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Sarah Gordon, Assistant Director of Communications
Choate Rosemary Hall

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Sarah Gordon, Assistant Director of Communications
Choate Rosemary Hall
  • Public School District
5 Bad Communication Habits Your District Should Stop
Mia Major

School-to-home communications are a top priority for districts nationwide. However, with understaffed departments and decreasing budgets, ensuring those essential school-to-home communications are meeting the expectations of your community isn’t always easy. Districts often choose to “easy” over “effective,” and approach communications with “getting something out is better than nothing.” And we know that isn’t your fault. You’re doing the best with what you have.

And while there are plenty of incredible things districts are doing to keep their community in the loop, there still seems to be some bad habits lurking in the background that you should nix immediately. Here’s a roundup of our top five district communication mistakes:

  1. Using PDFs
  2. Putting Everything on Your Homepage
  3. Posting the Same Piece of Content in the Same Format Everywhere
  4. Inconsistent Email Newsletters
  5. Keep Emergency Alerts for Emergencies

Now, let’s dive into each of these bad habits in detail (and how to break them!).

1. Using PDFs Too Often

The Problem: PDFs are the crutch districts (and private schools and charter schools!) lean on for school-to-home communications frequently. Once someone has already created a flyer for an event it quick and easy to just post the PDF on your website and share the PDF via email. But, PDFs aren’t mobile friendly or inherently accessible — which can cause a poor user experience on a website or in an email. Most districts see at least 50% of their website traffic come from mobile devices, and the majority of emails are opened on mobile — and because PDFs aren’t mobile-friendly, users can easily become frustrated when trying to read the information on a PDF.

The Solution: Creating supplementary website pages that go hand-in-hand with the PDF. For example, let’s say someone at your district created a flyer for an upcoming football fundraiser. Rather than just sharing the PDF, create a website page with all the same information. If you use Finalsite Composer, you can drag and drop content to build a mobile-friendly page in minutes, and even attach an accessible online form to make online donations easy. Additionally, on your event page, you can add a “Download PDF version” button so that desktop visitors who would like to print the flyer can easily do so.

For example, Spring Lake Park School’s new website features their SLP Panther Foundation microsite with an “Events” tab in the navigation. Each event has its own landing page that can easily be shared in email or on social media, and the content is all mobile-friendly.

spring lake park gala

2. Putting Everything on Your Homepage

The Problem: We spend a lot of time speaking with districts right after they’ve launched their new website, and we always ask the question — “what led to your redesign?” Sometimes they’re unhappy with their vendor, other times it was a change in leadership, and sometimes it has to do with a new strategic initiative. But in 90% of those conversations, the response to that question is “Our homepage became a mess because we just put everything on the homepage.” So, don’t worry — you’re not alone if you’ve had a bad habit of just “putting it on the homepage” for the past few years. But it is certainly a habit that needs to be remedied, STAT! 

Your district’s homepage should exclusively be for telling your district’s story, what makes you special, sharing recent news and upcoming events, and directing website visitors to exactly where they want to go in two clicks or less. When it is cluttered with content (PDFs included) your messaging and user experience becomes confusing. 

The Solution: A redesign is often a solution for this problem, especially if it’s been an ongoing issue for a couple of years. However, for districts who currently don't have the budget or time to dedicate to a redesign, you can take some steps to solve this problem.

  1. First, learn to say “no.” One of the biggest reasons everything ends up on the homepage is because you’re trying to make everyone happy by giving their content a place in the spotlight. Unfortunately, not all content needs to be in the spotlight. Meet with your district leadership to discuss what really belongs on the homepage and create a list, so that you actually have some grounds to say “no.”
  2. Second, clean up your homepage. If you’ve made a habit of dropping whatever is asked on the homepage (and then didn’t have the time to clean it up after), now is a good time to invest a few hours into a cleanup and organization of content.
  3. Lastly, determine where types of content should go. More and more districts are opting for password-protected and public portals for students, parents, and faculty so that important information that used to go on the homepage, can now be accessed in a portal. This way, your community is still getting the information they need, without cluttering your homepage.

For example, Jackson County Public Schools frequently updates their Student, Parent and Staff portals with pertinent information, while leaving their homepage as an important marketing asset.

JCPS portal

3. Posting the Same Piece of Content in the Same Format Everywhere

The Problem: You’re short on time, so the idea of having the ability to post a piece of content everywhere at once sounds like a dream come true — right? Well, maybe for you, but certainly not for your audience. The term C.O.P.E. (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) has become a buzzword in the industry, promising the time-saving idea of creating a piece of content once, and publish it everywhere immediately. But, that isn’t really the right approach. At Finalsite, C.O.P.E. still means Create Once, Publish Everywhere. But it doesn’t a single piece of content across your website, page pops, texts, and social media — because our team builds software to implement best practices. At Finalsite, C.O.P.E. means that you only have to create or edit a piece of content in a single location, and that piece of content updates (or is added) anywhere on your site it exists.

Because your website, email, social media and text are so different, distributing a piece of content in the same way across all platforms is inefficient. For example, say you have a new news story you want to post to your website and share with your community. When you automatically post it everywhere, it is not optimized for each platform — meaning your community isn’t receiving the optimal user experience for their device or platform. This is especially true for social media, as best practices, algorithms, content style and content length vastly differ from platform to platform. 

The Solution: In all cases, you should want to upload the piece of content to your website, and then manually post it to your other platforms. And while this takes an extra few minutes out of your day, the return on your time investment will pay huge dividends — especially on Facebook and Twitter! For example, the length of a tweet is only 280 characters, while on Facebook, the limit is virtually unlimited. Twitter also allows for hashtags to increase engagement, while Facebook discourages hashtag use. 

If you’re finding it hard to dedicate time to posting content to social media, set aside 30 minutes at the beginning of your week (or each day) to schedule posts on both networks. Scheduling through Facebook is free, and you can use a free version of a tool like Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule on Twitter (or Facebook, too!).

4. Inconsistent Email Newsletters

The Problem: With social media, video marketing, live video, chatbots, mobile apps, and dozens of other communications tools — one of the questions we frequently get is: “Is the email newsletter dead?” And in short, the answer is “no, of course not!” Email is still the most popular and effective way to communicate with families and stakeholders. However, due to a lack of time, districts often have inconsistent and/or cluttered newsletters — which can lead to an uninformed and frustrated community. It an also lead to you thinking that email isn’t a viable channel, when it is!

The Solution: The number one most important quality of a successful email newsletter is consistent frequency. Will you send one daily, weekly, or monthly? Determine a set frequency — which includes day of the week and how often — and then establish an email newsletter plan. What content will be included? How will you segment information by school? Who will create the newsletter? How much content will we include? For further reading on best practices that answers these important questions, read this popular blog post with examples: 10 Proven Strategies For Amazing District Email Newsletters. If you’re worried about the time investment, using a tool like Finalsite Messages can save you countless hours through the use of templates and dynamic content. Using a template, you can set up an email newsletter for each school in your district with their branding, logos, and color. Then, using dynamic content you can automatically popular news, calendar and athletics content into the email without having to add it manually. 

For example, Elmbrook Schools sends out a daily announcement email for each of the ten schools in its district — a feat that sounds near impossible to most small districts. However, through the use of Messages templates and dynamic content, the email can be sent daily in just a couple of clicks by relying on automatically populated content.

elmbrook email dynamic content

5. Keep Emergency Alerts for Emergencies

The Problem: When your district invests in an expensive technology, like an emergency alerts system, there is a temptation to “get your money’s worth.” This may lead to sending an emergency alert/SMS text for pretty much every notification. In fact, we had one district send an SMS text via their emergency alert system almost every other day for the entire school year! If you use an emergency notification system for events other than emergencies, when a real emergency happens, your community might not feel an urgent need to check the message.

The Solution: Only use your emergency alerts solution for real emergencies — such as a school closing, inclement weather alerts, and school security threats. If you’re not sure how or when to purchase an emergency notification system (or if you even need one) check out our Website and Digital Communications Buyer’s Guide. You can use website Page Pops, email and social media to facilitate all other communications.

Key Takeaway

Bad habits can be hard to break, especially when they are habits created out of a necessity to save time, budget and resources. However, if your district is having a hard time breaking the bad habits on this list, we’d love to meet with you to see how we can help! Get started by meeting with an Educational Consultant today.


Website and Digital Communications Buyer’s Guide for Superintendents


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mia Major

As Finalsite's Content Marketing Manager, Mia shares innovative and helpful content that helps schools and districts create captivating online experiences that increase brand awareness, student and faculty retention, and school-to-home communications. With more than five years experience in the industry, Mia has written more than 200 articles, eBooks, and reports about best practices for schools on a variety of topics from social media to web design. As a former TV and news reporter, and wedding photographer, Mia specializes in sharing how to use storytelling to power your school's admissions funnel. When she isn't busy creating content or hosting her #LIKEABOSS Podcast for FinalsiteFM, you can find her hiking with her Boston terrier, running an army wives meeting at Fort Campbell, or enjoying a well-deserved savasana on her yoga mat.

  • Marketing/Communications
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