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What’s in Your School’s Digital Communications Toolkit?
Morgan Delack

When I think back to my time in school (many) years ago, school-to-home communications were simple. Before the age of email, field trip information came home as a flier in my backpack. Inclement weather closures weren’t even communicated at the school or district level. Do you remember waking up early, turning on channel 5, and crossing your fingers that your school’s name was on the scrolling list at the bottom of the screen? Those were the days! 

Now that we live in a digital world with parents expecting more personalized communication across a variety of channels, school-to-home messaging gets complicated. The truth is, there isn’t one single method of communication that schools can rely on for everything. Can you imagine if simply posting something on your website or sending one email was enough? Your lives would surely be easier! Keeping your community updated and informed requires a complex set of digital tools and systems.

So, what should be in your school or district’s digital communications toolkit? Here are the main tools you’ll need for success: 

Do you have all of these types of communication tools integrated at your school or district? Check, done! Just kidding. Not every communication belongs on every channel. Before you choose a method of communicating, let’s dive into each of these digital tools to learn how they can best serve your district’s communications needs.

An accessible school website

When establishing your digital communications toolkit, think of your website as the foundation, with the other tools building on top of that base. 

Sending out back-to-school communications via email and your school newsletters? That information should also be available on your website. Texting out a change in pick-up time? Have an alert on your website, too. Your website should be the only digital tool you use that houses all of your digital communications under one (electronic) roof. 

In order to have a firm foundation, a basic website isn’t enough. Your website will also need to meet (and even exceed!) ADA accessibility standards, have accurate translation tools and additional communication features. 

At Finalsite, all of our websites are built with accessibility in mind, so your content and design will be ADA compliant from the get-go. But as new content is added to your site over time, be sure you have guardrails in place to flag any accessibility issues that may arise. Finalsite websites integrate with AudioEye, which not only lets you know when you have an accessibility issue to address but also allows your audience to modify your site based on their unique needs. 

Check out Sycamore Community School District 427’s website, complete with AudioEye integration. If I have a visual impairment and need the website font to increase, I can do that easily with the AudioEye enhancements. There are also options for color adjustments, contrast, and more.

sycamore district accessibility screenshot

Sycamore’s communications team knew translation tools were an important part of their communications strategy, and the website translation needed to be incredibly accurate to serve the community well. Instead of defaulting to basic translation tools known for errors, they integrated Weglot translation into their Finalsite website.

sycamore school district translation

Weglot is the happy marriage of automated plus human translations: giving you the speed of automatic translation tools and the accuracy of the human touch. When families who speak Spanish need to familiarize themselves with school safety protocols housed on the district website, this important information won’t get lost in translation. 

Read more: District website translation best practices

In order to really make the most of your website, it should also have built-in website notifications or alerts that can be activated for important information and integrated forms (so you don’t need Google or another third-party tool).

Merion Elementary School form

Lower Merion School District is using Finalsite Forms in a very creative way by allowing parents to submit an absence directly on the website. No need to call an attendance phone line or head to Google anymore! 

Your website is the foundation of your digital communications toolkit. Ensure your website is robust, including features like ADA accessibility, translation, and add-on modules like Forms and Page Pops

Mobile app for schools

According to Insider Intelligence, most people spend more than four hours a day on their mobile device, with more than 88 percent of that time on mobile apps. Your community is not an exception to this rule. If they consume content for social media, shopping, etc. in an app, they likely want that content from your school or district in app form as well. 

So why do I need an app if my website is mobile-friendly? Because of personalization. SmartHQ reports that 72 percent of people will only engage with personalized messaging. It’s time to get on board with this at your school! 

Finalsite’s mobile app allows parents to only see the content they want to see, without having to filter through things that may not matter to them. 

Check out this screenshot from a Finalsite mobile app user experience. Parents can subscribe to the content they want, and filter out the rest.

mockup of northbrook mobile ap

Northbrook 27 rolled out a Finalsite mobile app in 2021. Since releasing the new tool, the community has been thrilled. The most-loved feature? Content filtering!

“If you think about how information gathering works on our website (if you have more than one school affiliation) you first visit the district site, then go to school website #1 and absorb what you can there. Then you have to go back to the district page, navigate to the second school’s website, and gather that information. It’s too much,” Tarah O’Connell, Northbrook 27’s director of communications said. “With our mobile app, parents can set filters to see all of the content they want from the schools they are associated with. Now, they can see everything in one place very easily.”

Another perk of a mobile app? Push notifications. A great alternative to a text message, push notifications let your parents know when something important is happening with an announcement sent directly to their smartphones. 

TIP: Consider a mobile app provider that is also housing your website. Content from your website will automatically populate your mobile app, eliminating the need to duplicate content in multiple channels.

Mass notifications system for schools

A good mass notifications system will have functionality for more than just emergency texts and voice calls. Nowadays, schools rely on these systems for everything from email newsletters to social media integration.  

When selecting a mass notifications system, be sure this tool includes the following features: 

  • Email (including branded, beautiful newsletter templates!)
  • Text
  • Voice
  • Website alerts
  • Mobile app push notifications
  • Social media publishing

You’ll save your team hours of time each week by ensuring all of these elements are part of your mass notifications system. 

Finalsite’s Messages XR is one of the only mass notifications systems on the market that includes all of these features PLUS some really detailed analytics and personalization tools. 

Remember how I told you that 74 percent of people only want to engage with personalized content? That includes your emails. With Finalsite’s Messages XR, you can personalize your subject line and sender name with simple built-in tools.

Messages xr screenshot

You can also keep a close eye on engagement with integrated reporting tools, easily understanding how many people your message was sent to, how many opened it and what the conversion rate was (if applicable).

Screenshot of Messages XR

Just like websites, not all mass notification systems are the same. Be sure the tool you invest in comes with everything you’ll need to send messages across multiple channels to save you time and energy.

Social media integration for schools

Let’s consider this a bonus section. Social media platforms are free to use so the level of financial investment and research is not on the same scale as your website, mobile app or mass notifications tools. The most significant investment you’ll put into social media is your own time, which is something you don’t want to waste! 

Social media is no longer seen as optional for schools and districts. With social media usage nearing 2 hours and 30 minutes a day for the average person, it’s another touchpoint that is especially relevant for fun and engaging content. 

With so many channels and a seemingly endless number of new features and algorithms to pay attention to, where do you even begin? Download The Complete Guide to Social Media for Schools and Districts to learn more about what channels to use and what to post. 

  • Ensure your social media channels have a home in your core digital communications tools: website, mass notifications system and mobile app, and also:
  • Make sure your website can display social media feeds with ease (and beauty!) 
  • Ensure your mass notifications tool allows you to push content directly to social media platforms
  • Have a home for social media feeds on your mobile app 

Psst! you can do all three with Finalsite’s software.

Key Takeaway

The truth is that parents, staff and students expect more from school communications than ever before, and communicating digitally is not a one-size-fits-all approach. School communications require a variety of tools to get the job done. Ensure your website, mobile app and mass notifications tools are the right fit for your district to maximize your engagement and outreach efforts.

Get Started with Messages XR | Finalsite

Morgan Delack Headshot

Morgan Delack is Finalsite's VP 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.

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