Better ways to reach parents than Facebook?

I don't like Facebook either, but is it a necessary evil? Or are there other simple ways to improve streams of communication between schools and their constituents?

When I asked a couple weeks ago if there would ever be a time for Facebook in schools, I started a fairly heated discussion. A few people applauded the call for modern and relevant outreach and student connections. Most people were horrified at the thought of using Facebook, whose privacy cred makes Google look like the Federal Witness Protection Program, for interacting with students.

To be honest, I don't disagree with many of these concerns. My intent was and still is to increase communication between parents, teachers, and students and ensure that kids have access to all the information they need in really relevant and easily accessible ways. Am I advocating for such connections at all costs? No, and obviously our students' privacy and safety needs to be the top priority. I still maintain that there is an important place for Facebook in all of this given its general ubiquity, but there are important mainstream, simple alternatives to consider.

This brings me to a reader email, asking about the very issue of improving and modernizing school-parent communications:

My issue is about communicating with parents and the school community using technology. How's that for a novel angle?

Currently, our parent council has proposed that a 1-page insert be included with the monthly school paper newsletter in order to announce upcoming events (e.g., fundraisers) that are being offered.

I'm looking for an electronic way to do this, and have been investigating Facebook Pages for this. Pros: parents already go on Facebook daily, so "Liking" a parent council page would a perfect way for its announcements to be "in their face" on their Facebook Wall. Cons: Once a parent has "Liked" the page, a link to the page appears on the parent's profile page, thus revealing that they are interested in the events advertised on the parent council page, etc. etc. security NO-NO!

Is there another way to put the parent council's announcements "in parents' faces" without having to deal with this limitation in Facebook's security settings? A traditional Web site or RSS feed wouldn't work, as no one would remember to check it. Announcements really have to smack them in the face while they are logging into something that they use daily.

Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

My response is below...As always, share your own thoughts in the talkbacks.

Great question! And not one that is easily answered with a "universal" solution. That being said, I have a couple of ideas. Again, none of these are perfect, but they're all worthy of consideration:

  • Your district's SIS or LMS may have broadcast email/text functionality. Many are integrating that now and parent contacts could simply be texted or emailed a link to a static page on a website. You can use a URL shortener with a custom URL (e.g., bit.ly) to make it easy for parents who just get a text message on a non-smart, non-feature phone.
  • A third-party solution that does the same thing as above (see reachpeople.com - this is free and allows people to opt in easily)
  • Twitter - tweet links to new information on static pages (this is the easiest way, IMO, and completely opt-in, although it will probably have the least reach/impact)
  • A third party emergency contact calling application - it's likely that your district already has something like ConnectEd (now owned by BlackBoard) or OneCallNow in place. Most of these can leverage voice as well as SMS or email. The same link referral strategy would apply.
  • Podcasts - sounds a little whacky, but lots of people use iTunes and subscribe to podcasts. Really, they're just subscribing to an RSS feed, but iTunes makes it very easy.
  • YouTube - again, sort of whacky, but people spend a lot of time on YouTube, videos can be private, you can create a dedicated channel, and people can watch your announcements just about anytime/anywhere. Combined with Twitter, you might be able to drive a lot of traffic for free.

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