We’re about to wrap up another difficult year that has no doubt re-framed school communications as we know them. While 2022 may still hold many unknowns, one thing is for sure: the way districts communicate has transformed…forever.
Here are our predictions for how school district communications will continue to evolve in the new year.
- Increased transparency
- Focus on web design and marketing
- Heavy reliance on email newsletter software
- Increased mobile-first mindset
When schools went virtual in early 2020, communities everywhere suddenly paid attention to the ins and outs of their local school districts. Although most schools are back in person now, that increased community involvement has stuck around. What does this mean for school district communications? Transparency is key.
Eighty-five percent of Americans are likely to stick with a business during a brand crisis if it has a history of being transparent — meaning how your school has communicated throughout the pandemic and continues to as we move ahead in 2022 and beyond can have a direct impact on enrollment.
Many school communicators have seen an influx of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests over the last two years that can take the better part of a week (or more!) to fulfill. Community members are asking for everything from COVID protocols to salary charts to department expenditures. Ensuring that commonly requested pieces of information are easily found on your website will save you time and spare you the headache of dealing with another FOIA request.
Many districts have been doing this well for some time. In Michigan, transparency reporting on the district website is actually a state requirement. Rochester Community Schools takes this opportunity to list all of the commonly asked pieces of public information in one place on their website, making it easy for interested community members to find.
Even if your state doesn’t have a transparency reporting requirement, having this information easily accessible on your website will save your community and your communications team countless hours and headaches! We recommend adding a link to your “Transparency” page somewhere where it can be accessed in one click — such as your quicklinks dropdown, footer navigation, and “About” section of your website. These are all common places families may look to find this page.
2. Focus on web design and marketing
A more involved and informed community also means parents’ perceptions of your school may have changed. It’s true that families may never look at your school district the same way again. You’re under a new microscope — and you need to be prepared to live up to increased community expectations.
Your families are used to getting what they want, when they want it, at the click of a single button. Fair or not, we’re living—and working—in a mobile-first, on-demand, and highly personalized world. Has your website stood up to those increased expectations?
Did you know 94% of people’s first impressions of your website (and therefore your school district as a whole) are design-related (source)? What’s more — it takes less than half a second for people to form their opinion of your website.
In 2022, no doubt districts will be ramping up their digital presence and focusing heavily on website design and user experience. As the front door to your district — and often the first impression of your school community — the expectation is that your district website should be as easy as ordering groceries on Instacart or even purchasing a car on Carvana.
Take a look at Park Hill School District’s new website. Located in Kansas City, MO, the district took design and function seriously when redesigning with the Finalsite team. Standout features include inspiring messaging, top-notch photography and video, and easy-to-find information.
At Eden Prairie School District, they realize the importance of showcasing their district to both current and prospective families, as enrollment is never guaranteed. For the last 30 years, Minnesota has had open enrollment, meaning families can choose what district to send their children to — and state revenue follows.
In today’s digital world, the district relies heavily on their website to make a lasting impression on the community, calling it “the #1 research tool for families who are school shopping.”
With more than 150,000 website page views during back-to-school season, there’s no doubt Eden Prairie’s website was the most trusted and sought-after point of information for families.
3. Heavy reliance on email newsletter software
Have you done an audit on how many emails your district sent over the last two years? Globally, there were more than 300 billion emails sent in the year 2020 alone (source) and email communications are also the #1 preferred medium for parents today. With more than just weekly newsletters taking priority (think COVID case notifications, school closures, etc.) your email newsletter software has had a workout. But are your tools providing everything you need to be successful?
If you haven’t evaluated how effective your email newsletter tools are, it’s time to start. Email communications won’t slow down in the new year, but now parents are expecting them to be more readable (especially on a mobile device), precise and organized. Having stronger tools in place to help you do this more effectively will be important in 2022 and beyond.
Things to consider when evaluating your email newsletter software:
- Does your tool have a flexible editing system to make your newsletter visually appealing and on brand?
- Can your tool gather data like open rates and click-through rates?
- Can your newsletter software segment contact lists in order to target specific audiences?
- Can dynamically pull in content from your website, saving you time?
Colonial School District in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania uses Finalsite Messages to send both school and district newsletters. Relying on dynamic content, it’s a “set it and forget it” mentality, as news and calendar items from each school’s website are automatically pulled and formatted into the weekly newsletters. That’s right, the Colonial communications team isn’t typing out ANY material for this newsletter. They’ve set it up to automatically pull content from the website to the newsletter, without lifting a finger. Talk about pushing the “easy” button!
Finalsite’s Messages software was built for schools as a dynamic, powerful tool to make communications easier. Bloomfield Hills School has relied on Messages to send its Wednesday Web News communication.
Both on-brand and easy to read (and assemble!) West Bloomfield’s newsletter checks all the boxes. We anticipate school districts nationwide will be focusing more on refining their email newsletters in 2022 and making important changes to improving newsletter software and design.
Read More: How to Make Your Newsletters More Engaging
4. Increased mobile-first mindset
Mobile devices account for about half of the web traffic worldwide, so prioritizing your users’ mobile experiences needs to be a major component of your school’s digital-first strategy in 2022. It’s a “must-have” for engaging parents, attracting prospective families, and communicating with your audiences.
A mobile-first website design isn’t just a responsive website. Sure, a responsive website will work on mobile, but will it meet the high expectations of your website visitors? Not always guaranteed. A mobile-first website is all about using intentional design choices and prioritizing how your audience interacts with mobile devices. It’s about creating a website designed for users on mobile devices.
Take a look at Stillwater Area Public Schools mobile-first web design. The design is “thumb-friendly,” reducing the number of taps to get to important content. The pages are easy to navigate as you swipe, scroll or tap.
A mobile-first website is a non-negotiable for districts refreshing their web presence in 2022.
Read more: The mobile-first mindset, how to create websites that prioritize the mobile experience
But it’s not enough to just have a mobile-first website design. Families are now expecting a district mobile app, too. Today’s user relies on mobile apps to find and interact with content. User testing studies suggest that nearly 90% of a user’s time spent on a mobile device is spent in apps — not a mobile browser.
Northbrook School District 27 knew it needed to develop a more sophisticated mobile strategy to meet parents where they are and to improve school-to-home communications. That’s where the Finalsite mobile app came in.
Launched in the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, the app has become a much-loved tool for parents in the community. Seen as a one-stop shop for information, parents especially love the ability to easily look up events and news within the app. In just one month, the district had 950 parents download the app, and with 1,300 students in the district, that’s a 73% adoption rate — after only 30 days!
Read more: Northbrook School District 27 Success Story
It’s safe to say more districts will be launching a more robust mobile strategy in 2022 that matches the habits of parents today.
The way people connect and communicate has changed, and in turn, so has school district communications. We anticipate even more changes as districts settle into 2022, with a focus on increased transparency, web design, email newsletters and mobile-first communications.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Morgan Delack is Finalsite's Director of Communications, leading the marketing team's public school content, branding initiatives and professional development events. Morgan's background is a mixture of public school communications and television journalism, having worked in both industries for several years. She was named among NSPRA's 35 under 35 and has earned two Emmy Awards for her work in broadcasting. Morgan lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two kids.