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5 Ways a Mobile App Improves School Engagement and Retention
Andrew Martin

Independent schools and public school districts alike have what we at Finalsite affectionately call “super parents,” those who are on the PTA, volunteer to help at every open house, and those who come to every football game to take a thousand photos or like, share, retweet, and comment on every social media post. 

These parents are the most active and engaged members of your community, and they’re aware of every single event that happens at your school. They’re also much more likely to donate to your school and less likely to look at other schools for their child or children. 

Unfortunately, not all parents share their enthusiasm, but those that do stay at your school by choice, write their yearly checks, or stay at your district when they could choose another option. You’ve earned their loyalty through consistent engagement, which has created a strong connection (or bond) with your school, which naturally leads to higher retention.

Circular graphic showing the cycle of school retention and engagement

It’s a constant cycle, one that can be a struggle for some schools or districts looking to meet or exceed their yearly enrollment goals. There are numerous ways and tools to help master this endless cycle, but the one that we’ve found increasingly more effective is a mobile app. Modeled as the one-stop-shop for all information for your current constituents, we’ve highlighted five key ways a mobile app can be the key to increasing engagement, retention, and value for your school. 

1. Your Community Expects a Mobile App

Finalsite introduced the new and improved Finalsite Mobile App earlier this year as the next step in our commitment to the modern mobile-first design philosophy. The importance of mobile apps continues to increase as each generation relies more on mobile as their primary source of communication.  

87 percent of people use mobile apps compared to 13 percent who use mobile websites

The continued reliance on mobile devices has seen staggering increases in recent years, especially in the younger age brackets. In 2019, 96 percent of adults ages 18-29 and 92 percent of adults ages 30-49 own a smartphone. That’s an incredible amount of people walking around with an iPhone or Android phone in the pockets, but that number is even more impressive when you take into account that only 74 percent of adults own or have regular access to a desktop or laptop outside of work. 

96 percent of millennials own a smartphone; adults spend nearly 4 hours on their phones each day

The average daily time spent on mobile devices continues to climb, too. US adults spent 3 hours and 43 minutes on mobile devices every day in 2019. And in the larger picture, 71 percent of all digital traffic in 2018 came from mobile devices. 

So, what does all this mean for your school? Well, put simply, it means you’re missing out on connecting with a huge portion of your audience if you only attempt to reach them through your website. To effectively communicate with your constituents, you need to meet them where they already spend the largest amount of their time connected to the Internet. 

Our 24/7 societal lifestyle of always being on the move and always connected to the Internet means smartphones dominate our daily lives, far more than our desktops and laptops. Even tablets and television have taken a back seat to smartphones. Establishing regular communication with your current constituents through a mobile app that’s always on their phone and just a quick tap away keeps your school top-of-mind as your parents, students, and alumni scroll through their library of apps and see your school’s app placed prominently amongst the apps they already use every day.

2. A Mobile App Cuts Through the Noise 

If you’re anything like me, both your personal and work inboxes looks like the below example . (Ok, I’m not that bad, but I do have, on average, around 200 or so unread emails at any given time, and that’s not even counting spam or promotional emails.) 

Generic text messages and a flooded email inbox

Just think about that number for a second. 200 emails. What are the chances that the parents you’re trying to reach have an inbox similar to mine? The odds place that at a high certainty. This means that all of your emails have a high chance of getting lost in the flood of new emails landing in their inboxes each and every day. 

Mobile apps and targeted push notifications cut through all of this obtrusive noise by sending the information that your constituents absolutely need to know directly to them, eliminating the likelihood that your messages are lost forever in the unread section of their inbox or messages app.

The Finalsite Mobile App includes targeted push notifications that are proven to be less intrusive than generic text messages and are less likely to get lost in the recipient’s likely flooded inbox.

Targeted push notifications allows you to control what topics uses subscribe to, and allows your mobile app users to select which topics they wish to receive notifications for. 

Active customization on both ends of the app creates a truly personalized experience that discourages users from disabling notifications from your app altogether. We know from experience that users can - and will - disable push notifications if they receive too many irrelevant messages, and they’re highly unlikely to ever enable them again once they’ve made that decision. 

Mobile app notification setting for independent schools and districts

Independent schools can use targeted push notifications to send topic-based messages to their constituents about alumni updates, athletics or charity events, conferences, prep courses, school closings, weather alerts, and more. School districts can do the same, or they can choose to establish school-based notifications so parents can receive notifications from only the schools within a district that their child or children attend. Whatever the choice, your admin team has the tools and ability to customize push notifications to best match the needs of your school or district.

You can also create and send email and text push notifications at the same time when you create your notifications in the Messages module, our email marketing tool. 

3. Important Information is Easy to Find

Because an app makes information easy to find, the app itself creates positive reinforcement with each use. But it’s not just targeted push notification that help achieve this effect. 

An app answers the most common questions you’re likely to receive on a daily basis. Where is my son’s soccer game? What’s my daughter’s teacher’s number? What time is the open house? When is parent’s night, and where do I go? Where do I find the homecoming photos? 

While this information may be on your responsive website, it is likely buried within a page. But information in the app is always just a within an app, it is one click away. 

The Finalsite App makes a variety of content easily accessible, including:

  • Events: Users can filter calendars to see only the events relevant to them, and their filtering options are remembered for subsequent visits. Calendar events are created and managed using Finalsite’s Calendar Manager, and the events are automatically synced to the app.

  • Directories: Parents can look up contact information for faculty and staff, alumni, and even other parents within the Directories section of the app. Of course, you can control what information is displayed here, as well as who has access to view this information. Directory information is pulled automatically from Finalsite’s Constituent Manager. Districts can have directory information grouped by school for an even more convenient browsing experience. 

  • Resources: Multimedia content like images, videos, and documents can be displayed in galleries to showcase highlights from sports events, homecoming, and alumni events. Galleries displayed in the app are stored and organized in the Resources module of your website. Users can view, share, and even download photos.

Directories, Events, and Resources in the Finalsite Mobile App

By placing all of this information within thumbs-reach of your constituents, you’re ensuring that they have constant access to the information they care about the most, be it finding contact information for their child’s teacher or viewing picture highlights from their daughter’s soccer game. 

This ease of access is particularly important for districts. We’ve heard from numerous districts that not everyone in their community has access to the Internet at home. In fact, smartphone-only Internet access increased from 12 percent in 2016 to to 20 percent in 2018. An increasing number of families rely solely on their smartphone to access the Internet. A mobile app is the ideal way to reach these families to ensure they’re still getting the information they need.

4. A Mobile App Creates a Personalized User Experience

Only 29 percent of marketers today are investing in websites with targeted content based on location, language, and behavior-based data.

That’s a shockingly low number considering:

Your website needs to appeal to the largest number of prospective families as possible, but a mobile app can be personalized for each user, both on the admin side by controlling which information appears and on the user end with numerous options to filter the content they see.

The Finalsite Mobile App was created with personalization in mind and designed for your current families, allowing you to create a central hub for all information relevant to them and allowing you to focus on the use of your website as your primary marketing tool.

This naturally extends to portals that provide customized access to private constituent roles and information, calendars, resources, and board posts. Users log in with the same credentials as your website, and their login is saved on their device so they don’t need to log in each time they use the app.

More than ever, schools are facing increased competition to either keep or increase their enrollment numbers year-to-year. Because of this, the website (which used to be a communications tool) has evolved into the main marketing tool for public and private schools alike. 

While that’s certainly the right direction to move, it also presents another challenge in that more and more content for constituents is either removed from the website entirely (especially the homepage) or moved further into interior pages, making it harder for current families to find the content they need. 

For independent schools around the world and districts alike, a mobile app creates a central hub just for current families where all of this information that used to be on the website is now stored in an easy-to-use format with numerous options to personalize the experience and filter based on topics that interest them.

Districts can also take advantage of the My Schools feature of the mobile app to give users the option of selecting the schools relevant to them in the district. This gives families the ability to only show content from schools in which they have a child or children enrolled. A parent with a child enrolled in Jonathan Moser Middle School and Bayside High School can keep just those two schools selected to only receive content from the two schools that are actually relevant to him.

My Schools filters in the Mobile App to show content from only the selected schools

Making each selection updates the app to reflect what is relevant to the selected schools through faculty info that is displayed, and calendars, resources, and board posts available within the app. 

5. A Mobile App: It’s Easy!

The Finalsite Mobile App was built with the same Create Once, Publish Everywhere mindset that Composer was built upon. Changes on your website are made and reflected on your mobile app as well. These include changes to calendars, board posts, resources, and directories. This inherent connection and ability to populate your app with pre-existing content from your website means you spend less time (if any) double-checking every update you make and more time actually creating content. 

Composer Create Once, Publish Everywhere

The app is also easy to customize. You have the option to rearrange the icons on the bottom bar navigation. Place News next to the Home button if that’s a  popular component of your website. Or, if athletics isn’t as important to your constituents, you can place that section of the app in the More menu, freeing that navigation space for another, more commonly used feature. 

Customized bottom navigation on the Finalsite Mobile App

Most importantly, however, is that a mobile app is guaranteed to work on your constituent’s devices and provide the best user experience for a mobile device. This constant access to the latest information keeps your constituents happy and engaged, and as we established all the way at the beginning of the blog, happy and engaged parents, students, and faculty naturally leads to higher retention. 

Key Takeaway 

Schools and districts serious about engaging each and every one of their constituents need to communicate with them where they already spend most of their time: on their smartphones. An amazing website can do wonders for marketing and reaching prospective families, but your current constituents likely don’t care about or want to receive that marketing content. A mobile app like the Finalsite Mobile App creates a convenient central hub with information relevant to them, including numerous options to personalize the experience even more. 

This convenient central hub keeps your constituents engaged with your school’s or district's news and events, which leads to a stronger connection once they’re engaged, and naturally leads to higher retention as your constituents prefer your school over looking elsewhere. It’s a win-win situation: a more engaged constituent base for your school and happy constituents. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what this is all about? 

mobile app


As Finalsite’s Product Marketing Specialist, Andrew writes blogs and creates videos to share information about all the latest and greatest Finalsite products. Andrew has more than 10 years of video production experience and a journalism degree from the University of South Carolina. He has an incredible passion for movies, television, reading, and writing fantasy and science-fiction. 

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