The term “communications” was never intended to mean a one-way information stream, even though we often treat it like one. The term “communication” is derived from the Latin words “communis” — meaning “common or sharing” — and “communicare” — meaning “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in.”
“Join, unite, participate” are three words in particular we often don’t consider when we develop a communications plan. But, in light of COVID-19, these three words have never been more essential to keep families engaged and informed.
Whether you’re considering a remote, hybrid, or modified in-person structure for the fall, the role of communications will remain the same: to unite your community with information and stories that supplement (or replace) the in-person experiences they miss. This means being more active on social media, tactful with your website, and intentional with email communications.
As you build your communications plan, don’t just focus on sharing information. Rather, focus on how you can use your Digital Campus to offer avenues for connection, participation, and conversation, even when face-to-face opportunities are limited. In this blog, we’ll outline seven tips for creating a communications plan that connects your community.
Prefer to watch? We covered fall communications in Episode 4 of The School Marketing Show — LIVE!
1. Use your community's opinions to inform your strategy
It should seem like a no-brainer to ask your community how they’d like to hear from you — but you should! Create a survey that asks your parents:
- Which communication mediums they use most often
- How they prefer to hear from your school
- How they would like to be able to provide feedback
- How often they’d like to hear from you
- What they like (and don’t like) about the way your district currently keeps them informed
If you use the Finalsite Platform, Forms Manager is a great tool to create these surveys and easily add them to your website and email communications.
Then, use the results to inform your communication frequencies, platforms, and cadences. Let’s say, for example, you have a monthly newsletter that is a catch-all for all of your communications, but you receive feedback from your community that they feel out-of-the-loop only hearing from your school once a month. This may inspire you to move to a bi-weekly, and then weekly newsletter if time allows.
For school districts, conduct the survey from the district level and then share those preferences with each school in the district. Get each school in your district to communicate with families in similar ways so they know where to go for information when they need it, and when to expect it in their inbox.
Pro tip: To ensure you get enough feedback to develop and improve your communications, make sure it doesn’t take longer than about two minutes to complete, and is easy to complete on mobile devices. According to Survey Monkey, that means you’ll likely ask about 3-10 questions in your survey.
2. Create a centralized communications hub on your website
Today’s culture lives for on-demand information. When we need information, we want to be able to find it, and fast. These consumer behavior trends can be attributed to industry giants like Google, Amazon, Hulu and Netflix.
For schools and districts, when on-demand information can’t be achieved face-to-face by popping into an office or raising a hand in class, your website needs to facilitate it. And to do that, your website needs a centralized communications hub.
A centralized communication hub is a one-stop shop for all communications, including:
- Calendars, complete with all upcoming events
- Recent news stories, filterable by topic
- Helpful content from your school or district’s blogs
- Content from social media via a social media integration
- Links to recent email communications
- Direct access to other platforms your school or district uses via single sign-on or a simple external link
- Easy access to tech support and feedback forms
When done right, a centralized communications hub can:
- Reduce the volume of noise across communication mediums because parents know where to go to find any and all information
- Provide opportunities for targeted messages and content
- Minimize the risk of “missed information” because it’s always available and easily searchable
- Allow you to track engagement to see what content families care most about
For tips on creating your website communications hub, read this blog post.
3. Create channels for feedback
Communication should always be a two-way street. You shouldn’t be focusing on communicating at your community, but communicating with them — the same way you would if you were together in person!
Be sure opportunities for feedback are always open, available, and easy to find. For example, you may want to add a simple feedback form to your communication hub so families can provide feedback when it is convenient for them.
4. Build a sense of community on social media
Community naturally builds on social media — that’s what is intended for. It’s also a great platform for feedback channels. Here are some tips for fostering community via your social media communications:
- Create a Facebook Group: While many schools and districts have been hesitant to create Facebook groups due to the fear of negative comments or feedback from their community, your school or district actually needs those comments to improve. Create a Facebook group that feels like a “safe space” for parents, teachers, and students to come together, ask questions, give feedback, and connect with one another in a place where it comes naturally. For tips on creating a Facebook Group for your school or district, read this blog post.
- Respond to comments: This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to build trust, community and transparency. Simply respond to comments on Facebook and Instagram — and as a bonus, comments can increase the organic reach of a post. Win-win.
- Follow the rule of thirds: Only one-third of the content you post on your social channels should be about your school or district’s needs. The other two-thirds should be content they want to see. For more information on social media communication strategies, download our complete social media guide for schools and districts.
5. Celebrate your community
Celebrating successes, wins, and milestones is one of the most effective ways to create community — especially when we can’t be together. (It’s why diploma deliveries, birthday parades, and zoom parties have been so popular COVID-19 outbreak.)
Each week, find ways to celebrate your community and their achievements within your communications — and give it a permanent home in your communication hub.
Looking for some ideas? Here are some easy ways you can celebrate your community:
- Start small with a weekly #FeatureFriday post on social media that feeds back into your website via a social media integration tool. Each week you can feature a different teacher, student, or even a parent! Highlight something that puts the spotlight on how they are thriving in a remote or hybrid learning environment.
- Dedicate a place to celebrations and success stories on your website and in your email communications.
- Ask members of your community to share their thoughts, stories, and ideas in a community-driven blog. For example, The Post Oak School crowdsources content from students and parents to share their thoughts on distance learning, and tips for succeeding in an at-home learning environment.
6. Develop a new community-first communications plan
Forget what you did last year for your communications plan, or the year before. Start from scratch — and start with the needs of your community in the forefront of your strategy.
Your communication strategy should outline:
- Platforms your community uses and how: Define all the communication platforms your school or district uses, whether or not those platforms allow for two-way or one-way communication, and who the primary sender is. Be sure to also consider ways that teachers are communicating with families.
- The types of content your community depends on you to share: Start by making a list of all the different ways you keep your community informed, from weekly newsletters and board meeting minutes to news updates and social media.
- A predictable communications schedule: Determine how often you will send each type of content listed above. Create a predictable cadence so families know what to expect and when. Ask yourself, does our schedule overwhelm our community with too many communications?
- Segmentation and targeting: Determine who will get each piece of content. This helps you avoid information overload.
For each type of communication, write down the goal. Is it inspiration, information, or engagement? Not every piece of content needs to be shared on every channel every time. You can use a communication hub to aggregate everything into a single location. (More on that later.)
7. Track engagement
Data analysis is often the first communication strategy we forego because we’re “too busy.” But, wouldn’t you rather take 30-60 minutes each month to ensure you’re spending your precious time wisely?
The only way to know if your communication strategies are working are to measure and adapt. Before you implement a new communication strategy, define the metrics you will use to measure engagement and determine your current engagement rates. Then set goals with a timeline, measure again, and make adjustments.
Engagement rates can be measured in:
- Email open rates
- Email click-through rates
- Social media post likes, comments, and shares
- Visits to your communication hub and additional pages
You can’t have communications thinking about your community. And, you can’t build a community without focusing on good communications. As you begin to plan what your fall communications calendar looks like, keep the needs of your community top-of-mind.
To get started with your school or district’s communications strategy for the fall, you won’t want to miss Finalsite’s free Summer Camp: a six-week course to help you engage families in a virtual world. Learn more and register at finalsite.com/summer.
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.