Five ways to promote your site in the first weeks of school

So you’ve spent all summer learning the difference between CSS and PHP and HTML, and now your staff has your fresh new site up and ready to go for the new year. Rather than targeting your grandma in Albuquerque, why not work with your staff to develop a site promotion plan that will drive new, local readers to your site and let old readers know that you have a lot of fresh content to offer? Here are five ways to promote your publication’s website in the first few weeks of school.

Clue in new students and freshmen early to recruit steady, long-term readership. CC image by Kiifu on Flickr.

1. Hook them young. Most schools have a registration process that requires students to visit campus before school begins to pick up schedules, choose lockers, or invest in a quality set of P.E. clothes. If there are packets or bags being distributed, ask if you can drop a promotional flyer in them. If that’s not an option, wear your staff t-shirts (or other matching clothing) and hand out flyers or small promo cards to students as they wait in line. Be sure to target the freshmen, who are often young and eager to find out about their new school. If you miss (or have already missed) this opportunity, plan for Back to School Night or Freshman Orientation Night.

2. Invest in some swag that shows off your URL. Some staffs have handed out a limited number of free t-shirts, buttons, or stickers to students. Make sure that your site’s URL is prominently displayed on the item, and encourage recipients to permanently display it, if possible, on backpacks or binders. You can even hold secret contests throughout the year that reward your readers for wearing your swag. If your staff is on a tight budget, create a clever poster campaign that captures the attention of the campus and shows off your URL. You might even ask all of your teachers if you can make a short announcement in class, then put your site on the board for the first few weeks of school.

3. Tease your new content through other media. Do this through your print newspaper, your broadcast program, your daily bulletin, your school’s official website, or even your Facebook page. Rather than teasing everything in one shot, tease one story a day over five days, always remembering to give the URL for the site clearly.

Use your publication's Facebook page to promote your site at the beginning of a new year.

4. Gain followers. Ask your readers to become fans of your publication on Facebook, to follow your tweets on Twitter, to subscribe to your weekly/monthly email newsletter, or follow your RSS feed. Unlike a print publication that lands right in your reader’s lap, your online pub will need you to remind the reader that it exists.

5. Publish helpful news. This is the single most effective way to promote your site in the first few weeks of school — give the readers what they need. Give your freshmen an interactive school map that shows them all the ins and outs of your campus. Introduce your new teachers and staff members to the student body in a compelling way. Find out what happened to so-and-so over the summer and dispel the rumors. By providing your readers with a steady flow of useful information, you increase the chances of cementing your site into the reader’s shortlist of sites visited daily.

There you have it. Five sure-fire ways to get readers to your site in the first few weeks of school. Once you’ve got them there, develop a long-term promotional plan that may include new roles for staff members, such as Social Media Manager or Public Relations Specialist. And of course, the best way to keep your readers is to ensure that they’re getting a quality product.

So how about you all? What are your secrets for getting your readers back to your site after summer break? Do you have a special way to inform your new students and freshmen? Which tricks have worked best to familiarize your readers with your URL?

Michelle Balmeo

Michelle Balmeo, MJE, is the adviser of The Whirlwind newsmagazine and online news publication at West Albany High School in Albany, Ore. She's done some print stuff, some video stuff, and some web stuff over the past 16 years as a student media adviser.

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