When we communicate, we spend time focusing on the content, the idea, and the information that we’re sharing. Although these elements are essential, so too are other factors that often get overlooked. Who shares the information matters. How information is shared matters. The timing of information matters.
A stranger yelling about the score of last year’s Super Bowl won’t keep your attention for long. But celebrating with a group of close friends moments after your favorite team scores the winning touchdown is sure to capture all of your attention. The difference is timing, relevancy, and relationships.
Similarly, effective school communications relies on more than just information. It considers the voice of the brand, the channels, the timing, and its audience. School districts are always communicating. The question is: Will you turn that communication into an opportunity that creates advocates and shapes how your community thinks and feels about your schools?
We have more tools today than ever: mobile phones, social media, computers, and so on. Rather than make communication easier, it’s added complexity, muddled expectations, and created more work for already small teams. At the same time, all these different avenues can overwhelm parents and families, making it difficult to know which channel of communication to keep up with.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, how do you make school communications work for your district? Done right, school communications can:
- Make your school a trusted source
- Give your audience what it needs through the right channels
- Be available at just the right moment
“Effective school communications relies on more than just information. It considers the voice of the brand, the channels, the timing, and its audience.”
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Know your audience and reach
them through the right channels
Communication never takes place in a vacuum, or at least it shouldn’t. You need to know who you’re communicating with and how to best get their attention when you need it most. The communication channels an audience uses may vary depending on generation, age, location, and even region. Whereas urban parents may be on their computers for much of the day, rural parents are more likely to rely on their phones than a desktop or laptop to access the internet.
While you can use all communication channels, tailoring your approach can make it easy to distinguish between nice-to-know and critical information. For example, we all have a mobile phone that never leaves our side. Yet many millennial parents prefer avoiding phone calls. Some schools have stopped making calls regularly and instead relied on text messages and push notifications through their school app—leaving phone calls only for the most urgent updates.
Remember, your audience isn’t uniform—it’s made up of small groups that will each have their own preferences. Parents of graduating seniors will likely have different expectations than a first-time mom sending her kid into Pre-K. While generational differences are real, people are people. All parents want their kids to be safe and happily engaged with their peers. Keep this in mind as you craft your district and school communications plan.
Build trust through brand
School communications must be consistent in order to be effective. That means your brand, tone of voice, hashtags, tagline, visuals, and logo must remain the same across all communication channels.
Think of a well-known brand, like Coca-Cola. Now imagine what their website, traditional advertising, and social media channels look like. How would you feel if you went to Coca-Cola’s website and it was designed in shades of blue? Your first thought may be that you’ve landed on the wrong site or the website is fake. That’s because you’ve come to associate Coca-Cola with its iconic red color.
That’s the power of branding and the important role consistency plays in school communications. You have to look and talk the same on all of your communication channels. Brand consistency is the best way to keep your audience’s attention and build trust in your district. Therefore, it’s vital to have your brand identity and all of the assets that come with it set in stone before building your communications strategy.
The most important channel in your communication plan for your school is your website. Your school website is the center point of your brand. Your communications and branding initiatives should always point back to it. It’s not only the place to house information about your schools—it’s a space to showcase who you are and what makes your district unique.
Your website gives you ultimate control of your message and brand, without any outside sources competing for your audience’s attention. In other words, while channels like social media have their place in your communications strategy, you’re also competing with thousands of voices on these platforms. But when people land on your website, your brand is the only one they encounter. It’s your best shot at capturing your audience’s attention and making a great first impression.
A strong school website boils down to a few key factors: speed, ease of use, beautiful design, and clarity. All of these factors can be summed up into two words: user experience. User experience can make or break your community’s perception of your brand. For example, you might have enrollment information on your website, but if parents have trouble finding it, you’ve missed an opportunity to connect with them. Similarly, parents of current students should be able to easily find the information they need most often, no matter how simple it is: the cafeteria or dining menu, contact information for staff, and times and locations for events.
The best way to ensure an excellent user experience is to link the most important pages on your homepage in your menu, footer, and call-to-action buttons. You also want to ensure your website is mobile-friendly and up to ADA compliance standards so everyone can access your site easily.
Your school website is more than just a hub for your brand. It’s a space to share good news and stories happening in your district. This is one of the fundamental differences between a good website and a great website. Good websites house information. Great websites are living and breathing. They’re constantly in flux and changing. It’s about shifting your mindset to viewing your website as the primary source for sharing stories and good news.
“Good websites house information. Great websites are living and breathing. They’re constantly in flux and changing.”
In order for this shift to take place, school websites must be built to make updates easy and accessible for your staff. Staff should want to share good news to your website first as opposed to social media. With the right content management platform and proper training, this can happen. The best pages to share stories are your live feed, news, blog, and events page. By updating these pages often, you can keep your community in the loop with the great things happening in your schools.
School mobile app
Sometimes, it’s not convenient to go to a brand’s website to get information. Many of us make daily use of our smartphone apps instead. In fact, today 15% of Americans are "smartphone-only" internet users. Out of these households, one in three families are below the poverty line. That means for some families in your district, your school app is the primary source for information.
Most districts think that just getting a new website is enough to connect with families and compete. The problem is, people spend the majority of their time online in mobile apps, not in their browsers. That’s why having a school app is an essential channel in your school communications strategy.
Just like your website, prioritizing user experience on your app is key. Some school mobile apps send users to a condensed version of the school’s website. This approach may be useful as a means to cut corners, but it’s not a great experience if you’re trying to access information. A good school app keeps your audience in your app. It doesn’t send people to third-party websites to find information on enrollment, events, or cafeteria menus. Instead, a good app keeps your audience engaged within your app, all while reinforcing your brand.
Beyond user experience, the best apps personalize the experience for everyone. Some providers take shortcuts because it’s easier for them to build. But you shouldn’t have to compromise on a school app that excludes parts of your community. Choose an app that is fully native for both IOS and Android as well as ADA-compliant.
“A good school app keeps your audience in your app.”
When it comes to information, any school app is going to have a mixture of static and dynamic content. Some things, like your staff directory, might only get updated once a year. Other content, like sports scores or the lunch menu, should be updated frequently. The apps that keep users’ attention are the ones that provide information that’s both useful and timely. If you don’t have fresh content on your school mobile app, your audience won’t use it. They may even delete it from their phones entirely. Your goal should always be to provide timely information and spark engagement, not just get app downloads.
Design and presentation is the last piece of the pie. It’s important for anyone to immediately recognize your app as being, well, yours. From the logo to the colors, the app should feel like you’re walking inside the walls of your school. Remember, your school app should reinforce your brand—not someone else's.
School alerts and notifications
You might not recognize your school alerts and notifications as brand touch points. These are the updates you send to your community around an event or something going on in your district. Sometimes this is for emergency situations; other times, just a timely reminder.
How you send school alerts can take different forms. Emails, text messages, phone calls, smartphone push notifications—all of these are valuable avenues for reaching your community. Regardless of the occasion and form, these messages should fit into your overall communications strategy.
While school alerts are an important part of your toolbox, you shouldn’t overuse them. No communication channel is more personal than alerts because your messages show up right on your audience's phones. That's why it's important to be thoughtful about your approach and frequency rate. Sending text messages every day with the lunch menu? Probably not a good use of alerts. But letting your community know about a snow day or a reminder about an upcoming parent-teacher conference night are great occasions to send notifications.
Some parents and guardians prefer staying connected to their child’s school through newsletters. School newsletters provide a centralized location for parents and staff to stay informed about school activities, updates, events, news, and more. It’s also a prime place to share stories that are happening inside the classroom.
School newsletters are appealing because they provide greater levels of consistency with parents and staff. Unlike more sporadic streams of communication, like social media or school alerts, newsletters typically have a set frequency rate. Whether you’re sending out weekly, biweekly, or even monthly newsletters, parents know that they can expect to hear from you at a set time and date. This consistency is why so many parents prefer school newsletters over other forms of communication.
While it’s important to maintain a consistent cadence, the contents of your newsletter should always change. It’s easy to lose the attention of your families and staff when your content becomes overly repetitive, so try mixing up your updates each time. One week you may consider discussing academic achievements or the superintendent’s address. Other weeks you might share quotes, student success stories, and events that are happening in the community. The best newsletters keep people on their toes.
Social media for schools
One of the best ways to connect with your community is through social media. No other channel can expand your reach like social can. That being said, it’s understandable that some school leaders may feel apprehensive about it. After all, nobody likes having to deal with mean comments or the general headaches that social media can sometimes bring.
However, the pros far outweigh the cons. For one, you’re able to reach your community on the platforms they check daily. For example, 75% of parents log on to Facebook every day. These users are accustomed to getting news and other content via social media—and expect content from their child’s school to be delivered the same way.
You’re probably familiar with the biggest school social media platforms. Your district Facebook page is great for sharing updates, events, photos, and videos with members of your community. Instagram is more versatile. It’s still the king for sharing static images, but Instagram has also embraced video content with features like Reels. Twitter is great for sharing updates from around your district and easily sharing posts from individual campuses or teachers.
In addition to these platforms, there are others to consider. YouTube is the dominant video-sharing platform and can be useful for sharing board meetings, graduation ceremonies, and superintendent messages. Snapchat and TikTok are better for sharing short-form, in-the-moment videos that feel authentic. LinkedIn is great for connecting with prospective teachers and staff members.
Remember, social media is a tool to direct traffic back to your website. Why? Because your website is the place where you have ultimate control of your message and brand. This isn’t always the case on third-party platforms. You’re competing with hundreds of different voices and brands on social media, and sometimes information gets drowned out in the background noise of people’s feeds. When everything redirects back to your website, your brand and your message are reinforced again and again.
“Remember, social media is a tool to direct traffic back to your website. Why? Because your website is the place where you have ultimate control of your message and brand.”
School communications is more than a list of channels. It’s about strategy and opening the door for feedback and dialogue. Some schools pick a list of channels to focus on, then blast their message to whoever’s listening. But the best schools craft strategic approaches to connecting with their community through two-way communication.
One of the best ways to go about this is by prioritizing parent-teacher communication. Parent-teacher communication is a chance for families and educators to collaborate, listen, and share ideas on behalf of the student. This engagement can take one of two forms: one-way and two-way communication.
Most schools have systems in place for one-way communication, like districtwide notifications, mass text messages, or mass emails. This is, in essence, communication in the form of monologues—where parents don’t have a chance to respond. Two-way communication, on the other hand, opens the door to feedback and dialogue with parents. This can take the form of parent-teacher conferences, in-home visits, and phone calls.
When schools prioritize two-way communication, students reap the benefits. Teacher-parent communication has been linked to increased class participation rates, standardized test scores , and class attendance. One study found that family involvement improves students’ social skills and behavior.
The best way to implement two-way communication in your district is through parent-teacher chat tools. These tools allow families, teachers, and students to talk directly through a monitored, safe space. Parent-teacher chat tools help alleviate some frustration of having to keep up with schoolwide communication because all communication is funneled into one place.
School communications encompass so much more than just sharing information. First, you need to consider your audience. It’s important to remember that every teacher, parent, and staff member is different—and so are their preferences for receiving information. That means you should incorporate multiple communication channels into your overall strategy.
Second, timing and frequency are everything. Be thoughtful in the way you reach out to your audience, and remember that every channel is different. While sharing information every day on platforms like social media is appropriate, the same isn’t true for channels like school alerts.
Lastly, brand consistency is the best way to build trust with your community. In order to do this, you have to look and speak the same on every channel. By maintaining a consistent presence, you can turn your communications strategy into an opportunity to shape how your community thinks and feels about your district.
Read more Apptegy resources
School Communication in 2022: Where to Share?
The importance and power of creating a seamless, unified online identity
Owning Your Digital Spaces
How your district’s user experience determines the strength of your brand
Does Your Website Support Your Enrollment Goals?
For today’s families, your website needs to do more than broadcast out—it needs to provide help.