Mobile

Move Beyond Yet Another Website Redesign - With Mobile Apps

Victoria Harkes
12 Minutes

Engaging with your audience in 2020 and beyond using a Mobile App

Family taking selfie from mobile phone at home

Being able to communicate effectively and in new ways plays a fundamental role in an effective school communications strategy. Communications between school principals or school administrators to parents and guardians traditionally happened via telephone, radio, or mailed letters. These letters would get passed on to staff & teachers who would then hand them out to students to give to their parents and guardians.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t uncommon for these letters to never make it home as they were lost, forgotten and damaged. This led to a game of “broken telephone” – the original message intended by school administrators only partially reached parents and guardians, if at all.

As technology advances, these methods of communication are being supplemented with more direct and effective channels, like mobile apps.

  1. Communication expectations in 2020
  2. Why a website redesign may not be a priority
  3. Move beyond websites
  4. Meeting these new needs
  5. What makes a good mobile app?
  6. Execution
  7. Creating content for mobile
  8. Final Thoughts

Communication expectations in 2020

Happy family sitting on sofa and using laptop, mobile phone and digital tablet at home

Today, parents and guardians are expecting schools and districts to inform them about events directly. No one wants to have to search for information as this is time-consuming. Parents and guardians now receive information through email, social media, and phone notifications.

Ultimately, effective school communications are about meeting what parents and guardians expect in terms of how they receive information. If something is important or valuable enough, they expect that the school board will ensure they get that information.

Download the 5 steps to success whitepaper

Why re-designing your website might not be a priority

Photo editor looking at multi colored sticky notes on glass in meeting room at creative office

School and district websites are valuable channels for communication between administrators and parents, guardians and students. If your communications strategy isn’t as strong as you’d like it to be, it wouldn’t be wrong of you to think that a website redesign could do the trick. However, when workloads get busy, in addition to having to stay on top of content updates, other tasks can get pushed aside.

These tasks can include things like redesigning your website. What may have been visually appealing years ago, likely won’t be as effective now, especially with the development of new technology and design standards. Marketers, on average, redesign their websites every 24 months.

However, it’s important to consider why you’re redesigning your website. Is it more a force of habit and the expectation of re-doing a website every X years, or will it actually increase your engagement? If you’re planning on redesigning your website because of habit or expectations, adopting another solution such as a mobile app could prove to be a better option.

Key factors against a re-design:

  • Costly: Given that websites are usually redesigned every four to five years it can become costly to do the same work again and again
  • Time and Resource consuming: Website redesign can be time and resource consuming. The effort and hours involved in web redesign, content generation, planning and review, testing and launching can overburden people’s agendas and take away from other meaningful projects
  • Outdated: Unless a website is actually outdated or built on an unsupported platform a full redesign is not always necessary. A refresh of content and connectivity can be a much better use of planning and resources. Your website is now a given, like having a phone number. To reach your audience you need something more

Move Beyond Websites

Happy multi-generation family using digital tablet in living room at home

Before you decide where to invest your time, resources and money, your audience should be the priority. Without an audience, a website is meaningless.

Your Audiences

Connecting with your audience – changes in the past 20 years
Confident female designer working on a digital tablet in red creative office space

The design of websites has changed over the last few decades, but because it’s a given tool – a norm for organizations to have – we rarely notice them. For one, there is better image quality, fewer brightly colored flashing banners and of course, more emphasis on protecting personal and private data.

More importantly, the mediums used to communicate have changed significantly. Gone are the days of sending home letters in backpacks. The use of social media platforms has opened new doors and has made information readily available. Parents and guardians can now connect any where, at any time.

Parents and Guardians
  • Then: Parents were kept up-to-date with the school through weekly letters sent home with their children. If there were bus cancellations or delays, parents would be informed through the radio. There was more use of the telephone as well
  • Now: Parents rely on Facebook, E-mails, Twitter, and parent portals to receive and access information about their child/children and their school
Students
  • Then: Students would rely on letters and written reports to receive information on school events and their grades
  • Now: Students can now receive and access information in various ways such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. They are also able to track their grades through online portals
Staff and Teachers
  • Then: Staff and teachers communicated with parents and guardians and other staff members through telephone, verbal communication, and written letters
  • Now: Staff and teachers can communicate with parents, guardians, and staff through e-mail, the direct school portal and social media. Information is now readily available for everyone
Building relationships – How your audiences like to connect and talk
Two creative millenial small business owners working on social media strategy using a digital tablet while sitting in staircase
Parents and Guardians
  • Then: The relationship between parents and guardians and teachers was more formal with regards to forms of communication. Communication was done primarily through letters and phone calls. Titles before surnames were used to keep things more polite, such as Mr. and Ms., etc.
  • Now: Relationships are more casual but remain professional today. Parents wish to be provided with direct information and be able to access news feeds at any time during the day. They want to use parent portals to monitor their children’s progress in school. They want to be able to contact teachers directly and are more interested in knowing who is involved in their child’s life
Students
  • Then: Students had fewer options to build relationships with the school and district other than being involved in extracurricular activities
  • Now: They want to stay up-to-date through trendy social platforms, including TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram. Students are more involved with school affairs if they can use social platforms to engage with their school
Staff and Teachers
  • Then: Teachers typically would build relationships through parent-teacher interviews and school events
  • Now: Teachers are now able to connect one-on-one with parents and guardians, staff and students through direct email and social platforms, such as LinkedIn

Meeting these new needs

Closeup of hands of young man in checkered shirt using mobile phone

You have a few options when it comes to meeting these new expectations for communications.

Social Media

Full-time employees might need to be hired if there aren’t already ones in place that are responsible for creating consistent content and monitoring social activity.

While social media platforms are excellent tools for school communications, as people already use and enjoy social media platforms, they do come with a few drawbacks:

  • Limited control: Anyone can follow these accounts, and what they do with the information you share on these platforms is out of your control. You’re unable to filter what people comment on your posts, which can lead to arguments that may or may not be related to your content. While you can delete comments or disable them altogether, this decreases engagement and can be incredibly time-consuming
  • Can share only public information: You don’t want to be sharing sensitive details about a crisis in progress for everyone to see, even though those updates are expected by parents & guardians from the board
  • Requires followers to check-in regularly: It’s far too easy for followers to miss information posted on social media if they’re not checking-in regularly. Timelines can be cluttered, schedules can be hectic, and some people may not have social media accounts – causing important information to fall through the cracks

Mobile App

Maintaining your content doesn’t necessarily require any additional employees. You could pull content and information from your existing work. The highlight of an app is meeting the needs of people today in the way they choose:

  • They are secure: Those who have downloaded the app are guaranteed to be parents, guardians and students –giving you a 1-to-1 line of communication to those who need to know the information you post
  • Require little to no additional work: A good mobile app (we’ll dig into what makes a good one soon) should be pulling information from existing databases and wherever you’re already doing work from
  • Meets new expectations: With parents, guardians and students having their phone on them constantly, it is critical to communicate with them where they’re already at. Receiving information should be as easy as touching a push notification

The bottom line you want both

Social media is not a replacement for a mobile app and vice-versa. Both play different roles in having a complete and effective communication strategy. Social media is great for pushing out lighthearted and fun posts to the entire community. However, to ensure that parents, guardians and students are receiving important information when they need to receive it, having a school mobile app is key.  

Organizations are beginning to embrace a mobile strategy more and depend less on their website to communicate. The use of desktops has been surpassed by the use of mobile phones, with 60% of total time spent on digital media accounted for by tablets and smartphones. Certainly, the mobile app development industry will not slow down any time soon.

So, what does this mean for schools and districts? Adopting a mobile app needs to be on your roadmap in the near future, but it does not have to be a difficult process.

What makes a good mobile app?

Woman working on cellphone

This can serve as a guide to help you select a functional and appealing app. Things that should be considered before selecting the right app for you:

  • Establish who your audience is
  • The purpose behind your app
  • What you hope to achieve with the app
  • The features that will be included in the app

You’ll also want to consider measuring the success of the app and planning content appropriately.

Important features and factors to consider when adopting a mobile app

Simplicity

The most important feature that parents and guardians look for is having one core platform – an app that has everything in one place. This ensures that the barrier to adoption is as small as possible. Having multiple apps can decrease adoption, especially when one must switch between the apps/programs every day. There is no extra work involved when there is one app. Parents, guardians and students prefer to have direct information through the portal login and push notifications.

The information that’s presented to parents, guardians, and students should be kept relevant, curated based on their respective schools. Additionally, many parents and guardians prefer to make payments for uniforms, lunches and events, etc., through an app over sending money in with their child to possibly misplace.

Home Page and News

Parents, guardians and students expect news and stories to be the first thing they see on their home page. The news and stories should be pulled directly from their respective school and district’s website, ensuring the information that they receive is relevant to them. A good mobile app should reduce your workload by having news and emergency notifications automatically visible in the app as you publish them on your websites.

Notifications

Both current and past notifications should be visible. This is especially useful if notifications are published as a crisis is unfolding.

These notifications should both be visible on the home page, as well as a push notification, alerting the user right away. Parents and guardians expect to have the flexibility to control what content receives app notifications. They should be able to opt-in or out depending on how they wish to receive their communications – ultimately boosting your engagement by reaching them the way they want to be reached with the information they care about.

Calendars

A good mobile app should give parents, guardians and students a calendar to provide them with a high-level overview of upcoming important dates, such as field trips, photo days and other events. Important calendar features should include being able to filter by student or to be able to see relevant events for every child at once. A list or monthly view also gives flexibility to parents and guardians in terms of how they see the information.

Timetables

Parents and guardians should be able to know when and where their students are in class. A good mobile app will also reduce your workload by populating information directly from your existing SIS and other systems.

Student information & menus

Important student information should be available directly in the app – once again from your existing systems – such as:

  • Grades
  • Bus Routes and Delays
  • Medical Information
  • Attendance
  • Contact information for teachers, schools and district
  • Social media
  • E-commerce for school supplies, uniforms, lunches, events and more

Other things to keep in mind

Businessman drawing business plan on white board
Budget

Instead of investing in a website redesign, that same budget can be allocated to an app. You may also find a number of different needs can be met by adopting a mobile app, so you can get creative in where a mobile app fits in your existing or upcoming budget.

Support

There must be support readily available, both for you and the audience using the app. Your school district must be able to rely on support from the provider. Employees will need to be trained to answer any questions the audience may have, especially when it comes to troubleshooting concerns. At the same time, you want to be able to rely on your provider to aid in troubleshooting problems and information on necessary updates.

Often a FAQ page will be the first thing audience members can access before reaching out directly to an individual. The more straight-forward the app is to use, the less headache you’ll have in the long-run.

Integrations

It’s critical that your app can integrate with your current investments and can pull data directly from your existing systems, ensuring you save time and your audience is seeing the highest possible value in using the app.

So you’ve decided to get an app! Now what? Seeing Success

Execution

Multi-generation family sitting on sofa and using laptop, mobile phone and digital tablet

Creating a promotion strategy for your new mobile app is a must to ensure adoption across your community. Don’t worry though, it’s easy.

You should be able to look to your mobile app solution provider to give you most of the content & strategy behind your promotional cadence. Using a cadence for your promotion is the best way to increase adoption.

Download 5 Steps to Success whitepaper

Cadence

When conducting your promotional cadence, you have two different audiences to consider and a variety of content types to use when communicating with them.

New vs. Existing Audiences

New Audience

These are parents and guardians who are new to the school district, having moved from another one or are enrolling their young children into school for the first time. They are also parents and guardians whose children are transferring schools from within the same district. Their cadence is the simplest:

  • Evaluation: Your new audience typically evaluates school districts in their region before deciding to enroll their children. They may research which has the best schools or which will be the best fit for them.They’ll decide to go with a public school, private, catholic, etc.
  • Welcome Package: Once they decide to register with you, they’ll receive a welcome package that you probably already have made. It has everything from bus routes, school & teacher contact information, etc. This is where you should include information about your mobile app – instructions on how to download it, how to log-in, how to use it and it’s features

Existing Audience

Mobile Adoption Strategy
Existing Audience Sample Cadence

Your existing audience are parents and guardians who have been with your school district anywhere from 0-12 years and have previous experience with your schools and school board. They have existing expectations regarding school communications and how they receive them, thus getting them to adopt your mobile app is going to require a little more work.

Their cadence consists of multiple rounds of communication through various channels pushing the mobile app. This strategy is all about exhausting your existing channels of communications to get your audience to adopt the app. An example could be:

  1. Round 1: Post on school & district website, posts on social media
  2. Round 2: Email to parents & guardians
  3. Round 3: Physical letters sent home with students
  4. Round 4: Text messages or voicemails to parents promoting the app
  5. Round 5: A video that outlines the app and its functionality to engage your audience

Once again, you should be able to ask your solution provider for resources on strategies to promote your new mobile app to reduce your workload.

Creating a dedicated web page for the mobile app

As you prepare to execute your cadence and see both audiences adopting your brand-new mobile app, its time to build web content dedicated to your mobile app. A key page to include would be a FAQ page to answer some of the common questions that may arise from parents, guardians and students using the mobile app with support from your mobile app solution provider. Some key questions to answer:

  • What is this app?
  • How is it different from the website?
  • Are there any costs associated with using this app?
  • Where can I download the app?
  • Are the mobile app features the same as the regular website features?
  • How to connect to my student’s teacher?
  • Where do I update the latest version?
  • How do I access my child’s portal?

Creating Content for Mobile

Businesswoman interacting with a colleague in the office

Here are some key tips for creating content that is engaging for a mobile audience.

Check out our Creating Content for Mobile blog for a deeper dive on this subject.

Differences between typical and mobile-focused content

The only differences that should be between desktop content and mobile content is the way that it is presented. Of course, desktop screens are much bigger and can show more content at a given time than can be done on a mobile device.

Therefore, it becomes essential to chunk the content for viewing on smartphones. Information can be broken down into an accordion menu, a simple click on the arrow or tab can present the viewer with what they are most interested in and each section can become self-contained. These are important habits to get into, even without a mobile app, as many people now consume content and information over their phone and will be seeing content on a mobile screen.

Share information consistently, not constantly

There must be a balance when it comes to sharing information. No one likes to be bombarded with sixteen notifications an hour. However, posting every six months is not exactly going to attract an audience either. People want to be presented with information that is relevant to their school, such as a bus cancellation, in a timely manner, so save the notifications for actionable content that parents, guardians and students need to see right away.

Remember its more personal

You must craft your messages accordingly. The messages should be more personal since you are communicating through their mobile device. People are always on their phones. Therefore, you should keep the message in a conversational tone.

Video is powerful, but must work quickly

Recall the last time you were scrolling through Facebook and you happened to see a video without clicking on it. It was likely muted and there were subtitles. Chances are you watched at least three seconds of the video before continuing on scrolling through your news feed.

As such, any video content that gets uploaded through the app must be understandable without audio. There is a three-second window to capture the attention of the viewers. These videos should include automatic subtitles.

Check out our complete guide to increasing K-12 district-wide engagement by using video.

Using Shorthand and abbreviations, while staying on brand

To make your content a more conversational piece, slang can be used. However, it must remain appropriate, especially for parents and guardians.

It is recommended that shorthand and contractions are used, especially within notifications so that it makes it easier for the reader to understand and interpret the information that is presented. For example, for contact information, instead of writing: “telephone” and then the number, you write “#” or “Tel” and then the number.

News Articles should be formatted with a mobile-first approach

Any form of news will automatically be formatted for you with SchoolBundle's single-source publishing, but if your solution doesn't format automatically, make sure you are previewing any content you post on a mobile device before publishing. You should try to always include images to keep the audience engaged and a meta description which summarizes the content of the page in about 120 characters. The meta description allows the audience to get a good understanding of what the content is about before clicking on the article and should provide the most important information to ensure that key message is shared to as many people as possible.

Notifications must be understood with just their title

The wording of notifications is key. The viewer must be able to indicate what the article or post is about in the first 10 words.

Consider the title of the notification. For example, when there is a bus cancellation, you wouldn’t want the title in the notification to be “Weather Update”, you want to use titles such as “Bus delay/cancellation” so that the reader will be more enticed to click and read it. This is doubly important as many in your audience won't read further into the notification than seeing the title, so the most important information must be conveyed through the title alone.

Final Thoughts

Happy multi-generation family sitting on sofa and using laptop, mobile phone and digital tablet

Building Trust

Having a unique mobile app is essential in bringing together the school and district community. A mobile app can eliminate having to look from application to application for important information. Redesigning your website can be costly in both time and resources. Instead of allocating your budget for a website redesign, it could be far more beneficial to use those funds for a mobile app.

The purpose of the mobile application is to connect with your audience and build stronger relationships among parents and guardians, students and staff. Above all, a mobile app can cut costs and boost the effectiveness of your communications. In terms of ensuring adoption by your community, layout an effective promotional cadence for both your new and existing audience for the weeks leading up to and after the launch. An FAQ should be added to assist the users before they attempt to reach out to tech support.

Keep it Fun

Don’t forget to make using the app fun, stay creative in connecting with your audience. When creating content for your viewers, keeping it more personal allows for the audience to stay engaged. Including short videos can also attract attention. Using shorthand and abbreviations can make it easier to read, especially when the information is formatted to fit a smaller screen. As a result, the audience must be able to understand the message in ten words or less.

Open Communication

A mobile app is a powerful channel for keeping a 1-to-1 line of communication with your audience. However, it’s but one of many tools to create a unified communications experience. You need a platform that provides Single-Source Publishing, allowing you to create once and post on every channel -- from your mobile app to parent portal to your social media and school websites.

Having multiple vendors for every tool in your communications strategy unnecessarily complicates your work, costing you time and resources. With SchoolBundle, you’re able to consolidate every solution under one platform - allowing you to maximize your engagement, move beyond websites and engage your audience their way.

Download 5 Steps to Success whitepaper

Join our List

Sign-up for our email list to get exclusive access to content, sneak previews, updates and more!

Zero spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

Return to Top of Page