Why Building a Community Online is Important for Schools

If there is one thing marketing loves, it’s buzzwords. One that’s heard all the time?


Google the word and you’ll see it defined as:

1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests and goals.”

For schools, “community” is almost a given. By nature, schools are a community and they foster the creation of little, sub-communities. So community-building for school marketers should be a snap, right?

Well, not so fast.


What community means to school marketers

When we talk about community from a school marketing perspective, we mean a community in which the marketer and the school have a role. A community which the school can tap into anytime they want, in order to understand the thoughts, concerns and questions of its audience and to communicate in ways that address those same thoughts, concerns and questions. A community which exists, not just in the dorms or within classroom walls or campus limits, but beyond that to…anywhere. Everywhere. In other words, online.

Your school’s online community matters, even if your real-life community rocks.

Here’s what happens when you build a community online:

Your capacity to reach news audiences grows.
If your community only exists in real life (or IRL, as the kids like to say), it’s exclusive by nature. No one else really knows about it. There is nothing shareable, quotable, pinnable, tweetable or snapable. And yes, to the generations who have never known a world without the internet, these things matter.

You will help feed the pipeline of people that will be next to become part of your real-life community.
There are many factors that go into selecting a school, many of them straight-forward and business-like. But there’s also the emotional factor. Potential students want to feel like a school is a good fit for them on a personal level that has nothing to do with academics. Becoming part of, or even just observing, your online community can help give them much-needed answers to questions they wouldn’t quite know how to ask.

You give your school a way to stay connected with current past, present and future students.
Alumni, current students and prospective students are three very different groups, each important for different reasons. Staying in touch, whether with a student who graduated ten years ago or one who is simply home for spring break, is infinitely easier online.

You provide proof that your school is active, engaged, savvy and modern—with a student population to match.
It’s the internet version of judging a book by its cover: if your website is out-of-date, or your social media channels are a ghost town, you will be passed by. Students expect a modern, fresh, accurate and engaging web presence. If your school is not doing anything interesting online, it’s not just cool points your school will lose, it’s attention and interest.

When schools build an online community, there is a distinct advantage: there is a vibrant, real-life community that exists beyond the screen. Both communities can nurture and grow the other. Everyone benefits— online, and IRL.

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