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Use multiple news channels to reach ‘on-the-go’ consumers

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40 percent of 'on-the-go' news consumers are parents of young children.

School officials need to share information via a variety of media platforms in order to reach today’s “on-the-go” news consumers, a new study suggests.

According to the study from the Pew Internet and American Life project, while 99 percent of American adults access news daily, only 7 percent use just one media platform to do so. The majority—six in ten Americans—use a combination of online and offline sources.

This also means school communicators who haven’t expanded their efforts to include social media networks, micro sites, and other non-traditional methods probably are missing a significant swath of the population, particularly those under age 30.

The study also ranked local television news as American’s top news source, followed by national news networks and cable news stations. The internet ranked third, followed by radio news, local newspapers, and national newspapers.

For many, discussing the news of the day in person or online has become a “shared social experience,” according to the study.

The advent of social media sites have made it easy for Americans to share news content, post comments, and publish opinions via blogs, podcasts, and other new communication tools. As a result, Americans don’t just consume the news: They help create it.

This shift from passive consumer to active participant means parents, employees, and other education stakeholders are going to expect more interactive options on district school web sites and social media profiles.

For school officials who want to engage parents and other stakeholders in the work of public schools, the growth of participatory news represents good news.

The key question, though, is: How do we deploy communication strategies that tap into this new and growing interest and shape productive conversations about our schools?

The study also highlights the viral nature of digital news content. According to Pew Research, “75 percent of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through eMail or posts on social networking sites, and 52 percent say they share links to news with others via those means.”

One way to stay relevant in this shifting media landscape is to make it easy for constituents to access and share school or district news and information online. RSS feeds, subscription-based eMail newsletters, links to relevant resources, blogs, and social media status updates all help push out news and information.

The new, multiplatform approach to content delivery and distribution helps underscore why school officials need to explore the use of social media, including micro sites like Twitter, to tell their stories.

Relying on one or two major communication vehicles just doesn’t work in today’s fragmented media world, especially among younger audiences.

About 40 percent of “on-the-go” news consumers are parents of young children, according to Pew Research. The vast majority of this group—about 80 percent—go online daily and take their internet connections with them in their pockets, using a variety of mobile devices.

North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools (GCS) tapped into this group when it created district profiles on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Within weeks, thousands of parents, employees, and others had signed on as fans and friends.

The GCS communications team now updates these sites daily. Based on comments received thus far, GCS seems to be reaching a new audience, one that hadn’t tuned into the district’s cable broadcasts or web site.

GCS also is using Twitter to update reporters and signal that more detailed announcements are coming or are available on the district’s web site. Tweeting reporters and followers about weather delays and closings, for example, has become standard operation procedure.

Leveraging an investment in news gathering by distributing content among multiple channels makes good economic sense, especially for cash-strapped school districts. Once a photo is taken, a story is written, or video content is edited, it doesn’t take much more time or expense to digitize it, post it online, send out a tweet, or eMail a link.

For example, every time a story is broadcast on GCS’s cable television channel or posted online, the district sends out an eMail message to the individuals or school featured, with broadcast times and links to the final product.

This simple step encourages digital word-of-mouth and makes it more likely that the content will “go viral.” Just as H1N1 passes from human to human, a viral communication campaign seeks to spread information person-by-person, either face to face or via phone or eMail.

When fans or friends help spread the word, school officials not only save money; they benefit from the implied, third-party endorsement as well.

For “on-the-go” news consumers who shift quickly from one communication channel to another and who show little loyalty to web sites, keeping things simple—and digital—is critical.

By spreading digital content across multiple platforms and venues, school leaders make it easier for parents and other news consumers to find the information they want them to have.

This strategy also increases the likelihood that fans and friends will share news and information with others in their personal and professional networks. Because “on-the-go” news consumers have little time to waste, efficiency and ease of use can make the difference between effective and irrelevant communications.

Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.

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