Keeping pace with the tools and trends that help you improve school communications is no easy chore. Just when you think you’ve mastered one must-have tactic, the next big thing jumps up, right?
There is no status quo when it comes to the myriad challenges facing school communicators. You can’t afford to let inertia set in as you face the challenge of maximizing parent engagement best practices in the new decade.
So, to help you set your sights – or for the forward-thinking districts already on top of these topics – review what’s hot for 2020 in school communication, we offer the following tactics that should factor into your planning.
1. Website accessibility
Formal complaints from the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) continue to trigger lawsuits, fines and bad press for those districts who neglect this important facet of web communications access. With 19 percent of the U.S. population having some sort of physical, emotional or learning disability, there’s that many people in your district who just might face barriers on your website if you’re not fully ADA-compliant.
Do you know where your website stands when it comes to accessibility to people with disabilities? Parents, staff, students and your entire school community not only deserve full, unobstructed access to all your web content, but are legally entitled to it.
Even if you think your website is compliant with website accessibility standards, be on the safe side – and the right side of the law – and start by conducting a website accessibility audit to see where your website stands.
NOTE: all those PDFs, the default format for linking school information to the school website, also must be accessible and ADA-compliant. Learn more about making school PDFs accessible or get an assessment of your website PDFs here.
2. Live streaming video
There’s good reason why Facebook introduced its ‘Portal’ last year – it’s banking on the popularity of the video medium to strengthen its grip on communications leadership. Toss in Facebook Live for schools, YouTube Live, Instagram Live, Facebook Messenger for students, etc., and you have an increasing number of opportunities to engage your school community in real time with live streaming video.
We first tipped you off on how to go live in this article: How to Go Live with Live Streaming School Video. Now, more access and advancements in IP video are making it easier for schools to live stream sporting events, plays, board meetings and other events worthy of engaging your school community.
Besides the live streaming variety, video in general is an excellent initiative for any school district seeking to connect. As Jake Sturgis points out in a recent article: Video Tips to Tell your School Stories, video ought to be a strategic component to your school communications. Another benefit of live streaming is that the video is easily archived for those who cannot make your events in real time.
3. Data analytics
It still amazes me how so many school districts today are operating their communications in a data vacuum. Especially in the digital communications realm where virtually all communications activity can be measured and evaluated, the role of data analytics will play even a bigger role in 2020.
Just as administrators utilize data to make decisions on the student learning side of the ledger, administrators need to embrace data-driven strategies in the communications realm. As Trinette Marquis points out in her book, Engaging Data: Smart Strategies for School Communication, by applying communications-planning fundamentals around research, goal-setting, measurement and evaluation, you can put some teeth into your communications.
Check out Trinette’s article: 5 Steps to a Marketing-Driven School District Communications Plan for a good head start on applying data principles to your school communications.
And because your district website serves as a communications hub, Google Analytics is a powerful tool in your data-driven analysis. With Google Analytics you can slice and dice your school websites every which way, spanning everything from determining what your most popular pages and page design tips, to where your site visitors are coming from and what they’re searching for. For more information, read Steve Williams’ take on How Schools Can Use Google Analytics.
Data can be used to set goals, structure your team and activities around those goals, and, of course, track progress and make the necessary adjustments, additions or improvements as required.
4. Chatbots and AI
For the uninitiated – and believe me, you may think you’re not, but you are so initiated – a chatbot is the use of predictive or artificial intelligence (AI) software that simulates dialogue with a human. It enables interaction via messaging or voice.
Businesses such as Spotify, Lyft, Whole Foods and countless others use chatbots to make it easy to get info and buy products and services. They’re the present and the future of sales/marketing and customer service/support. Thanks to Starbucks’ use of chatbots, my wife can order and pay for her iced tea every morning.
This technology won’t remain exclusive to business. School web communication platforms can incorporate chatbots to engage parents, students, staff and the entire school community.
- “Alexa, What’s on the school lunch menu Tuesday?”
- “Hey Siri, pay Bella’s field trip fee.”
- Chat window: Welcome to Newport Elementary. How can we help you?
For a closer look at the possibilities of using chatbots and AI in your district, check out this article: Schools are Next to Tap AI and Chatbots to Improve Engagement.
5. Voice searches
If you’re like me, you’re using voice commands more and more often these days. While I’ve yet to get a dedicated smart speaker for my home, I find myself with my smart phone nearby if not in hand, and, of course, in need of an answer or a request. And while I’m pretty adept at the thumb technique of typing on phones, a voice command is so much faster.
Voice search works the same way as normal web searches, but uses speech recognition to ascertain the keywords and context of the request. Besides not wearing out your thumbs, one of the beauties of voice search – and the reason its popularity will continue to soar – is that it’s conversational and natural.
Stand-alone, non-screen smart speakers like Echo (Alexa), Google Home/Nest (Google Assistant), Apple HomePod are showing up in more and more homes, and, of course, mobile devices feature voice search functions.
Experts predict that by the end of this year, 50% of all internet searches will be by voice. And nearly one third of internet searches will be on devices without screens. All in all, the future of voice search will have an impact on your school communications as your content needs to be optimized for voice-based search.
For example, will your website be able to answer questions like these:
- What are total student fee comparisons for Mapledale and Oak Ridge schools?
- What percentage of students at Morgan High get scholarships?
- Does Williamstown Elementary School have an ESL program?
We’ve written a great deal and presented many webinars on how schools can make good use of the popular social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Instagram continues to attract new users at a healthy rate, and people who have Instagram accounts are very faithful about routinely checking them.
Part of the beauty of Instagram is the simplicity of it. It’s a vibrant, photo-centric medium that enables you to tell your school stories in pictures and short video clips. Photos and vids are the preferred, quick-glimpse way we process social media, so Instagram is a perfect way to serve up snackable content.
Hootsuite, a social media management platform provider, says in 2020, Instagram users will spend 30 minutes a day perusing photos on the platform. What’s more, Instagram users are getting older by the day, and the demographics span student-aged users to parent-aged and, increasingly, even grandparent-aged users. So the reach to your entire school community is growing every day.
Watch this video, Instagram: The Next Big Thing for Parent Engagement, for a quick primer on using Instagram at your school.
So, these are the trends we’re seeing moving to the front burner of school digital communication. If you think about it, it all boils down to greater and easier access: access to your content for people with disabilities; easier ways to search and access your content; tapping the data that exists to improve and refine your communications.
If you see any trends on the horizon, let me know.
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.