With all the web communication technology out there, it’s easier than ever to connect with your school audiences, right?
Well, in theory, yes. As a school communicator, however, you have to balance your resources. Time and money are precious. When it comes to keeping up with the technology and working within the confines of a budget, you’re faced with the challenge of getting more with less.
We understand there is a lot you have to keep up with and a limited budget. So we’ve assembled a list of free web tools that can help you manage your website, social media and other common forms of digital communication.
Cool tools for schools
Here are some powerful tools that extend your capabilities and enhance the image, delivery, monitoring and management of your school’s web communications.
Picking perfect colors
Color combinations can be some of hardest things to master and one of the most important aspects of design. In the wrong hands, an ill-advised color scheme for your school communications can do much more harm than simply clash; it can ruin a message. This is a cool tool from Adobe that helps you select color combinations. I wish my mom had this when she decorated our house when I was growing up. Adobe Color includes a free advanced color wheel that will help you drill down to the perfect color and which ones go well with it. You’ll find you don’t always have to stick with your basic school colors.
Fonts, fonts and fonts
Some of you designers and editors out there remember the days of purchasing fonts then running into stumbling blocks because others involved in the project did not have the same font. You’d wind up with font substitutions that could be all over the board. Google Fonts provides loads of free fonts – more than you could ever need – that you can use on anything ranging from website graphics to print media. It helps you establish and maintain design standards. You can even fine-tune fonts and easily integrate them into your communications.
Images and graphics stock art
If you are looking for stock images, Pixabay provides large collection of free royalty free images, vectors and illustrations you can download and use. While they may not always be better than shooting ‘original’ photos yourself for the schools, they can fill the void as clip art and photos that you may not be able to capture. (You need a student release form!) Review some of these tips on using stock images before you start using Pixabay or any stock service. Don’t underestimate the importance of finding just the right image than can support or simply illustrate the message you’re trying to communicate to parents, students, staff or the school community.
Image and graphics editor
Not all of us can afford Photoshop or have the expertise, but we all share the need to edit images and create graphics. Pixlr is a great browser-based tool that gives you a lot of options of editing images, creating a banner or generating support graphics for social media. Pixlr has a free version that you can get a lot done with. Instagram, the photo-centric social media channel with the most momentum these days, has some pretty robust tools built in to its photo editor. You can check around for others tools to enhance your photos, but I personally love Pixlr.
We all love Google Apps for Education, and one of the great uses for it is for collecting responses on your website. As part of the Google Apps collection, Google Forms gives you the ability to create forms and add them to your website. The form will then collect the submissions in a Google Spreadsheet, tabulate and even make a report of all the submissions. This is great for a variety of uses like parent surveys, field trip sign up or any activity requiring a form. If you don’t have Google Apps for Education you can simply create a free account for regular Google Apps, it is the exact same.
Email newsletters and other forms of school communication are critical to connecting with parents and the school community. Email is also still the best one-to-one form of communication, according to ongoing research conducted by our Campus Suite Academy. Mailchimp is a feature-packed service that’ll let you create beautiful, targeted emails by dragging-and-dropping (or code your own), organize subscribers into different lists, A/B test alternate headlines, analyze the success of your campaigns, and too many other features to list here. Free for 0-2,000 subscribers with 12,000 emails/month, paid plans starting at $10/month. If you’ve received an e-newsletter recently from us, it was powered by MailChimp.
If you really want to know how visitors find and interact with your school website, Google Analytics is the place to start. It gives you the data you need to understand website visitor behavior. Learn everything there is to know about the success of your website like where your parents are spending the most time on your website, where they left, where they came from, and pretty much anything else you can think of to make you better understand just how effective your site is. Best of all? It’s free.
Social media publishing
Social media is becoming a great communication channel for schools. In fact, on a recent Campus Suite Academy webinar survey, we found many schools are beginning to devote more time to using it, and exploring ways to connect to their audiences. Hootsuite is a powerful all-in-one social media management platform that allows you to schedule and publish your stories. By adding the Hootsuite Chrome Extension, you can click an icon in the toolbar and share any story to multiple social media profiles with a single click. You can also use the auto-schedule feature that schedules your post at the optimal time that your fans or followers are online. Hootsuite also provides the ability to manage private messages. There’s a free version of it for five or fewer social media profiles.
Give these free web tools a test drive
While you can’t beat the price, there’s still an investment of time required to learn how to make the most of these tools. I think you’ll find some are a little more challenging to learn than others, but, for the most part, they’re very intuitive and made for the non-techie.
But for now, I encourage you and your school to check out these helpful, wonderful tools that will help you be more productive and more professional communicators.
Do you have any favorite tools you use that help you streamline your digital communications?
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.