Monthly Archive for: ‘June, 2010’

  • Keep internal messages internal

    A recent trip to the bank’s drive-through was pretty revealing.

    Now, this is not the slowest drive-through window I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been through more than my share), but I usually need a haircut by the time I get done. So, I had plenty of time to sit and brood. In doing so, my eyes happened upon a hand-lettered sign that was obviously meant for internal consumption only, peering at me from the window.

    The sign was touting the virtues and benefits of a home improvement loan—not the benefits to the recipient, but to the bank. It seems the bank has an incentive program for the cashiers and anyone who “sells” a home equity loan gets a nice, fat bonus. The heading on the sign says “This month’s #1 priority—home-equity loans!”

    It’s sort of like the signs that you see affixed to cash registers at some retail establishments, reminding the staff member to “Smile” and “Make eye contact” or to “Ask each customer if they (sic) need anything else.” These signs make me want to smile, because they suggest a rather basic approach to training and not a whole lot of confidence in the staff.

    Plastering your educational objectives all over your school district’s buildings is a little like this. It’s fine to have an internal mission statement that says, for example, “Our objective is to help each student be a success, every single day” and to refer to that statement as decisions are being made.

    But, remember that as you are getting your statement framed and suitable for posting that doing so takes an internal pledge and seeks to make it a marketing tool – which it isn’t. It’s little more than a promise to do your best, which doesn’t differentiate you from any other school district.

    And that reminds me of the question I asked a former client in the health care field who proudly showed me the etched glass in their new hospital lobby that had the hospital’s slogan, which was (I’m not kidding) “We care.”

    My question to her: Isn’t that what a hospital is supposed to do?

  • Social media is here, like it or not

    We have a bet around the office as to when social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, et al) will become as important a source of school district news as the district’s own website.

    You see, five years ago, somewhere between 2% and 5% of typical patrons told us that they “frequently” consulted the district’s website for news and information. That number is now routinely above 10%, and often as high as 25%.

    That’s where social media stands right now – about 2-5% utilization for school district news. We expect it won’t take five years to get to where district websites are right now.

    There is a significant, strategic difference between your website and social media. You control your website, but you don’t control what patrons are saying on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And, of course, you can’t control who might start up a niche Facebook page to either champion a cause or raise a ruckus.

    So, if you can’t control what others are saying via their social media channels, what’s a district to do? Fight fire with fire. Create a robust Facebook page that provides you another outlet to channel news and information. Start a Twitter feed, but for goodness sake make certain that you put meaningful information on there. (Current estimates are that upwards of 70% of Twitter messages are akin to “I hate it when it rains” and “Great ham sandwich at lunch today.”)

    And don’t worry if your “fan” and “follower” numbers are modest for a while. Your community may not be an early adopter of such channels but, as our experience with website traffic suggests, they’ll eventually get there. It’s up to you to be there with something meaningful once they arrive.

  • Patrons’ savings ideas show the need for more information

    Recently, we wrote that we were seeing an increase in patrons suggesting “fundraisers” as a way for their school district to solve its budget challenges, as if cookie dough and wrapping paper sales were the path to financial stability.

    The other side of that story consists of patrons’ ideas for cost savings. We’ve seen more than a few patrons suggesting such fixes as eliminating lamination, copying on both sides of the paper, dropping (or raising, depending on the season) the thermostat by 1 degree in buildings district-wide, and instructing staff to turn off lights in rooms they are not in.

    All of these ideas – while well-intentioned and, in most cases, worth considering on general principles – make it clear that these patrons have a limited idea of the significance of the budget challenges. Over time, ideas such as these will make a notable difference. But, the school district doesn’t have the luxury of such time.

    It seems clear that if your patrons continue to produce ideas that will save pennies, it means that you need to keep drawing their attention back to the enormity of the challenge, the difficult steps that have already been taken, and the ones which may need to be considered in the future.