Smart phones require smart communication strategies

By Nora Carr, APR, Fellow PRSA
October 10th, 2012

When parents perceive a communication void, they will work to fill it, by creating their own mobile apps or alternative social media sites.

With as many as 49 percent of all U.S. adults using smart phones, according to Nielsen reports, it’s time to get smart about school communications as well.

Today’s on-the-go parents, teachers, and principals require fast, easy access to news and information. In most cases, this requires access to stripped-down mobile websites or special applications (apps) designed for smaller screens and sometimes sketchy wireless internet connections.

Smart-phone use is nearly ubiquitous among young American adults. According to Pew Research, two-thirds (66 percent) of young adults ages 18 to 29 own smart phones. This jumps to 68 percent for adults of any age with household incomes of $75,000 or more. At 59 percent, adults ages 30 to 49 don’t lag far behind these top groups in terms of smart phone ownership.

Unlike other technologies, America’s smart-phone obsession cuts across gender lines as well as racial and ethnic groups. Women are about as likely as men to own smart phones (45 percent versus 46 percent, respectively), while smart-phone ownership rates among blacks (47 percent) and Hispanics (49 percent) surpasses those of whites (42 percent).

Driven perhaps by widespread wireless access as well as personal finances, urban residents (48 percent), college graduates (50 percent), and those with some college (50 percent) are more likely to own smart phones.

A small, qualitative research study we conducted last spring in my district confirms these results. In-depth interviews with a diverse group of parents whose children attend high-wealth, middle-income, and low-wealth schools showed similar patterns.

See also:

How to engage parents online more effectively

Using QR codes for school communications

Ten tips for using social media in school communications

While we expected and did find technology gaps in terms of home computers and broadband internet access, smart-phone use was much more widespread among low-income families than anticipated.

For our low-income families, the smart phone served as their connection to the internet, making text messaging, social media networks, and mobile access to websites and online services even more important—factors we likely would have missed without the additional, local research.

At the other end of the spectrum, we learned that high-income families used their smart phones to stay connected via social networking sites they created and maintained to keep families informed, often without any principal awareness, input, or knowledge.

While all but one of these alternative sites were supportive of school administration and teachers, it’s sad that so many actively engaged parents felt their schools did not meet their communication needs.