Looking for a way to streamline and centralize communication at your school? Well, you’re in luck! In this Beginner’s Guide to School Apps, you’ll learn everything you need to know about getting started with your very own custom school app.
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The current state of mobile app usage
Keys, wallet, sunglasses – smartphone! It’s no secret that these handy little devices have become an essential part of our everyday lives. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2019 Mobile Nation report, 9 out of 10 people now own a smartphone and 94% wouldn’t dare leave the house without it. While these figures might sound a tad obsessive, take a moment to think about it. When was the last time you went 100% unplugged for the day? Just the thought alone would be enough to give some people a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
The data shows that we’re also far more reliant on mobile apps than ever before too, with most users spending around 33 hours engaging with mobile apps per month. Now, while some of you might be thinking that you’ve got our mobile screen time under control, when was the last time you swapped Google Maps for a good old-fashioned street directory? How did you order your last take-out meal, book accommodation for that upcoming weekend away, or manage your online banking? It’s probably a safe bet that mobile apps did the majority of the heavy lifting for you here.
We now live in a mobile-first world, where consumers expect to be able to engage with brands on their smartphones anywhere, anytime. So, it’s easy to see why schools across the world are choosing to go mobile too. With a dedicated school app, it’s never been easier for schools to connect with their communities, streamline existing software, and centralize all communication into one, easily accessible place.
Key benefits of a school app
Centralize school communication systems
It’s no secret that communication is key when it comes to nurturing the relationship between schools and parents, but when frequent communication (often across multiple channels) turns into a serious case of information overload, it’s easy for important updates to slip through the cracks.
Take a quick moment now to list all of the different communication channels your school uses on a daily, weekly or monthly basis to communicate with parents, students and staff. Here are just some of the channels that might come to mind:
- Newsletters (digital and hardcopy)
- Website / blog updates
- Social media
- Direct mail
- Paper notices
- Event calendar
Of course, there are many more channels out there – these are just a few of the most common ones schools use to keep their communities in the loop. Just looking at this list – that’s seven different communication channels that are used to deliver information. Not only does this mean that school communities are bombarded with messages, but they’re also required to juggle several communications channels at any given time to stay informed about your school.
Enter: school apps – an easy way to centralize all school communication channels into one, easily accessible place. When building a school app, you’ll be able to choose from a wide range of standard and premium modules, which are all designed to meet your school’s specific communication needs. Essentially, this means that you can take the majority (if not all) of your existing channels plug them into your school app instead.
Digitalize school newsletters and notices
We all know just how important it is to get parents involved and engaged with the latest news and events at your school, but if you’re relying on traditional, hard-copy newsletters and notices, how can you be sure that they’re actually being read?
Let’s be honest, when it comes to sending print communication home, you’re taking a pretty big gamble on whether or not it actually makes it into the hands of your intended reader. More than likely, parents will find your newsletter or notice crumpled up at the bottom of a school bag, next to a rotting apple, long after the information was actually relevant. Not only is this a waste of your time and resources, but it does nothing to nurture your relationships with parents either.
One of the many great features of a school app is that it provides you with the ability to digitize your school’s newsletters and notice, and deliver them straight into your parent’s hands – no school bag required! The newsletter and notices modules available within a Digistorm App allow you to make an even greater impact on your community and bridge the gap between school and parent communication.
Send push notifications
Cast your mind back to a time when placing a message directly into the hands of thousands of people–instantly capturing their attention–would have felt as though you had achieved some level of technical wizardry. Funnily enough, this is precisely what push notifications still enable us to do, yet they seem to have taken a back seat in recent years. Some might even question whether push notifications are still effective?
The simple answer is yes! Sending a push notification to your school app can be incredibly effective if used within the right context. First, let’s look at a quick recap on how push notifications work and what they aim to achieve. The main objective for any push notification is to instantly deliver a snippet of urgent information to app users, encouraging them to engage with the app to find out more.
The reason push notifications are so effective is because they can be sent instantly by app publishers at any time, even if a user doesn’t have the app open. These handy messages look like a text message, but they can only reach people who have actually downloaded your school app. If you’re wondering when sending a push notification might be useful, here are just some of the ways we’ve seen schools leverage them:
- Health warnings
- Weather warnings
- Grade releases
- Sport cancellations
- Safety notices
- Event changes
- Public holiday reminders
Push notifications are a handy school app feature, but like any good thing, you don’t want to over-use it. While there isn’t a written rule about how often you should send push notifications, keep a little common sense in mind. For best practice, save push notifications for urgent, timely information that needs to get into your parents hands ASAP! Consider your other communication channels first and then decide whether your content warrants the urgency of a push notification.
Features of a great school app
Mobile apps vs. responsive school websites
“If my school website is already mobile-optimized, do I really need to consider a mobile app too?”
This is a great question, and one that we’ve run into once or twice before. While providing a mobile-friendly user experience for your school website is essential, websites and school apps serve two, very different purposes. Like many businesses, schools have two distinct markets: prospective families and existing school communities.
For a lot of prospective families, your school website is often the first point of contact they have with your brand. Your website plays a significant role in informing prospective families about your school, highlighting your unique selling proposition (USP), and is used as a tool to nurture them toward enrolment. Your existing community, on the other hand, is looking for ways to feel connected and engage with your school on a deeper level. This is an essential part of building any long-lasting relationship.
The key difference between a responsive school website and a school app, is the level of engagement it provides to your existing community. Unlike your school website, the content available on your school app should have an extra layer of exclusivity and intimacy. Your school app will be a daily source of information and news for your community that runs much deeper than what’s included on your school website.
Developing a school app
You know, it’s true what they say, behind every great app is an even better team of (Digistorm) developers and UX designers. The process to build a new Digistorm App kicks off by sitting down with the client to get a deeper understanding of their unique communication needs, review existing communication channels, and set some key goals for the school app.
From here, it’s all about choosing the right app modules that will help clients meet their communication needs. We’ve mentioned newsletters and notices, but there’s a bunch of other app modules to choose from including; Calendar, Absentee, and Timetables.
Next, the Design team creates an app wireframe to ensure that it’ll be intuitive and easy-to-use across all mobile devices. During this stage, our development team also provides input to ensure that all of the chosen app modules fit together and work seamlessly with any Learning Management System (LMS) or Student Information System (SIS) integrations that have been requested.
Finally, let’s talk about the school app design.
At Digistorm, we believe that a school app should be an extension of your brand, which is why all Digistorm Apps are custom-branded. When your school community heads over Google Play Store or App Store to download your school app, your branding should be front and centre. To achieve this, all of your school app’s visual elements need to draw on your existing brand guidelines, so it’s important to provide these at the start of your school app project. Not only does this help to strengthen brand awareness and recognition within the school community, but it also ensures that your school app is an extension of your broader communication channels.
Getting people to download your school app
Planning a school app launch
Once a school app has been developed, the challenge is getting your school community to actually download your app. With any new technology or communication channel, adoption takes time. In our experience, many schools notice a big spike in interest upon launch, and then a bit of a slump once the excitement decreases.
Make no mistake, building your school app is only half of the process – the other half? Getting the word out! An effective school app launch is the key ingredient in ensuring that your app is successful. We recommend taking the time to plan a strategic launch, well ahead of your school app’s go-live date. To get started, outline all of the ways your new school app will help improve communication for your community.
Are the parents at your school time-poor? Speak to your new app's time saving abilities. Are they bogged down with too many communication methods? Highlight how the app helps to narrow down all your channels into one. Do they miss key pieces of information because their child doesn't pass it along? Provide details about how the app provides instant notifications straight from your school to their phone.
Be clear about the benefits of downloading your school app and show your community how the app adds value to their overall experience with your school. Once you have your benefit clearly articulated, convey that message across your website, social media channels and email with a clear call-to-action to download the app.
Understanding school app data
With your school app in full-swing, it’s time to dive into the data to understand how and when your community is engaging with your app. While most school apps will provide some basic information around downloaded data and app installs, what you really want to do is jump into Google Analytics to learn even more about user behaviour.
Here are just some of the data points you’ll be able to access in Google Analytics:
- The number of users accessing your school app
- What type of device users are accessing your school app on (Android or iOS)
- What modules are being used most within your school app
- A live snap-shot of user activity
All Digistorm App customers can rest assured that our school apps come with Google Analytics already set up and installed for you. With greater visibility over this information, your marketing and communication teams will be able to see what content is resonating with your community and when they’re most likely to engage with your school app so you can plan updates accordingly.
How a Digistorm App can help
Earlier this year, we sat down with the team at Ambrose Treacy College, a Catholic College for boys located in Indooroopilly, Queensland. The team partnered with Digistorm back in 2016 with a vision to streamline the way they communicate with their community through a school app. Now that their school app is in full-swing, we wanted to get the inside scoop to learn more about their experience since implementing a Digistorm App.
As many schools will relate, communication prior to implementing the Digistorm App meant emails – and a lot of them! With email as the primary channel of communication, parents were often bombarded with several emails a day and as we mentioned earlier, communication gaps started to appear. Since implementing a custom-branded Digistorm App, Ambrose Treacy College have achieved over 7,500 app downloads. For their team, being able to communicate with their entire community has been a ‘game changer.’ In the past six months alone, the Ambrose Treacy school app has received over 222,003 views.
“From a back-end point of view, it's very simple for us to queue up, add content, and send out notifications with the click of a button means that our community can get the timely information that they need, on the right schedule” – Sebastian Tabulo, Director of IT.
Congratulations! You’re now up to speed on everything you need to know about getting started with a school app. Thinking about taking the next step? See what a Digistorm App can do for your school by booking a one-on-one Digistorm App demo with one of our friendly team members.