Communication with your child’s school is critical for any parent. Many schools rely on printing letters, forms and such, and stuffing them into the child’s bag (often these arrive in a questionable state or they get misplaced completely) or they are sent via email, along with hundreds of other information parents receive every day in their inbox.
Also important for parents is to have a have a sense that you are working hand-in-hand with the school to support your child as best as possible in their journey. It is important to foster a sense of community with the institution itself, as well as the individuals who make it up i.e. teachers, support staff, other parents, those who provide additional resources and services.
Ideally, a dedicated platform where all school related information can be easily placed and accessed – everybody knows that this is the first port of call to get any and all information pertaining to the school and everything to do with you child’s experience in that environment. Most schools cannot afford to invest in fancy tools and software to make this happen, especially since this would most likely impact the parents by adding to the cost of the fees. So what other possibilities are there?
My recommendation is for schools to consider using social media as their communication hub between themselves and parents, specifically Facebook. Here’s why I think this would be useful
- It is cost effective – Facebook is free unless you are looking to post ads and paid promotions.
- This can become an extension of their digital footprint in addition to their website (which many schools have – often with not enough information, are not always updated, are difficult to find unless you are looking specifically for that school and/or URL). Also, it can become the place of community for people currently and directly involved with the institution as well as current and prospective stakeholders (parents, service providers and specialists, educational experts, parenting experts etc)
- It allows for public interaction where anybody and everybody can access specified types of information eg enrolment forms, fees schedule etc. You can also set it up as a closed environment to which only a select group of people e.g. teachers and current parents can have access.
- Even for those who are not regular users of Facebook and might be concerned that they will miss out on important information related to their children’s education, they can set up notifications specific to the page and/or group so that they know immediately whenever anything new is posted and they can log on to check the new and updated content.
- Let’s take a closer look at how this might work. Coming up, I will categorise the different pieces of the Facebook platform that I would recommend be used by a school. I will then explain the general use of each aspect and why I believe it would beneficial. And then, using the topics from the actual newsletter, I give specific examples of how these can be communicated using the different tools incorporated within the Facebook platform
Anyone with a personal Facebook profile can set up a page – pages on are where organisations, brands, products, public figures can set up their presence on Facebook. Different roles can be assigned to different people on a page so that more than one person can have access and assist in managing the post. A page is typically accessible to anyone on Facebook, think of it as the ‘shop front’ that is open and available for anyone walking by to see.
So, through their page, the school can share information and engage with current and prospective parents as well as other stakeholders relevant to them. This can be a powerful tool, not just for marketing but also to connect and engage with the right people and organisations.Having a page is also important because it is the gateway to all the other tools I will mention in this article – without this, none of the other things can happen.
Given how overwhelming parenting can be, we often look to schools and the experts therein to help guide us with information pertaining issues related to parenting in general, education, extracurricular activities and a whole lot more. This school has taken the initiative by sharing links to some useful resources to help with sleep issues for children. This is not just useful to school insiders, but people outside the immediate community as well – it’s the kind of thing that can be added to the main ‘public’ page for any parent who’s little one struggles to fall asleep, for example. The school can make this a regular thing where they pick a theme, say monthly or weekly, and they share links to useful related resources found online.
Groups on Facebook can be private or public. They are essentially an online meeting ground for people with similar interests and can range from those selling second-hand items to people studying for an MBA in different institutions. As I’ve already said, by setting up a page the school can then create their own private group, inviting only the parents of current schools to join in. This can essentially become the internal communications hub for this and any other organisation.
So what information contained in the newsletter can be shared in the group?
- Important dates – this can appear as a pinned post, put up say a week or two beforehand time so that it is the first thing that people see when they enter the group. Every time a parent visits the group they will have an immediate reminder of the important dates.
- Parent support group facilitated by the school – coming out of a conference recently attended by some members of staff, the school is considering hosting a support group for interested parents. They need to know who is interested. They can find this out by simply posting a question with a poll, inside the group, and parents can vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to interest in the support group. They can even post their comments, suggestions and questions as a reply to this particular post. That way, everyone is involved in this discussion and coming to a conclusion becomes a more communal and inclusive process. And managing these responses will be far easier than having to deal with a multitude of separate emails amidst information about other unrelated things in someone’s inbox. Again, this can be pinned for a period to the top of the group posts, making it easier for group visitors to see.
In fact, the group as a whole can become the defacto home of the support group that the school is offering. Think about, many parents may be interested but wouldn’t necessarily have the time or the energy to attend support group meetings. Also, parenting issues come up quite regularly and unexpectedly, they don’t wait to happen at regular, scheduled intervals that would align with bimonthly group meetings, for example. Having access to a group like this, where the school and/or parents can raise issues at their own convenience would be far more useful. The school can even initiate topics for open discussion on a regular basis. They can even invite different experts, even those from outside the school, to host chats (say once a month or so) via the group. Logistically, for many parents, this might be a far more viable alternative and make for better participation. Actual live events and meetings can also still happen, but now they become an extension of an ongoing relationship vs once-off, disassociated activities.
Taking it a little further – using the public page, the school can post short articles about this and any other conferences that they attend. This should not just be sharing the fact that they were there, but highlights of what was covered, what they learnt and how they plan to incorporate these new insights into the school environment. Audiences can get a sense of the culture of the school as well as the kinds of issues that they prioritise as an institution – information that might be interesting to prospective parents and other stakeholders alike, showcasing an active and involved institution.
- Announcement of one of the staff members who are leaving the school – Often parents don’t know all the people who work in their children’s school, especially if there is no reason for direct contact between the two parties – if my child is not in your class or you are not part of the teaching staff. In the group, these individuals can be invited to share a short post introducing themselves as well as the services that they provide to the school or their role in the school. The same can be done with new parents to the school as they come in – who are you, your child’s/children’s name and the grade that they are in.
As an extension, something that can be even shared on the public page – the various experts who make up the team at the school can share longer posts/articles for general public consumption, thereby showcasing the variety of expertise and interest amongst the school staff. For the audience, they get a sense of the calibre of people who are directly involved in the school as well as insight into the kind of issues educators responsible for their children is interested in.
- Lift needed – Getting kids to and from school while managing your own schedule and not creating additional costs was one of the constant struggles of parenting. Rather than having to rely on the school to make this request on your behalf (when you’re looking for this kind of help), you could simply post the question to the group. Interested parties can then send you a private message, and the details can be sorted out ‘offline’, away from the rest of the group.
As with groups, events can be made private or public and can be set up via an existing group. So whether you are looking to host a small dinner party for your friend’s birthday party or organise a picnic and concert at a nearby park – this is one tool that can be used to organise all the logistics, including taking payments where necessary.
- Bring and Braai – The school is planning to host this social event for the entire school community. By creating a private event on their Facebook page, they can then invite the parents and also manage RSVPs so they have a better sense of the number of people who will be there. Needless to say, relevant information about what to bring and such, can also be put on the event page for easy access to any and all interested parties. For a parent who can’t make it, for example, they can put out a message in the private event page for another family to assist by bringing their child along. The conversation with whoever volunteers to help can then be taken ‘offline, with details being ironed out via Facebook messenger directly between the affected parties. Or for busy parents who find that they can’t make/buy the goodies required, they can post on the event page asking for assistance – whoever is available to help can respond, and they can continue their conversation in Messenger.
Once the event has come and gone attendees, as well as the school itself, can share pictures and anecdotes from the day, allowing others who might have missed out to get a sense of the activities. Or you can download pictures of you and your family taken by other people. Remember, since this was set up as a private event page, only the people specifically invited/added by the admin can access any and all information, including pictures.
Earlier on, I talked about the school having meetings for the support group where, for example, they can invite guest experts to address parents on various issues. Through the event page, this can be extended by creating a public event (ie people outside of the school can attend) and they may choose to charge for attendance thereby a small income stream. The school can maintain the regular support group for the parents of current students within the closed group, but they can also position themselves as a source of parenting support for the broader public by hosting open events for anyone who is interested.
How have you been using Facebook to up your business game when communicating with your clients or customers?