Information vs. Communication

Catholic school websites have to do a lot of things. I’d say many more things than your average website. Catholic school sites face an ever-growing demand to deliver to a pretty wide-ranging group of visitors.

For the purposes this article, however, we are going to break down visitors into just two groups: the sold and the unsold. First, let’s define these groups.

The Sold

The sold are the people who have (for lack of a better term) “bought” into the school in some way. That may sound a little commercial, but in a market of many competing schools, it’s a completely appropriate term.

The people who are sold on your school are on board and currently invested in some form in the school. There are other people that may like your school or have some connection with it, but they don’t currently have some sort of direct relationship with it.

As you can probably guess, the main segment of the sold group is parents of current students. They were sold the minute they decided to send their child or children to your school, and they are now invested and interested parties. In other words, they are in some way a part of the school itself. They take part, want to see the school succeed, and in some ways are involved in its operation. There are some other, smaller groups that fit this bill we could name, but to keep things simple, let’s leave it at parents for the moment

The Unsold

This is by far the biggest group of the two. This is the group of people who need to be sold on something about the school. On what? That all depends on the segment within this group, so let’s break them down:

  • Parents of prospective students
  • Prospective students (depending on their age)
  • Alumni who are candidates for donation
  • Other possible donors

You can see why this group is so important – it contains the people who are absolutely vital for the growth and sustainment of a successful Catholic school. Without students and funding coming in, there really isn’t any reason to have a school, is there?

The Big Contradiction

So here’s the problem. The vast (and I do mean vast) majority of Catholic school sites cater to the first group, the people who are sold. How? They cater to them by the type of content the site provides.

People who are sold on the school are coming to the site to get one thing: information. They want to know if it’s a snow day, or when the dance is, or what to bring to a parent-teacher conference. Like we mentioned before, they are a part of your organization in a way. They want forms, information, calendars, news, and updates. Insider stuff.

Generally speaking, Catholic school sites are great at doing this. They are troves of all kinds of information. Stacks of it. Maybe that information isn’t organized in an optimal way (a topic for another article), but if you have some persistence, you can find what you’re looking for.

Templates Woes

Most school sites are run off of software that allows people to dump content into templates. This content is mostly textual in nature, and this is great for the type of content we’ve described above – information. The problem, though, is that when it comes time to serve the needs of the much larger group of people schools need to communicate to and sell to, schools more often than not just take more copy and dump it into more templates.

The situation here is pretty clear. One of the problems is technical (the over using of templates throughout a site), but that is just a symptom of the overall approach to site development that has become common to Catholic school sites. Catholic school websites need to learn to communicate a mission and a feeling of the school, rather than just expect users to slog through text with some images sprinkled throughout. Schools are informing with content, but not communicating, and that’s a big problem.

The Solution

In many ways, the solution to this problem is one of the core reasons why we started this site. The answer isn’t something simple like use more images or use more color. It gets much deeper into the reasons and challenges behind creating a site that communicates. There aren’t any easy answers, but the best way to start out on that path is to recognize the problem.

And while we’re at it, we’ll make it easier for our “sold” group to get their information as well.

As you can see by our list of people that need to be communicated to, the Catholic school that can learn how to communicate via the web and sell its mission and values stands much to gain. It all starts with remembering that communication is key.

Image above by Svilen Milev.

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