Is an extreme makeover in order? (You might want to take a look at your website.)

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 9.02.43 PMEven non-parents can see when when a school district’s website is suffering from neglect.

Back-to-school information lingers on the home page at Halloween. School closings/ snow day protocol are the main story during spring break.

It’s time for a come-to-Jesus talk about making sure your website stays relevant.

As a keeper of the website, maybe you’re not grievously lax about updating basic information. Yet you hope no one notices that board meeting minutes are added in three-month batches and some of the photos in the slideshow that scrolls under the banner includes photos of students who have long since graduated.

“The only value I see in a lot of school websites is that the districts can say their websites exist,” said Hajj Flemings, a brand strategist who speaks nationwide to help individuals and organizations launch and grow ideas. “Most sites look antiquated. The content is old. It doesn’t drive earned media or do much to engage students and parents.

“Bottom line,” Hajj said, “is that most schools are not effectively leveraging technology to tell their stories and promote their brand. They’re leaving great opportunities on the table.”

The making of a brand strategist

Hajj Flemings

Hajj Flemings

Hajj Flemings, 43, grew up in Roseville, Mich., and still calls metro Detroit home.

He worked as a mechanical engineer at the Ford Motor Company until 2009, but left to start a tech company marketing a graphical online identity platform, GoKit. He was among eight black entrepreneurs featured in CNN’s 2011 documentary “Black in American 4: The New Promised Land: Silicon Valley.”

Networking through the economic recession, he met representatives of declining brands and displaced workers who seemed to be struggling blindly to retool for a new economy few could grasp, Hajj said.

Believing that smartphones have the power to transform every individual into a media company (he says more people around the world use smartphones than toothbrushes daily), Hajj committed himself to training people to use new technologies to start businesses, promote themselves, and amplify favorite causes.

He and a team of helpers have run multiple Brand Camps in Boston, New York and Detroit. Most meetings attract more than 300 registrants, but others are capped at 20 people to assure that the setting is intimate enough to address attendees’ situation-specific questions.

Hajj’s pet project is a formidable one: “Rebranding” Detroit after bankruptcy.

Vivacious and unpretentious, Hajj has endeared himself to many Detroiters, who feel like they know him because of his social media clout.

He doesn’t wait for reporters to ask questions; he films himself giving unscripted, from-the-heart messages and uploads them to YouTube. He makes sure his Website,, is up to date. He mobilizes his 14,000-plus Twitter followers for stunts that set Motown abuzz.

He doesn’t admit to political aspirations, but one can’t help but wonder.

Here’s what he has to say about  branding

Strategies Hajj shares at Brand Camp – and the strategies he’s using to elevate the narrative about Detroit – are some of the same strategies school communicators can use to improve their district’s Website.

A Website makeover is often an important first step to revitalizing your brand. You need to provide a flow of new and relevant to capture reader’s attention every time he or she comes calling, or they’re not going to come back.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 9.04.47 PMWorse yet, they might conclude your school system isn’t modern, important, or vibrant. What parent wants to send their child to a school like that?

An organization’s media should reflect the actual experiences someone would encounter in person at the school, Hajj said.

Brands have visual, audible, and physical components. Together, the expectations, memories, stories and relationships associated with a brand affect why consumers choose one school, service, or product over another, he said.

Here are some tips for revitalizing your media presence:

  • Optimize all content so it will format correctly on the platform or device the reader is viewing it on.
  • People don’t trust advertising; they trust what people they know tell them. So, create cool experiences and sponsor cool programs that will get people talking and in your door.
  • Stake your claim in digital real estate. Tweet using hash tags, which represent communities of people. Post high-resolution photos (440 to 220 pixels) and tag as many individuals in the image as you can. Blog, and be yourself when you blog. (Be authentic!)
  • Seed every opportunity. Making connections is social capital in this new “reputation economy.”

Innovative school leaders recognize the importance of a robust communications program in making their district a desirable choice, but Hajj says he hasn’t done a lot of consulting with schools.

School officials are often unable or unwilling to make communications a bigger priority, he said. Since school funding is tight, superintendents tend to stick with the communications plan in place, regardless of the results (or lack of), he said.

“The best place for school district to start is to inventory the communications program you have,” Hajj said. “Then, with a full understanding of your resources,  you can collectively clarify your objective. Maybe what’s needed is a more effective way to disseminate information. Maybe you need to increase community involvement or increase enrollment. Maybe heightening brand awareness is the primary goal.”

“Establish your goal,” Hajj said, “and then you can begin drawing the roadmap to get there.”

Hajj’s roadmap is his smartphone.

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