Keeping up with communication trends and taking advantage of that ‘next big thing’ is not all that easy these days given the rapid pace at which technology and communications advance. So, as the new year is upon us, I wanted to take a moment to put the spotlight on 5 top school communications trends for 2018.
At Campus Suite, where we’re in business of providing websites, notification systems and mobile apps for schools, we work closely with some of the nation’s top school communicators. Our Campus Suite Academy, which provides professional development for school communicators, including webinars and other resources, puts us in an advantageous position to keep our “ear to the ground” and stay out in front of what’s coming down that proverbial road.
School web design, schools operating in a social space, mobile communications, live video and social media promotion are at the top of our list for 2018. School administrators would do well to soak up all the can on these topics. I’m going to touch briefly on these trends.
1. School web design that's 'accessible'
At Campus Suite, I’ll admit that we’re more than a little obsessed with providing schools the tools to have that perfect website. Our newest version of our Campus Sites™ content management system, for example, is testament to how we strive to make school websites not only easier to manage, but beautifully designed – for everyone.
Slow-loading, image-laden websites that frustrate mobile users (most of your parents are hitting your website via phones and tablets) are giving way to clean, simple design. There’s a term used among web designers called ‘flat design’ which essentially means eliminating clutter and using color, crisp edges and plenty of white space (or open space) to enhance the user experience. That’s where great websites are heading.
The benefits of this design trend are numerous. Besides a clean and inviting look, this design makes for faster-loading pages, mobile or desktop, and helps facilitate ADA-compliance and accessibility, a critical issue facing schools these days.
You see, the exercise of designing a website that’s ADA compliant and fully accessible for those with disabilities has made designers and website software developers examine design principles and fundamentals. That is, principles like simplicity, high contrast, open space, font size and color are key components for accessible design that carry over to those of us without disabilities.
2. Schools operating in social space
Whether we like it or not, the power of social media is a pervasive part of our society these days, and the quicker schools recognize that fact, the quicker they can begin mastering how to use it for the better.
While there are some who go as far to say that Facebook, the granddaddy of social media, is an evil force “that is destroying society,” according to a former executive, it is more than safe to say it and other popular social media such as Twitter and Instagram, are not going away anytime soon.
At last count, with close to 250 million users in the U.S. alone, (323 million total U.S. population), Facebook, who changed their algorithms to allow family and friend posts the express lane to your newsfeed, will only grow in importance as a way to connect your school to parents.
This Ultimate Guide for Facebook for schools is an excellent resource, regardless of where your school is on using Facebook. Also, this free Social Media Guide for Schools produced by the Campus Suite Academy provides best practices and tips on making the most of all the popular social media channels.
3. Mobile communications
You’ve read the statistics. Heck, you’re part of the statistics. If not addicted to our phones, we lean on them heavily to keep us in touch with our friends, entertainment, news and schools, right? Your school should factor in phones to your communications planning, so If you don’t have a mobile communications strategy in place, I’d suggest you start working on one.
According to Hootsuite, a social media management platform provider, mobile phones have eclipsed desktops and laptops for how users get and share information. Toss in tablets (my wife’s iPad is glued to her every night till she dozes off), and that number is even greater.
Besides having a website with responsive design – that is, one that adjusts regardless of the device on which you’re viewing the site – the two frontiers you should be investigating if not using are school notification systems and mobile apps.
Mobile apps and notification systems, like the one we just launched as part of the Campus Suite school communication cloud, are not just for weather and emergency communications. With Campus Reach™ school notifications, you can segment who gets what info, and parents set up their preferences, so, for example, important calendar info can be automatically synchronized with their phones.
And it’s not just phone alerts, with Campus Reach, school personnel can record a voice message sent via phone, compose a text, email, social media posting, Facebook Messenger message, and automatically post an alert on their school website.
And we all know that managing school communications doesn’t end after the final bell, so some apps and notification systems enable school administrators to create, schedule and send notifications from their own mobile devices.
4. Live streaming and video
Live streaming and video continues to grow as the preferred way for many of us to access and grasp short bursts of content that instruct, inform or otherwise just amuse.
From people’s pets doing the cutest things (gag me), to storage tips, to inspirational stories, most of us can’t resist clicking that inviting arrow that promises you won’t fall into a time pit of video, and that you’ll get a smile or idea from time well spent.
For you school, your parents and school community members won’t be able to resist seeing your school-branded content delivered via video. From important announcements from superintendents, principals and coaches, to previews and promotions of upcoming events, to the warm and fuzzy human interest glimpses into your school, there’s limitless content you can be sharing via video.
And sharing school stories with video is easier than ever these days, with zooms and image stabilization and more bells and whistles than you’ll ever need, the power of today’s camera phones creates a legion of ‘producers’ who you can tap to start your own school YouTube channel.
Facebook Live is another easy way to dip your toes into creating both live and archived video for your school. Facebook makes video production as easy as creating a written post or posting a picture. Here’s an article on How to Use Facebook Live at School.
Another way to incorporate video into your school communication is to use Google Hangouts. All you need is a Google account, and you can create web sessions that enable video (or just voice and chat) production. Sessions can be public or private, have a limited number of participants, but once the production is over, you can use Hangouts on Air and link it to your Youtube channel or otherwise share the link. We’ve assembled a Guide to Using Google Hangouts here, or you can check out Eric Fulkert’s article on How Google Hangouts can Enhance School Communication.
5. Social media advertising
Providing your school or district is embracing social media as a way to engage your school community (see above), advertising on social media channels can amplify your efforts and drive your social media users to action.
For the private school looking to improve enrollment, to public schools that are facing increasingly competitive forces from open enrollment and voucher programs, social media advertising is a surprisingly affordable and targeted way to boost traffic, generate interest and create results.
Social media ads – namely Facebook and Twitter – can help boost attendance at events, or help drive contributions to fund-raisers. You can increase traffic to certain parts of your website and target segments of your school community with tailored messages. Because social media advertising uses demographic information, you can be precise with who sees your ads, and what their response is.
The beauty of social media advertising is being able to track and analyze your ads. Fact is, because there are so many social media users, they are hungry for your school content, and advertising can support that in a strategic way.
Like your free, posted content, social media ads should be inviting and reflect the stories you want to tell: testimonials from parents and students, behind-the-scenes glimpses into your school, position messages from school leaders.
What could that next big thing be?
I know it's not always easy to stay current – much less predict the future – when it comes to the tools and technology available to make your job easier and your results better. But we do our best to stay out in front of the topics and trends that can make a big impact on your school communications.
As school administrators, you should not only keep an eye on these school communications trends for 2018, but begin planning to incorporate them into your mix.
What trends do you see that schools will be using in the coming year and beyond?
Marketing director and content strategist for Campus Suite, Jay’s a former school public relations specialist who’s helped businesses, schools and colleges use the power of web communications to improve their image, generate support, and optimize relationships. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him @jay4schools.