Five tips for digital communication in the new year

It’s important to match social media sites to audience preferences and needs.

With a new year approaching, it’s a great opportunity to re-evaluate what’s working—and what’s not—in your classroom, school, or district communications program. Here are five tips to power better communications and community relations in 2012, plus some thoughts to ponder as we enter a new era in public school choice.

1. Start using QR (quick response) codes for lunch menus, schedule changes, parent-teacher conference reminders, professional development announcements, contact information, website addresses, and other simple communications. Growing in popularity, QR codes—those goofy-looking bar-code squares you’ve been seeing everywhere lately—can be created and read using free online applications and are perfect for today’s mobile generation.

The codes can be distributed via digital and broadcast media as well as fliers, newsletters, and other printed publications. Students, parents, and teachers can then use their camera phones to scan the code and get the content. Only download codes from reputable sources. In some cases, security hasn’t kept up with hackers’ ability to attach malicious code to unsuspecting consumers.

2. Free up social media for student and teacher use, and for parent communications. Now that the FCC has lifted restrictions on social media use tied to eRate dollars, bureaucratic excuses are waning for blocking today’s fastest growing communication form. It’s time to shift from saying no to teaching stakeholders how to use social media wisely, well, and appropriately for learning and communication in school, at home, and on the go.

Students and employees need better guidance and training, however. Otherwise, social media missteps—like the recent tacky student tweet that resulted in a national free-speech debate and an apology from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for an “overreaction”—will continue unabated. Currently, according to Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults use social media, primarily to connect or reconnect with family, friends, hobbies, and other items of personal interest, which could include their children’s schools or their own alma maters.

From a communications standpoint, it’s important to match social media sites to audience preferences and needs. The short bursts of information and mobile nature of Twitter, for example, is perfect for crisis communications. It’s faster than eMail and easier to use. Twitter also represents an effective way for public officials to stay in touch with constituents, despite some famous political meltdowns.

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