STRATEGY: Develop a communication strategy that uses multiple platforms (e.g., electronic, print, and telephone communication) to build a strong and open relationship with the community.
CampusSuite’s School Communication Guide stated, “As modern communications channels expand and evolve, it’s important that a school’s communications plan keep up with the ever-changing landscape.” Schools are under increasing scrutiny to be fiscally responsible with public funding, and all institutions need to make the most of the precious resources allotted for communication budgets. Reaching the entire school community in today’s digital, mobile world requires a certain mindset and the tools to connect in the way that audiences prefer. Staff, students, parents, and other key stakeholders need to get the information, and schools are at the center of this critical connection. Websites, school notification systems, mobile apps, and social media form the foundation of the connection.
A successful school communication strategy that uses multiple platforms to build a strong and open relationship with the community (both internally and externally) needs to start and end with a focus on empathy: understanding community members and how they do and don’t absorb information and knowing who the various audiences are for the district.
1. Start and end with an empathetic approach. Communication is a two-way street, and understanding the audience and community is essential.
2. Create a communication mission statement that is aligned with the school’s mission statement and becomes a visible, embedded mantra that is at every turn in communications from the school.
3. Involve multiple authors for communicating to the community, including administrators, teachers, and students. Allowing for different perspectives to be a part of the communication package will provide a transparency to the district that encourages positive morale.
4. An informed staff is necessary to support communication with the other audiences and is crucial to executing the message delivery. Keep staff members involved and informed.
5. Set realistic communication goals. Understand the school’s strengths and weaknesses. Examples of specific, realistic, and achievable goals include:
- School website redesign.
- Social media presence.
- A superintendent’s blog.
- Uniformity of classroom (teacher) web pages.
- A communications advisory committee.
- A school mobile app to increase easy access to school information.
6. Set up various school community channels that will serve different purposes to meet the same overall communication goals and mission.
The site should be the hub of information, with access to additional communication channels, blogs, classroom pages, social media, and events.
The site needs to be accessible on both desktop and mobile devices.
Use analytics to discover the most often accessed or opened pages and make those pages even more easily accessible to the community. Review this analytical data annually, at the least.
b. Mobile app
A mobile app will not have the full functionality of the website, but it is a place for information like calendars, directories, menus, news, etc. It can also serve as an easy access point for push notifications, which can quickly communicate school alerts, emergency information, school closure information, and more.
c. Notifications and alerts
Critical emergency information and important reminders need to be communicated through a notification system using SMS (text), voice, social media, and email. These types of systems may or may not integrate with other channels but serve a purpose for time-critical messages.
The use of email can include reminders, policies, registration information, announcements, etc. This information should also be housed on the website. Use an analytical program to help monitor the effectiveness of the communication and the extent to which it aligns with the mission.
e. Social media
- Social media has changed how people get their information. Instead of going out and searching for information, most people now look to their social media feeds for the information to come directly to them. Using this channel will further help connect the community to the school.
- Make sure that any social media use via the school’s communication strategy is in accordance with all state and local policies on social media use.
A blog post can be an easy way to share updates, reinforce the school’s mission and core values, and empower the district by taking control of the narrative. The blog author has complete control over the messaging and can use that platform to set the tone, conversation, and depictions of the school. Further, most blogging platforms can be easily connected to social media and using programs like IFTTT or Workflow can automatically push the blog post to those social media sites, thereby significantly reducing the workload of the communication leader and team.
First Steps to Consider
- There are already school districts with excellent communication strategies, plans, and actions. Find out what others are doing to gauge what works for them.
- Survey parents, teachers, community members, school board members, and students. Find out what information is crucial to them and set that information at the core of the communication rollout package.
- Involve multiple stakeholders in the overall aesthetic design of the new website, app, etc.
- Evaluate the use and approval of social media in the school and district. Identify any policies, practices, or procedures related to social media use (by students, teachers, etc.) and engage in conversations about the effectiveness of them.
- Find someone on staff to head up this project and make it part of their existing duties (which may mean taking other things away). Having one person overseeing the communication strategy, plan, and implementation is vital.
Complexities & Pitfalls
- It’s easy to fall behind on blog posts, social media posts, and other communications. An effective communication plan requires a consistent stream of information from the source (e.g., the school and district). Create a system to help content authors get into and stay in the habit of consistent communication using blogs, social media, etc.
- Use notifications and alerts sparingly. Overuse will cause people to ignore them, thus failing in the core element of the strategy.
- What is currently being used to communicate with the community (internally and externally), and to what extent is that communication effective?
- What will be the total cost of implementing a successful communication strategy (both initial and ongoing maintenance costs)?
- Who will be leading this plan, and how will accountability be managed?
- To what extent are the communication plan, strategy, and channels ADA accessible?