Unit 4 – Planning a Forest School Programme
What is a communication strategy?
A strategy is a plan of action and a communication strategy is a plan designed to help you communicate effectively and clearly. Your communication strategy will help you market your forest school session and inform your customers of changes to date, time or location of your sessions.
Having your strategy written down will help you measure progress against it and give you clear steps to take. There is no one-size-fits-all approach and developing your communication strategy will take time and experimentation, consider it a working document.
Who do you want to talk to and why?
What are your aims? Are you looking to attract new customers? Do you want to move into a new area or offer a different type of provision? Are you looking to improve your communication with your existing customers?
Split your communication strategy into sections and focus on each of your aims one at a time. Who you want to communicate with and what you want to say will impact your choice of channel and format. Creating a glossy A5 leaflet would be far better suited to marketing new sessions than to let a parent know their child had an injury this morning for example.
Consider how often each audience might want to hear from you and how long your communications should be. Parents of children already attending your sessions may really enjoys a 4 page newsletter every half term. Clear, concise simple leaflets or online adverts will be far more likely to catch the eye of prospective parents though.
It’s not just about selling your sessions. The best practitioners are constantly pushing growth in themselves and the best way to do this is networking to build up links. Do you have capacity to offer trainees the chance to volunteer and support your sessions? Are there other forest school practitioners nearby that you could meet up with to skill share? How could you best get in touch with these people?
Long gone are the days of your choices being limited to phone, fax or post. There are now more ways to get in touch with your audience than you can shake a stick at! An advantage of having a planned communication strategy is that you will have the opportunity to explore and exploit all of the channels available to you.
Don’t overlook the networking opportunities of meeting with people face to face. Attending skills days and conferences, local Forest Education Network groups or visiting or supporting other forest school leaders and are all great ways to meet other local practitioners and share skills and knowledge. Likewise, visiting local schools and offering taster sessions can be a great way to advertise any local sessions you run.
All about the timing
Timing can be as important as the method of communication. Whilst most people do tend to check their emails first thing in the morning they are likely to skip marketing emails in favour of being productive. Marketing emails sent in the mid afternoon to early evening often get the highest open rates.
The same is true of communicating via social media. Most social media platforms give you statistics on the number of people your posts reached. Experiment by varying the day and time that you post content to see what works best for your audience.
Plan, do, review
So, you’ve planned how to communicate with your different audiences and you’ve sent out the first emails and made the first social media posts but what now? It may take some time for your email list to grow or your following on social media to increase but don’t just sit and wait, experiment.
Try A B testing some of your emails or posts. Split your email list into two and send different e-mails to each to see which gets the highest open rate. Post the same article on Facebook or Twitter next week but with a different title and different hashtags and see which gets the highest click through rate. The key to ongoing effective communication is to evolve in response to your audience.