ESM Summit: 5 Takeaways

I spent Tuesday at the beautiful Walnut Hill School for the Arts as an attendee and guest blogger for theEdSocialMedia Summit.


The one-day event brought together a strong mix of speakers and attracted communications professionals with (generally) a more advanced grasp of social media and online marketing.


Reflecting on the sessions and resulting discussions, here’s five takeaways from the ESM Summit:

  1. Connections As Currency: Call it the “connection economy.” Deem your strategic goals “relationship building.” Aim to develop “trust.” The phrases shifted, but nearly every speaker zeroed in on the importance of social media in strengthening community. While many attendees already understood that importance, it continually amazes how many professional communicators don’t get it or cannot convince their bosses of this fact. For those still struggling to understand, I’ve embedded a video from the almighty Seth Godin to explain it.
  2. Video Is Hard (But Shouldn’t Be): Nearly half the speakers discussed video at length during their presentations, underscoring its importance. (Again, not news for most attendees). Still, some/many attendees struggled with using “amateur” videos, seeming to want professional or nothing. Yet having fun and being authentic (two points from Chris Savage) drive engagement on videos. Even videos like Assumption High School’s lip dub, which was done with the help of a videographer and marketing agency, can be replicated on a smaller/cheaper level. Get your story right, then work on quality.
  3. Planning Is Huge(ly neglected): Conferences such as these always spark a million creative ideas that often never germinate. They may get lost in the shuffle of daily tasks or, even worse, get shot down “in theory” by bosses. By putting a plan in place, those ideas can become legitimate projects and after the next conference, the new batch of ideas will either find a home in your plan or get pushed aside because they don’t work strategically. In particular, Michael Stoner touched on this, and others mentioned it. But conversations during and after indicated that many schools lack a plan, making it difficult for them to (a) focus and (b) move new initiatives forward.
  4. Listen: Michael Stoner, Chris Savage, Brandon CrokeJoanna Lord — every single one of them, plus others (including vendors) emphasized the importance of listening. Listen to faculty. Listen to bosses (as people). Listen to customers. Listen to parents. Listen to students. Hell, an entire post could probably be written on the immediate benefits of listening — because, too often, we don’t listen as communicators. We tell (information, news, opinions) without regards to what/how/why/where/when people want to receive that message. Telling is easy. Listening is hard.
  5. Your Website Sucks: Even worse, you don’t care. Yes, you — the school with the website that takes too long to load, doesn’t have enough calls to action, doesn’t provide regularly updated information, markets the school without telling the story. You, with the website nobody actually uses except to (a) call you (since you don’t have a way to engage virtually on your website) or (b) verify your existence before looking elsewhere for authenticity. Fix it, because it’s the hub of everything you do online.

Josh Loftin

Senior Partner at Route 89 Communications

Josh Loftin oversees the marketing and communications for Wasatch Academy, a private college preparatory boarding school in central Utah. He also owns Route 89 Consulting, which assists small businesses, nonprofits and schools with long-range planning, marketing strategy and program development. Josh previously spent nearly 15 years as a political reporter in Utah.