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Every school abounds with communications content possibilities. Schools are a veritable treasure trove of stories and events that deserve and need to be shared. The real challenge is finding the time and other resources to create and deliver all the messages and stories, then choosing the right channels where and when to share it all.
The size of your district, communications staffing levels, school leadership, culture, vendors and technology levels are variables that you may have limited control over, but how you organize and assemble your content is up to you. Cover the following bases to assure your covering all your bases when managing your content.
At the highest level, there are four major content hubs – the big chunks – that you should include in your communications plan, each one requiring its own set of objectives and specific goals:
Job number one for schools: a steady stream of targeted school information and news to better connect with parents and family members. Messages can range from time-critical alerts and updates to warm-and-fuzzy social media posts. Engagement needs to be at the district level, school level, classroom level.
Fail-safe preparedness and response for emergencies, lockdowns, staff scandals. Maybe there are major 'issues' current or on the horizon that require strategic communications or outside counsel. Ask yourself if you are prepared. Do you have contingency planning in place?
Your students, instructors and non-teaching staff are perhaps your most important audience for they can influence everyone else you're trying to reach. They help you live up to the school mission. Are you engaging these groups with the same urgency you apply to parents and the external school community?
Being accessible to the communities in which your district operates is another big obligation and should be a priority. Local media, businesses, and social groups can and should be big advocates of your students, staff and mission. It's up to you how you connect the dots between your district and the community.
The urgency of each school message varies but can be classified most generally in three (3) categories:
URGENT – Alerts (lockdowns, school closings, crisis/emergencies)
IMPORTANT – Schedule updates, important deadlines, superintendent’s/principal’s messages
INFORMATIVE – Stories and happenings, events, featured extracurriculars and people news (staff and students)
One of the most common mistakes made by school communicators is trying to do it all alone. While it is certainly important to maintain control of messaging – especially at the district level – it's not necessary nor advisable to take on responsibility for every web page, notification and social media post.
Certainly, because so much of district messaging that's routinely published, posted and sent is repeated, periodic content that supports the school calendar, you don't need a team to create and manage this aspect of district communications. It's when school-level or classroom-level content is required, that the team approach will benefit.
District communications directors should surround themselves with designated communications "field reporters" as such. They can be responsible for gathering content at each school and serve as the eyes and ears of the vast ‘field’ of building-level communications opportunities. These team members can be principals, admins, teachers or any staff who is a champion for school communications. Some schools even create communications ‘ambassador programs’ which can even include students and parents.
The necessary permissions can be granted to communication team members to publish to each of essential communication channels, empowering each to manage content for which they're responsible respectively. These contributors will be granted publishing privileges that you can monitor and preview, if you wish, before messages are published/sent live.
Have a plan in place to handle negative social media comments. They will arise, and there are definite dos and don'ts when it comes to dealing with negative comments from the public.
Nothing better defines your school, its culture, and its image across your entire school community than the positive stories that abound about staff and students. Share those stories of achievement, milestones, behind-the-curtain glimpses into the ordinary and extraordinary that happens every day at every school.
Warm and fuzzy moments can be captured with a cool photo and caption, or a short video that's easily posted to social media or internal school feeds. These vignettes show an authentic side of your school that's every bit as important as the routine general messages and updates you create.
Great stories, after all, are what shape perceptions about your school, so be sure to keep your storytelling funnels full.
Make it easy on yourself and your contributors by using technology to solicit ideas:
School video storyteller Jake Sturgis, a champion video storyteller and APR professional has compiled some handy tips to tell your school stories via video. Jake founded Captivate Media after working in-house with school districts to help them make the most out of using video. Showcase your videos on social media too. Some schools show live streaming events using Facebook Live or their own Youtube channels, posting everything from football highlights, to school productions, to superintendent’s messages. Even if you don’t have a Youtube channel, you can create video galleries and archives of your school events. Like all the channels, the time and place for video is here and now.
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