"Alexa, write this blog for me," is how I jokingly spoke to my robot this morning, after asking her for the weather forecast and to turn on my Roomba...without leaving my bed.
The way we communicate has changed, dramatically. Today, your district's community has access to more information and technology than ever before — meaning their expectations for your website, social media, and daily communications are at all all-time high...and they won't be cutting you slack any time soon.
Despite this evolution in communication, the main pillars of excellent communication have not changed. Social media, smartphones, iPads, and in-home technology like Amazon's Alexa, have not changed what good communication is, but rather have given us more channels to provide it.
The Four T's for Good Communication Are:
- Targeted: This is also referred to as relevancy, meaning the topic you share needs to be relevant to your audience. This is where segmenting — by the audience, platform, etc. — becomes important. Today, your community already has a lot more noise and media to sift through than ever before, meaning they don't want to also have to sift through your district's communications to find something relevant.
- Timeliness: The information you are providing is done so in a timely manner. With access to the Internet at their fingertips, your community expects you to provide news, updates, and information in a timely fashion. In all cases, you want to take a "you heard it here first," approach. Depending on the circumstance, your community needs to know about changes to events, cancellations, emergencies, etc. ASAP (preferably, immediately via an alert or notification). In most other circumstances, communicating about a past event should happen within 24-48 hours.
- Thoroughness: You answer all questions and include all information your community might ask about. This is arguably the most important communication pillar, as it will save your district's communications office and administration time in the long run. (And we know how precious time is!)
- Transparency: You are honest and open in your communications — especially in times of crisis.
All things considered, let's dive into how your district can incorporate these communication pillars to craft a school-to-home communication strategy that meets your community's lofty expectations.
1. Don't Use Your Homepage as a Catch-All
Catch-all. Yard sale. Smorgasbord. If your district's homepage has a variety of content that is unorganized, uninteresting or out-of-date, you're breaking every rule of good communication – and good web design.
In general, your homepage should simply answer these five questions and provide easy-to-spot links for families to access the content they need, including links to calendars, news, and individual school pages. In this example from Jackson County Public Schools in North Carolina, it is easy to access information in just a couple of clicks.
We recommend using Google Analytics to identify your district's top-hit pages, and add those to your quick links drop down, or make them readily accessible through a call-to-action button.
2. Give Your Community One Place to Go to Find Information
Because of the accessibility of technology and digital communications, many districts and schools struggle with creating a well-defined communication plan of where community members can find information. While, of course, your district may have a website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and an alerts notification system, it's important to provide an on-demand platform where your community can find information relevant to them without having to dig for it, or wondering where to go.
This can be done using password-protected community portals. Password-protected community portals provide a safe and secure interface where parents, students and staff can find news stories, upcoming events, downloadable content, and even single sign-ons to other platforms — all that are targeted to their specific needs.
Think of it this way: All the information and communications your district community need to know about should be accessible from their portal. Then, the most exciting or best pieces of that content can be added to your website or even social media.
3. Send Emails Weekly or Daily, Not Just Monthly
A lot happens in a day. A lot happens in a week. And a whole ton of events, updates, and news happen in a month.
Sending newsletters only on a monthly basis is great to highlight the top events from the past and upcoming months, but too often they are used to cover every single detail. This makes them extremely long, and no one has the time to read or view all that content.
Rather, when you create an email template that allows you to send emails daily or weekly, you have the opportunity to keep your community informed on a more regular basis, shorten your emails, and improve your overall communications.
For more tips on email marketing best practices, read this blog post: 10 Proven Strategies for Amazing District Email Newsletters.
4. Know How to Use Each Social Network Effectively
Social media provides opportunities for districts to reach their community in a medium where they already spend a lot of their time. However, each platform has its own collection of best practices and algorithms, which affect engagement positively or negatively. This means you cannot post the exact same piece of content in the exact same way across every social network at the same time. And as a matter of fact, each platform handles certain types of content better than the other.
My favorite way to explain this simply is the donut analogy:
For example, videos perform best on Facebook, short snippets with a link perform best on Twitter, and high-resolution images with 10+ hashtags perform best on Instagram. And that's just barely scratching the surface.
For more details on social media strategy, join me for a live webinar this Thursday at 12 noon EDT.
5. Engage With Followers on Social Media
Engaging with followers on social media is a key way to show your community that your district can be timely, responsive and transparent. It creates an open dialogue with your community to ask questions, where they know they can get answers. Remember — social media is meant to be social, not a one-way conversation with your district simply blasting out information.
While this can be time-consuming and a lot of work, districts who do this find that their social media accounts — especially Facebook — get a bigger following and more engagement on future posts.
6. Integrate Social Media Into Your Website
If your district actively uses social media, bringing those communications — which are most likely different than the communications on your website — ensure that your community doesn't miss a moment, and can drive social media engagement.
For example, Mendham Township School District in New Jersey uses Finalsite Feeds to pull in their latest content from Facebook, Twitter and Instagram directly into their homepage.
7. Use Page Pops
Page Pops are a fantastic tool for creating an alert, notification or update that your community can't miss. Page Pops can be added site-wide, to a single page on your site, or even to a password-protected portal, providing you an opportunity to create a wide-spread or targeted message.
Please note that Page Pops should be used sparingly, as they can be intrusive when overused. We recommend using them in some of the following scenarios:
- School closings and snow days
- District-wide updates and deadlines
- Driving website traffic to a particular event
8. Create a Cohesive, Branded UX
Parents with multiple children in your district, or parents who have a child moving from one school to another, don't want to wonder where or how they can find information for each individual child.
Implementing a cohesive user experience across your district and individual school websites is essential to simplify the online experience for parents in particular, but also students and staff.
For example, Rowan-Salisbury School System in North Carolina has more than 30 schools, each with the exact same navigation and page layout.
Additionally, the "Schools" call-to-action located on the top left of the page, and district information drop-down located on the top right of the page, are readily accessible from any individual school page, simplifying the experience when navigating from one page to the next.
9. Stop Using So Many PDFs
PDFs are essential for documents mandated by the government, such as posting signed Board Meeting minutes. However, they are not a preferred means of digital communications. We've outlined quite a few reasons to defend this statement in this blog post — most notably, however, is the fact that they are not mobile-friendly, are difficult to update, and need to be made accessible (which can be a cumbersome process).
10. Use Alerts and Subscriptions
Alerts and subscriptions provide your community with an opt-in approach to receive information the second it becomes available. While tools like subscriptions are helpful for notifying community members when a new blog or news article has been added, a calendar event has been modified, or a soccer game has been canceled, alerts are essential for keeping parents and stakeholders in-the-know in a variety of situations.
11. Make Your Content Accessible
Accessibility is not just about abiding by federal laws and regulations, it is about providing a website experience that is accessible to all. No matter how great your homepage, news stories, or email newsletters are, if you don't make it accessible to all people on all devices, you are not fulfilling the needs of your entire community.
Adding an accessibility toolbar to your homepage — like AudioEye's Ally toolbar — as well as implementing a managed service will ensure your website content is always accessible without any additional effort from your team.
Learn more about Finalsite's accessibility products and services.
The foundation of good communications has not changed much over the years, but rather, the expectations to meet those standards has intensified at an exponential rate. To learn more about this topic in-depth, watch the on-demand webinar recording for free, now.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, and Marketing Manager for Public Schools, Mia creates content that is helpful to public schools and districts. As a former TV and news reporter, freelance cinematographer and certified inbound marketer, Mia specializes in helping schools find new ways to share their stories online through web design, social media, copywriting, photography and videography. She is the author of numerous blogs, and Finalsite's popular eBook, The Website Redesign Playbook.