As the new year signals the midpoint of the school year, I thought we’d take this time to take stock of where school digital and web communication is heading in 2019. While you may be less concerned with keeping pace with school website design trends than you are with simply getting to the end of the week, these trends should be on your radar. They’re certainly on ours.
Whether you’re in the planning stages of a new website, looking to get your existing site up to speed, or just looking far ahead, don’t look past these website design trends that can have a big impact on how well you engage parents and the rest of your school community in the future.
Such trends as a “fully” accessible website, integrated social media, and emerging chat and voice technologies are trends that you should get familiar with, if you’re not already. I’ll review these in short order:
1. A ‘totally’ accessible website
Awareness of school website accessibility has increased dramatically in the last year or two. Thanks in part to the initiative of the School Website Accessibility Education Center, districts large and small, schools public and private, are taking the steps required to assure their web content is fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Following web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.1), schools are required to feature a web design that’s ADA compliant and fully accessible. This applies not only to the web pages but to all files that may link to your school’s website.
Images, videos and PDFs are often the biggest accessibility offenders on a school website. Many schools have hundreds and thousands of PDF pages linked to their sites. A recent survey, in fact, of Campus Suite customers showed an average of more than 2,300 PDF pages in a 5-school district.
For more info on how to make your PDFs accessible, watch this webinar by Campus Suite’s Jason Morgan, How to Make Website PDFs ADA-Compliant.
2. 'Integrated' social media
Social media is a growing force for schools wishing to improve parent engagement. But it’s much more than simply having a Facebook page and posting the occasional announcement or event information. Start merging your school social media with your school’s website content to extend the reach of your school communications.
As more school administrators begin to embrace and realize the value of Facebook and Twitter to engage parents, companies like #SocalSchool4Edu and social media management tools like Hootsuite are helping schools
maximize their use of social media. In addition to FB and Twitter, all schools would do well to have a strong online presence on LinkedIn and Instagram – the photo-centric, fastest-growing channel.
Facebook Live is another potentially very powerful (and underutilized) tool schools can tap to easily deliver live and archived videos to their school community.
Don’t rule out dabbling in a little social media advertising either. It’s pretty cheap to test drive. For private schools looking to boost their enrollment marketing, or school districts competing in an open enrollment environment, paid social media advertising extends your reach with precise targeted strategies based on demographics.
For help on how to better integrate social media into your school communications, download this free School Social Media Guide.
3. Live chats, chatbots and voice search
Sooner or later, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will play a big role in how we engage students, staff and parents – so predicts Steve Williams, vice president of product design for Campus Suite.
Williams and his team are leading the charge to make it possible for schools to begin incorporating live chat, chatbots and voice search in their digital communications. Voice search Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri) will account for half of all search by 2020, according to Gordon Donnelly writing on Wordstream.
“It’s as much about alleviating workload on school communicators as it is about utilizing the technologies that people prefer,” said Williams. “As AI and chatbots evolve, they will become SOP for schools,” Williams predicts. I previewed this very topic in this article, Schools are Next to Tap AI and Chatbots to Improve Engagement.
Just as they’re doing in the business and retail world, intelligent assistants are destined to change how schools serve up much of their communication.
4. Multi-language cultural diversity
Real quick, assuming English is the most popular language spoken by your school’s parents, what is the second-most used language in your school community? Spanish maybe, or a dialect of Spanish that Google Translate doesn’t accommodate? What’s no. 3? No. 4?
Maybe English isn’t the primary one, but if you don’t have a handle on what languages your parents are using, perhaps all those communications you’re cranking out aren’t reaching their mark. Success today – and certainly in the future – in a multilingual school environment requires understanding the language differences and the broader cultural diversity that goes along with those.
Google Translate, the easiest online language translation service for schools, is helping “Limited English Proficiency” parents through both its audio and document translation features. Not altogether accurate, however, it’s nonetheless currently the best option for schools trying to reach their non-English parents.
Translation services can be costly, but those costs can sometimes be covered parent, family, and community engagement component of Title III funding.
A survey of your school community could create some surprising findings. You’d do well to know what the language breakdown is at your school, to avoid, well, a language breakdown (sorry).
5. School ‘Marketing’
Some old-school PR/communications managers might cringe. The word “marketing” may not appear in any school’s mission statement, but it’s become an operative term for progressive districts and schools taking their communications to the next level.
Once the domain of private schools seeking help with boosting enrollment, marketing is being embraced by school communicators at public and private schools seeking to be more strategic. Schools are developing communications plans that include some fundamental marketing tactics once the domain of the business world.
Brendan Schneider, director of advancement at Sewickley Academy and school marketing media consultant, is one school communicator who not only embraces school marketing, he’s become a champion. His website is full of ideas and resources covering the very tactics – inbound marketing, search optimization, blogging, paid social media and branding – he uses for his school and his clients.
Like Brendan, I challenge school communicators to stretch their thinking; consider yourself as a marketer, and begin using marketing tactics in your communications strategy.
No longer can you just scatter some ‘Open House’ signs throughout your target neighborhoods and call it done. Parents are being influenced by such factors as website design, some fundamental modern-day marketing, and, of course, old-school – but still very effective – public relations tactics.
What trends do you see?
These are five major trends we see for school website design in 2019. Things like voice search, chatbots, Facebook Live video streaming, and built-in language translation may seem futuristic to some, but it wasn’t too long ago when notification systems and mobile apps were on anybody’s radar.
These are the kinds of trends we at Campus Suite are certainly planning for – making it easier than ever on school communicators to add expanded services and functionality to a digital platform that can solve today’s and tomorrow’s communication challenges. We, like you, want to be prepared for the future of school digital communications.
Have we left any out?
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.