New Age School Communication Tools — which one should your school use?

Newspapers and newsletters are a dying breed. Well, in the sense of the physical pieces of paper you and I grew up with. These days, you’ll find most people with heads down and thumbs flicking away on those handy little devices we call smartphones.

So let’s assume and even accept that smartphones are here to stay and well, everyone has one or will get one in the not too distant future. As a school, how can you communicate with your parents and whole school community leveraging this trend?

The 5 ways to connect to parents via their smartphones are:

  • Website
  • Email
  • SMS
  • Push notification via an App
  • Social media

Below is a comparison table that will help you make your choice of which combination of communication tools that will serve your school best:

Website Email SMS App Social media
First reach slow medium high high medium
Reach probability low medium high high medium
Community engagement possible no no possible possible
Direct engagement no yes yes possible no
Spam none high low none low
Cost low low high medium none
Urgent messages low medium high high low
Who can see anyone direct direct opt-in anyone
Message preservation yes no no yes yes
Listing of messages yes no no yes no
Admin ease-of-use low medium medium high high

First reach is how your message reaches your parents. Websites are slow as it requires the user to go to your website. Although email and social media do have the ability to send push notifications, users tend to set aside specific times of the day for checking personal emails and social media. For example, they may be at work. In some cases, social media use is not even allowed at work.

Reach probability is how soon a parent opens up and reads the message. SMS and push notifications from Apps are often opened within the first 3 minutes.

Community engagement is about interaction among the whole school community. For example, a forum where users can communicate to each other and to the school community as a whole. Website and App are possible with the addition of add-on forum services. With social media, the option to not allow comments can be set should community engagement is not preferred.

Direct engagement allows messages to be sent to specific parents. Email and SMS are the most direct as you are sending messages to individual users. App is possible if there is an option for parent log in.

Spam is highly associated with email although it has started to appear in SMS and social media. At least with social media, the option to turn off comments will prevent spam.

Cost can vary between the different kinds of schools. For example, website and email may be a free service for some schools. What is certain is that SMS and App will have a cost. SMS will attract an annual service fee with additional costs based on how many SMS’s were sent. An App will attract an initial development or setting up fee, and an annual service fee.

Urgent messages can be letting parents know that the sports carnival has been cancelled due to last minute bad weather. Here is where having a high for first reach and reach probability is important.

Who can see refers to how public your message will be.

Message preservation is important when it comes to parents:

  • Accidentally deleting the message
  • Losing their phone
  • Forgotten their email password
  • Or have changed email address or mobile phone number

Listing of messages shows all your key dates and events in chronological order.

Admin ease-of-use refers to how easy it is for an untrained staff to use the tool to send out a message. The rankings here are based on several assumptions and ultimately depend on the specific communication tool chosen. The only way to know is to try it out.

So which one or which ones?

Well, if you already have a school website or thinking of getting one, do so. Think of this as your central hub of information where the whole world can get a glimpse into what your school has to offer. However, to get that parent engagement and keeping them in the loop, you’ll need to look into at least 1 of the 4 remaining options: email, SMS, an app or social media.

The 3 points I suggest you ponder on are:

  • How would you like your parents to engage with the school?
  • How soon do you want your message to reach your parents?
  • Would a more effective communication tool help with costs?