Connections Academy ‘Makes the Grade’ with Vibrant Parent Community Built on Jive
October 6, 2016
With schools across the country back in full swing this fall, we thought it would be a great time to share how Connections Academy®, a fully accredited virtual school for 65,000 students in grades K-12 throughout the United States, is using the Jive Customer Community solution to power its nationwide parent community. A division of Connections Education LLC, Connections Academy® has around 5,000 parent and caretaker volunteers who’ve joined a community called “Club ORANGE®,” where they can participate in spreading the word about their school to others in their community who may not know that online public school exists as an educational option. Families in the club can also exchange tips and tricks for a successful online school year. Last year, the school recognized an opportunity to help these families more easily interact with each other and with Connections Academy through an online community.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Connections Education’s manager of community outreach, Krista Mahler, to talk about her organization’s experience rolling out the Jive Customer Community solution, and the impact it has made on Connections Education’s parent engagement.
Jive: If you had to sum up what Jive is to your organization, what would you say?
Krista: Jive is about connecting enrolled families and encouraging them to spread the word about their online school experience to others in their local communities. The Corner, our Jive Customer Community, is a nationwide online community for parents and guardians who have students enrolled in Connections AcademyⓇ schools and have joined the parent volunteer club. The Corner is a closed Jive instance that is only available to parent club members.
This community is a place where we can communicate activities and tasks for families to complete that help drive our word of mouth (WOM) marketing strategy. For example, we ask families to share blog posts, YouTube videos, and news stories on social media sites. We also have families report on their usage of physical materials that they receive in mailed outreach kits (posters, flyers, referral cards, etc.). WOM marketing can be very hard to track because it involves physical conversations and interactions that people often have offline.
Our community gives us a place to communicate with parent volunteers, while also giving them a place to get recognized for volunteering to spread the word about their school. Parent volunteers self-report back to us about the activities they have completed in their communities and get rewarded with points, badges (using gamification), and even physical prizes. Secondarily, but maybe even more importantly, it gives parent volunteers a place to connect with each other, ask questions, get answers, and feel a part of the parent community that exists within the schools.
Jive: What are the top benefits Jive delivers to Connections Education LLC?
- Communication becomes conversation: Communication with parent volunteers has become more of a conversation than a one-way communication style. This allows more experienced parents to jump in and help out! It also allows us to gain feedback on the tasks and activities that we ask our parent volunteers to complete.
- Participation growth spurts: Participation has grown because of the collaborative tools that Jive provides. In our previous online community (built by an outside vendor), we only had about 1% of parent volunteers participate. Since implementing Jive in July of 2015, we now have 15% of the parent club members participating in the online community—and the user base is growing each and every month!
- Connections for content: As a marketing team, we are always trying to find parents and students who are willing and able to share their online school experience on our social media outlets and through interviews with news outlets. We find that many families have such positive stories about switching to virtual school, which can really help parents who are still undecided or unsure. Using Jive, I can easily request volunteers for a specific need or browse the personal blog posts and discussions that are happening within the community for potential candidates. Our community has really enabled these connections to happen more organically.
Participation has grown because of the collaborative tools that Jive provides. In our previous online community (built by an outside vendor), we only had about 1% of parent volunteers participate. Since implementing Jive in July of 2015, we now have 15% of the parent club members participating in the online community—and the user base is growing each and every month!
Krista Mahler, Manager of Community Outreach at Connections Education
Jive: What types of members use The Corner?
Krista: Currently, aside from our community managers and a few other staff members that are taking on smaller sub-community manager roles, the main users of our community are parent volunteers. They are able to participate in the missions we have set up and provide feedback, as well as offer new ideas for spreading the word about their schools.
Parents are also able to connect on a more personal level by giving and receiving tips on how to help their students succeed in online school. They can share their personal stories with each other through their personal blogs as well. Parents are even using the community to set up in-person meet-ups and study groups with other families who live in the same state/area.
Jive: How has Jive changed the way you work?
Krista: I feel much more connected to the parent volunteers who are scattered all across the nation. It enables us to actually have a relationship, create connections and work together. I’m also able to connect parent volunteers to other teams in our company. I sometimes read a parent’s personal blog in Jive and recommend him or her to our PR team for a media interview or to be the focus of a post on social media. In the past, I would just email out information and hope that our volunteers were following through. Now they can ask questions, find answers, and even earn points for completing different tasks and activities.
Jive: Looking forward 5 years, how do you foresee Jive supporting Connection Education’s vision?
Krista: With The Corner, our Jive community for parent volunteers, my vision is to expand this community to all of the families in each school across the nation so that we can increase the benefit that we are already seeing in terms of connecting families and enabling them to help spread the word about their school. We know that there are a lot more families out there that love their school and would be happy to spread the word to their friends and networks within their local communities. The impact of expanding our community to include a larger population of families could be huge for our word of mouth marketing and return on investment (ROI).
We are also working with a Jive partner, JCS Consulting to integrate our Jive community with some of our other parent volunteer-led programs that contribute to lead capturing. Other future (dream) projects would be to connect Jive to our proprietary education management system and website so that we can enable Single Sign On, automate our new member account creation process, and maybe even open up a public-facing section of our instance that can help contribute to search engine optimization, etc.
Finally, Connections Education LLC. is a part of Pearson, so on a corporate level, we are just starting to integrate with Pearson’s Jive-powered Interactive Intranet, which is also built on Jive and called Neo. I’m now involved with a couple teams on the corporate side that are working on our integration strategy to incorporate Neo into our daily work life. I know this will change the way we work, collaborate, and function as a company, and I’m looking forward to these changes. There are so many things that could happen with Jive…the possibilities are endless!
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