How to cut through the noise to reach parents
It’s long been known that the more engaged parents are with their child’s education, the more likely the child is to do well at school.
But parents are busy people and schools have to compete against all the other channels of communication that are bombarding them with information.
And parents can get frustrated when they receive dozens of (often irrelevant) alerts from their child’s school.
So it’s more important than ever that schools can target the right parents with the right information at the right time. Read on for some tips on achieving genuine and lasting parental engagement...
Move from broadcasting to targeting
When schools first moved from paper letters to electronic communication, text messages were all the rage. But the novelty soon wore off when schools picked up the bill and saw how much they were being charged; and it wasn't just the cost per message that soon added up - you also have to bear in mind that, on the whole, the messages were often being sent to people who didn't need to see them. 'Broadcasting' was the norm and, even if schools were able to target by class or year group, it often didn't happen, and it certainly didn't get more targeted than that.
A good school engagement system will allow you to target the right group, for example the parents of those child who are absent, as well as target groups you create yourself - such as an after school club, or those going on a school trip. And of course - app messages, in contrast to text messages, should be free (some companies still charge though!...make sure you check the small print).
Pick your moment
Timing is everything! There's a reason why big businesses use scheduling tools for their communications. They know what time of day increases their engagement rates. And there's no reason why schools shouldn't do the same.
Many schools send messages out at the end of the day - and often at the end of the week - because it's the last job on someone's list. However, parents may be getting to the end of their own 'to do' list at work or home. Is it really the right time for them to give you their focused attention? Maybe mid evening would be better, once the kids have gone to bed and they have time to reflect and get on with their life admin.
Timing can also be key when highlighting deadlines and setting reminders. A great school communications system will let you schedule a series of communications in just a few clicks. So if you're sending out information about a school trip your communications schedule could look something like this:
- Message 1: to all class parents - basic information about the school trip with deadlines listed.
- Message 2: to all class parents - reminder two weeks before the payment and permission slip deadline.
- Message 3: to all class parents - reminder the night before the deadline.
- Message 4: to those who haven't given consent or paid - chasing for a response.
- Message 5: to everyone who has given consent - providing more information about what's needed for the trip.
- Message 6: to everyone who has given consent - the week before the trip, reminding them.
- Message 7: to everyone who has given consent - the night before the trip - the final reminder!
- Message 8: sent from the trip itself - sharing photos of their adventures and showing that all the students are safe and well.
- Message 9: sent from the coach on the way back - saying they are stuck in traffic and the pick-up time has changed
- Message 10: a thank you to all parents after the trip, sharing photos and stories, with a link to the follow-up homework on the home learning section of the app.
Learn lessons from the social media giants
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In.....they have all made a success out of grabbing your attention and keeping it. So why not learn from them?
Would their have been so successful if they had emailed out a weekly, 6-page A4 newsletter, which is hard to see on your phone screen?
No, they have learnt that scrolling through engaging images and stand-out headlines is what works.
Schools can do this too. If you choose a school app that is more than just a basic messaging service, you can see your parental engagement rates soar. Your system should have the ability to add photos and videos, and should look like the social media platforms we are all so familiar with.
“Weduc has a social media look about it, making parents comfortable with navigating it.”
Remember that you are competing with overflowing email inboxes, as well as dozens of other apps. If you want to be sure that your messages are going to cut through all that noise and reach your parents, choose a system that parents will be familiar with and enjoy using. And if you're using the timing and targeting features properly, your parents will soon trust that when a school message pops up on their phone then it's worth them looking at it.
Enable two-way communication
Interaction is what keeps social media alive. You could decide to let certain groups of people to have the ability to comment on your content. But this is a powerful feature - and a good communications app will give the school the power to decide whether people can comment....on an individual basis for each post. You should also have the option of being able to moderate comments before they are published.
Track responses and re-target the unengaged
Engagement is great when it happens. But what do you do about reaching those who don't respond? A school communication system should easily show you those who haven't responded to your requests and give you the ability to contact them again in just a few clicks.
It should also provide a back-up way of contacting them if they haven't downloaded your school app. In Weduc we call this the 'belt and braces' approach where our system shows you who doesn't have the app and then automatically displays the next best way to contact them - by email, text or even an old fashioned printed letter.
How do you know that your comms system can do all of this?
All school communications apps are not equal!
If you look past the promises and the promotions, are they anything more than a glorified text messaging system?
Make sure you choose a system where communication and engagement is their sole purpose. Getting an app to do all the amazing things above is a big investment - so choose a software company that is prepared to put the time and money into it. You don't want to buy a system that you're going to have for years but will soon look old and dated when the updates fail to appear.
How can you be sure that your app is a true social engagement tool though? Schools aren't software experts.
The answer is to trust those who know...like Google.
In their online store they require any app that is actually a social media platform to build in certain features (such as being able to report content of concern). It's a sign that they know the app is going to be used like a social media platform.
And that's what they asked us at Weduc to do in our app. We've done it!
We know social; we know communications; we know engagement - and we know schools!
Find out more by calling us on 01509 221 349 or click here for one of our team to get in touch with you.