For many school districts (and all schools around the world) COVID-19 served as a big test for not only transitioning 100% to learning online, but also moving 100% to delivering communications online.
When everything is virtual — from board meetings and classes to graduations and celebrations — the sheer volume of your school district’s communications can easily become overwhelming. And for many, when COVID-19 hit suddenly, the surge of communications led to confusing web of communications that looked like this:
We heard from many school districts that parents quickly became frustrated by the number of communications they were receiving daily – and they didn’t know where to turn for the most up-to-date information. Was it email? And if so, which of the 10 emails they received that day? Was it social media? And if so, which channels? The website? And if so, which pages?
Your answer should be simple: your website. When you think of your school district’s website as the first and primary source of information, and everything else as supplementary, communications go from disorganized chaos to simplified and streamlined.
As we look to the fall — which still holds a great unknown — there is one thing that is certain: your school district’s website has never been more important. It is your Digital Campus: An online version of your brick-and-mortar buildings that facilitates person-to-person relationships, learning experiences, community-building activities, celebrations and more.
Just like your physical campus has doorways and halls; parking lots and paths outside; fields, classrooms and auditoriums designed for different purposes — your website needs to feel just that easy, too. And just as you would want your brick-and-mortar campuses to create positive experiences, you also want your digital campus to do the same thing.
What is a communications hub?
Let’s first take a brief step back.
Over the past few months, you likely pieced together different communication elements for different reasons. When closures first happened, most schools and districts took a band-aid approach: they created a COVID-19 page where they posted a few links to resources and some updates, and that was that. Generally, this page indicated that schools were closed.
Once we all realized we were in this for the long haul, new links may have been added, and additional webpages started popping up to serve different purposes. But still, each piece lived by itself — not as part of a cohesive communications strategy, and stakeholders were left still not knowing where to go to find information.
More website pages isn’t the solution — but rather, the problem.
And this is where a communications hub comes in. A communications hub is your one go-to website page that serves as a launching pad for all of your district’s communications.
Why does a school district need a communications hub?
Parents crave simplicity in communications — and giving them a single place to go for everything makes their lives easier. If you tell parents to “go to the website,” you can’t expect them to know where to go. When you give them a designated location, the experience becomes better (for everyone!).
"We are making a concerted effort to use our website as our primary communications hub," said Keith Parker, Ed.D. Digital Communications and Secondary School Director at Dare County Schools. "This has become especially important during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of posting information on different venues, we post all communications on our website and then provide the direct link on social media and through emails. We want all roads to lead back to our website. We are also providing Spanish translation for all of our COVID-19 communications. Thankfully, the Posts Module in Composer allows us to do this so quickly and seamlessly."
How do I get started creating a communications hub?
Before you start building your communications hub, there are some important considerations that you should take into account as you plan.
Segmentation and personalization
First, who needs a communications hub? You may want to create different ones for parents, students, and teachers. For simplicity, you will likely want a single parent hub across all individual schools.
For example, Spring Lake Park Schools in MN has a single Parents Communications Hub across the entire district. No matter which school page you’re visiting, the “Parents” dropdown is always accessible from the website’s utility navigation.
Your communications hub should be a public-facing page. Any time you require a log in, you create a barrier for parents. Consider your communication hub as a launchpad for other essential platforms that do require a login — such as PowerSchool or your LMS.
The URL should be easy to remember — such as yourdistrict.org/communications or yourdistrict.org/parents.
In order for your district’s website to be used as a communication hub, it must be mobile-first. Most schools and districts see about 50% of their website traffic from mobile — and that number goes up when a large portion of your school district are low-income households without Internet access.
Mobile-first means exactly what it sounds like — you’re designing for mobile, first (not desktop). While your school district’s website should be responsive and work well on all devices, some key considerations for mobile-first design include:
- Font size
- The number of images used
- Amount of text content
- Order of content (content typically stacks from left to right, so ensuring the most important content is in a left column on two-column pages)
“For every page we build, we ask ourselves ‘what does this look like on mobile?’ before publishing. We use [Finalsite] Composer’s device preview tool to see what our pages look like on smartphones and tablets to ensure the pages are optimized for those devices,” said Melanie Corona, PIO at Gilroy Unified School District in California.
What content should be included in the communications hub?
The structure and content of your communications hub will determine its effectiveness. Your communications hub should include:
Quick access to important pages and information:
Your communications hub can’t hold every piece of essential information, but it can serve as a launch pad to guide families to additional pages and information. You can do this with calls-to-action and images:
You can also achieve this using lists of quicklinks — just be sure there is some sort of order (such as alphabetizing) because lots of words can become overwhelming, especially on mobile.
Recent news stories
What does your community need to know? Keep them informed and engaged with recent news stories. It’s a bonus if they can filter the news stories by type of content — such as a feature story or a distance learning update.
Calendar dates/upcoming events
This one is a given! What upcoming events do parents need to know about? Use a filterable calendar to share upcoming events, times, and information.
Links to previous emails
The average open rate for school and district emails is about 45% — which means, on average, more than half of your recipients aren’t seeing your emails! This is often because they are sent when some parents don’t have the time to read it. By adding them to your communication hub, you can increase the chances they will be seen when parents are ready to see them.
Helpful Resources for Parents
Go beyond what parents need to know, and share helpful tips and expertise for virtual learning, setting up home classrooms, virtual field trips, and more. Parents will appreciate your school district taking the initiative to share your expertise during this time!
Integrated Social Media
Just like not everyone reads your emails, even less of your families will see a social media post! If you’re investing time into posting on social media, be sure to bring that content back into your communication hub. If you’re a Finalsite client, you can use Finalsite Feeds to achieve this!
When COVID-19 hit unexpectedly, parents were forgiving and understood that online communications were being thrown together. Everyone was doing the best they could under the circumstances. But come fall, parents' expectations will be higher. Your district's online experiences will help define the quality, perception, and value of your education. An online communications hub should be a key piece of your school district’s communications plan as you look ahead to the fall.
Your communications hub is just one piece of the puzzle. Learn more about how your district can keep your community connected and informed (even when you’re not in-person) by building your website into a well-designed Digital Campus.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
As Finalsite's public school marketing manager, Mia plans and executes a variety of inbound marketing and digital content strategies. 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, eBooks, and reports, including Finalsite's Inbound Marketing Benchmark Report.