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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 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.
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:
With more than half of web traffic being accessed via mobile apps, it's no surprise that mobile apps are becoming a very popular method for schools to communicate. A mobile app can make it efficient for those parents and others in your school community who prefer to use apps.
A dedicated, branded school mobile app can serve as a handy conduit to your school website, where users can access common information like alerts, calendars, directories, news and lunch menus. While the mobile app is not ready to replace the website, the website content needs to be accessible through the app. Another key benefit of the mobile app is the ability to deliver push notifications.
There are other key features a school mobile app should have, but one of the most important is the ability to segment your notifications to the specific users respectively. For example, if the middle school football game is canceled, you should not be notifying the elementary and high school parents. One drawback of mobile apps is the need to have users update their apps, which creates a potential barrier to full utilization of this channel.
The email channel remains a key channel for schools because it is a great way to communicate one-to-one. Everyone has an email account these days, so this channel is almost universally used for regular correspondence. Email allows schools to provide information of all kinds – in detail if needed. Email is can be personal and, if done right, features a high open rate, because most parents open email from their child's school.
The use of email can range from reminders, policies, registration, newsletters and a variety of announcements. Email also can be the messenger for your website content – still the hub of your school information. Most third-party email blasting systems (e.g., MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.), which provide a higher degree of email security than one which a school handles itself, enable important metrics that can help you improve your communication.
Email, however, can often be less effective if not written and managed properly. Most, for example are way too long, reducing the chances the reader will read the whole thing, much less act upon it if a call-to-action is included. There’s more to effective emailing than meets the eye, so check out this article on How to Create School Emails that Reach Parents.
Videos can greatly amplify your communications. They help personify your school district by bringing messages to life. They're really quite easy to produce and post.
Videos and the favored channels to share them – Youtube, Facebook, Vimeo – are the most popular of the media channels because they're so easy to just sit back and watch. With the abundance of content shoved into our faces each day, short-form video is a natural way to elevate above the clutter and engage your school community.
Video is a crowd-pleasing way for schools to capture, chronicle and archive great school content. When it comes to communicating highlights from just about any kind of event, a board meeting, ball game, something humorous, touching or otherwise entertaining, video rules.
Add to our natural inclination to gravitate to audiovisual media, web and videoconferencing are now as much a part of school-home engagement as the old tattered take-home packet once was. These media shouldn't be the sole domain of teachers and remote learning. School engagement officers, public relations, communications, boards and school leaders need to up their video game.
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.
Tech-savvy teachers have been turning to podcasts as an aid in instruction, but school leaders too can utilize this increasingly popular digital channel. By giving your audience the flexibility of listening to your messages whenever and wherever they like, you are accommodating their busy schedules while providing yet another option and opportunity for your messages to be delivered and shared.
Podcast material can range from messages from superintendents, principals and teachers, to important event or calendar information, to more human interest glimpses into your school. Pretty much any longer-form, non-time-critical info you might have on or linked to your website can be podcast fodder. Solo podcasts (i.e., one person speaking) are a good option for things like superintendent's and principal's messages, but interview formats with a conversational tone tend to be more dynamic.
Like videos, producing podcasts don't require extensive equipment or editing software. USB microphones are inexpensive and are versatile enough to plug into just about any computer.
A blog can be one of your school’s best opportunities to engage parents and the community. It can be a 'district' 'school' blog, but many schools prefer to position it as a superintendent’s blog, which gives you a forum to reinforce the school brand, strengthen ties with media, and depict your school leadership precisely the way you want.
Blogs give you total control of the messaging, and can be used to articulate, support and clarify policy, and spark dialogue. Note too that not all posts have to be serious. Some posts can be lighter than others. Simply sharing thoughts, photos, anecdotes, and other’s content can all help personalize your school.
If properly promoted, a blog can deliver the messaging priorities that can boost public confidence in your entire district. Promote it on your website homepage, share it on your school’s Facebook page and other social media, and be sure to promote it through your non-digital school communications as well.
Often, the communications lead in a district can ghostwrite articles for school leaders to reinforce key strategic messaging.
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