video. This included a quick list of small equipment investments (portable mini osmo, anyone?), tips for holding your camera (or phone!), how to manage settings, and apps that make it easier to source, edit, organize, and distribute video content.
Just presented 'All the Feels: 6 Ways to Tell Compelling Stories' at @Finalsite University! 🎉 Storytelling is a game-changer for communicators & marketers. Shared tips on inspiring, influencing & informing through stories. TY to everyone who joined! #FinalsiteUniversity23 📚🎙️ pic.twitter.com/5ciM69O9Rq— Josh Sauer, APR (@JoshuaTSauer) March 29, 2023
Class Intercom Founder and CEO Ben Pankonin led a session about building content teams. His take? It’s impossible for school marketing and communications professionals to be everywhere at once, so you’ve got to empower students and staff to capture and submit content for your channels. If you don’t, those stories go untold and the unique perspectives go unseen. What’s more, the kinds of skills students and staff learn from being part of content teams–from media skills to student voice and advocacy all the way to digital citizenship–are simply invaluable! He offered next steps for schools looking to assemble a team of students and staff, including the technology that can facilitate those efforts on small teams within classrooms and across districts at scale.
3. Technology is a must, but that too is evolving.
As schools aim to humanize, the emergence of AI adds another layer of complexity to the conversation–one that Finalsite’s team and partners addressed head-on in sessions, keynotes, and a standing-room-only panel discussion moderated by Finalsite’s Josh Sauer. On the panel: CEO and Founder Jon Moser, Chief Marketing Officer Risa Engel, Senior Content Marketing Manager Connor Gleason, and Senior Director of Product Marketing David Bunch.
The team shared insights about now only how they’re using AI tools in their own day to day work. Connor, for example, provided some actionable tips for querying AI writing tools to help streamline long-form content work such as blog writing. The team also shared insights about how these evolutions are impacting research and development at Finalsite, where they’re actively looking for ways to integrate time-savers into website, composition, and content management tools. In the near term, the team expects to leverage AI tools to help its customers increase efficiency and save time. At the same time, the team remains focused on the human component and is thinking about the longer-term implications of AI tools across the education sector and beyond. “We shouldn’t confuse information with wisdom,” shared CMO Risa Engel. “Information doesn’t give you critical thinking skills. There are lots of ways to get that–college, service work, et cetera. But just having access to the information isnt’ enough.”
Dr. Enfield’s insights about the role of technology in education echoed this sentiment; she noted the importance of leveraging technology alongside the responsibility educators have to steward it. “Technology has enabled us to engage learners in ways we never could before,” explained Dr. Enfield, citing examples ranging from assistive technology to the sector’s response to remote learning amid COVID. “We also have to model for our students how to use technology responsibly. And, as educators, we can’t be afraid.”
Outside the classroom, good times were had by all at both formal and informal networking events that included cocktail hours, beverage tastings, and a trip around the world at Epcot among others.
A very special thanks to our friends at Finalsite for another great event. If you’re looking for more insights and inspiration, be sure to catch the biggest school public relations event of the year: School PR Day.
If you missed us at Finalsite U, but want to get in touch, be sure to drop us a line.