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One of the overarching goals of school communications planning is staying current on all the modern channels available. Independently, each is quite effective, but when used together, all these digital channels can significantly boost your engagement levels. A responsive school communications plan integrates these essential channels with non-digital tactics for a modern comprehensive approach to the ever-changing challenges of engaging your school community.
Pursuing digital channels cannot come at the expense of proven non-digital tools schools have long employed. Personal small- and large-group meetings, phone calls, school signage, take-home packets and the sundry tools otherwise used to connect are still in play. But an integrated approach merging progressive technologies with 'old-school' tactics is your best formula for success.
Powerful websites that are easy to navigate; notification systems that automatically trigger voice, text and emails; mobile apps and ubiquitous social media that connect us from anywhere are the channels your district needs to embrace. Working together, they can form the communications arsenal for your school. Understanding and using these channels will make the job of connecting with and engaging all your audiences more effective than ever.
A website serves an important purpose for school districts and its schools, Think of it as a self-service portal for a great deal of information for your school community.
Because schools have distinct requirements in terms of what their websites need to provide, good website design has must take into account precisely why and how visitors access your site. Foremost, frequently accessed information must be easy to find, and your website needs to reflect a professional image that helps depict your school brand.
Website accessibility is critical from both an ADA-compliance standpoint, and the larger population that's accessing your web content. Web content needs to be free of barriers for people with disabilities. Likewise, your web content is usually shared across multiple channels on multiple mobile devices, so everyone needs to access your content anytime from anywhere.
In addition, a district site is the hub for alerts, calendars and news, submission forms, social media feeds, school board activity, e-commerce and more. For a closer look at what goes into good website design, check out these five tips for great school website design.
Critical updates, emergency information and important reminders delivered through SMS (text) and voice messages are increasingly important for thorough communications. These types of systems may or may not integrate with other channels such as mobile apps, so careful consideration needs to be given to capabilities and limitations of notification solutions serving K12.
As we all grow more dependent on receiving alerts and notifications to help us prioritize the news and information we want to receive, parent preferences and the ability to personalize their school communications are driving successful parent engagement. Parents and others should have the ability to customize their preferences and receive the preferred method(s) of communication.
Schools need to be sensitive to parents' preferences for these messages or else a breakdown in communication will occur. You do not want to overuse notifications. It is an extremely effective means of communication but can become annoying – and possibly illegal (see Legal Considerations section) – if you are getting notifications about not-so-important information. Emphasize careful user setup and preferences selection when your users consider the kinds of content they want pushed to them. This article goes into more detail about why school notifications should be in your communications mix.
With 90 percent of internet users accessing it via mobile devices, 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. Even live-streaming video for schools is easier than you might think.
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, graduation, 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 says be sure to 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.
Tech-savvy teachers have been turning to podcasts as an aid in instruction, but school leaders too are increasingly utilizing this popular digital channel. By giving your audience the flexibility to listen 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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