Discussing marketing for public schools with Jason Wheeler

In this episode of the We Love Schools podcast, host Joel Gagne speaks with Jason Wheeler, Marketing Director for Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD in Texas. Jason runs the Social Media Schoolhouse blog and explains marketing for public schools and how specific techniques can be used by each school district.

Jason says content marketing is far different from traditional advertising on TV or billboards, and that it’s more about helping customers instead of just blasting messages at them.

“So to really do content marketing well, I think you just need to know your audience,” Jason says. “And I think knowing that and just helping your audience, figuring out their pain points, and knowing what they need and want, is the first huge step.”

You can solve problems through great content, and build trust in the process with your community.

“When you build their trust, they’re more likely to think of you as the educational expert and they’re going to choose your school district, hopefully, for enrolling their child,” Jason says.

Joel asks about the most popular platforms for engaging with parents when it comes to marketing for public schools. Many of the younger ones, Jason says, are gravitating toward Instagram. Parents have fears about sending kids to school for the first time, so they want to see the general process of how it works, from bathroom breaks to being escorted between rooms.

“Addressing those fears and just putting that content out there are some of the easiest things you can do because you can listen to your audience,” Jason says.

Joel asks how Jason makes content creation work in a huge district of 38 schools.

Jason recognizes his team can’t make it to every classroom every day, so it’s important to prime teachers and building-level administrators on how to create strong content. He tries to explain the power of smartphones as a photo and video tool.

Ask parents what they’re looking for, and account for different cultures and demographics of the district and the individual building.

“We’re trying for schools to take ownership of their brand,” Jason says. “And we’re teaching the teachers, the administrators, the counselors to produce content on their own.”

Jason says he’s done significant research into the social media habits of millennial parents. Some are all over the place, on every platform, so it takes “social listening” to gauge responses. He suggests monitoring analytics every day as part of marketing for public schools.

“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Jason says. “If something’s not working, you have the data to figure that out and you can change very quickly.”

Joel and Jason discuss the pros and cons of video on Facebook and YouTube. Jason says Facebook is skewing more toward video, so he and his colleagues are emphasizing the platform.

Joel asks about how small districts can manage content when leaders have so many other tasks. No matter how small the district, Jason says, there should be content marketing because parents expect it. If you’re not telling your story then someone else is.

Jason reiterates the value of smartphones, suggesting that staff take photos or videos sporadically, or anytime there’s an event.

Jason says one of the best things they have done is to leverage parent ambassadors in promoting the great things that are going on. Student takeovers of Instagram and Snapchat work wonders, with the proper oversight.

“Definitely get help from your students and staff, that’s huge,” Jason says. “You need to be consistent. It doesn’t mean every hour of every day—find what’s consistent for you and get in your flow.”

Closing out the episode, Jason recommends the books The End of Advertising as We Know It by Sergio Zyman, and Youtility by Jay Baer.

Read the full We Love Schools podcast episode about marketing for public schools. 

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