Having started in school communications using GeoCities for blogging and Adobe PageMaker for designing way back in 2000, I’ve had the opportunity to try SO many tools along the way and I have some favorites I wanted to share with you.
Ah, yes. The favorite of pretty much everyone working in schools. I’m sure many of you are already using Canva, but if you don’t know about the magic of this web-based program, let me share some info.
Canva is free a graphic design platform used to create social media graphics, presentations, posters, documents and other visual content. There is also a free Canva app and free Canva Photo Editor, which I use to quickly crop or edit photos instead of opening up Photoshop or paying for PicMonkey, a photo editing tool that used to be free.
From personal experience, the app is easy to use and I do a lot of creating on it. So much so that, in late 2019, I won a Canva design contest that gave me $2,000 to travel anywhere in the world with based on an animated GIF I created on my phone while waiting for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop meeting to wrap up. I’m not kidding–Canva hosts incredible contests for its users, so go sign up for your free account here.
There is also an option to upgrade to Canva Pro, for under $120/year. This is what I use to create templates for School Comms Lab members and it also gives users hundreds of thousands of additional stock photos, templates and fonts, along with the option to add in multiple brand color palettes (key for school districts where their schools use different colors).
As a communicator who has trained hundreds of school PR teams, webmasters and district administrators on accessibility and compliance, I remember how much money was spent getting audio recordings transcribed by an outside service or consultant.
Enter Happy Scribe.
Boy, oh boy, do I love Happy Scribe. I use the service to create English and Spanish transcripts for all of the videos in my School Comms Lab Membership Community. Eventually, I will add more languages, but it’s just amazing that, within minutes, I have 99% accurate transcripts ready to download in multiple formats.
What is also nice about Happy Scribe is that the pricing options include both transcription and subtitle work.
Get started on Happy Scribe for free by clicking here.
I’m a planner by nature and because I handle so many client social media accounts over at my agency, Holdsworth Communications, I needed to find a low cost or free social media management platform that I could set my clients up on and easily teach them how to use it.
I started using Planoly for my personal blog and found it incredibly intuitive with a nice visual platform, that I decided to sign my clients up for it as well, with their own accounts.
The free version of Planoly allows for two social media accounts and up to 30 uploads/month/account, which is perfect for me because I do like to leave room for spontaneity.
Solo, the next plan up, is a steal at $7/month, allowing unlimited uploads/month on one account and up to 30 on another account, which is perfect for most of my clients who aren’t posting more than once a calendar day.
Get started on Planoly for free by clicking here.
Yoast is a phenomenal SEO and optimization plug-in for WordPress sites and blogs. It enables you to optimize your posts and pages to get the best possible search results.
There is a free version and a Premium version. I use the free version on a number of sites, but for this website, I use the Premium version.
It’s basically like having an SEO expert in my back pocket. The plug-in enables me to manually change my meta descriptions and share screens; it pings me when content reaches six-months-old so I can freshen it up; it gives me suggestions on keywords to use and internal links to add; you get access to free courses and trainings; and, my favorite component is a visual “thermometer” that tells me if my manual meta descriptions need work or are good-to-go.
Keep in mind that this amazing plug-in is only available for WordPress sites. But, even if that means you can utilize the actual plug-in for your website or blog, you can still take advantage of some of Yoast’s in-depth trainings for free here.
I have been designing and building websites since the late 90s. Yep, I’m that old.
All of that aside, I’ve used more website platforms than I can count. But my favorite one that allows me to be the most creative and do it on my own? Showit.
Originally built for photographers and other creatives, Showit has become a fan favorite of industry influencers, businesses and now, schools. In fact, it’s the platform I built this site on AND my agency’s site, Holdsworth Communications:
Here’s the only downfall: I wouldn’t recommend it for large schools or districts? Why? Well, first of all, one of the best parts about Showit is that you can customize the desktop and mobile versions differently, giving you complete control on how you’re communicating your message. However, that being said, could you imagine having to edit both desktop and mobile sites for a school website with hundreds or thousands of pages?
But, if you are a smaller school, micro-school or district, you’re in need of a personal website or if you are a webmaster who believes less is more (yay!), Showit empowers you to let your creativity fly with fun components such as animated transitions, a customized brand style guide saved to your account, the easy ability to add pop-ups and quizzes for lead magnets and did I mention the design options are endless?
You can design a website from scratch, purchase a template to DIY your site ($0 – $1,200, with the majority in the $497 – $897 price range) or hire a designer for a few thousand and up. Showit even has a listing of vetted Showit designers (if you need recommendations, contact me).
Another great aspect of Showit is your blog is still on the WordPress platform, enabling you to use all of the great WP plug-ins to optimize your content such as Yoast and the Google Search Console.
Ah, Smore is so much fun! Not only is the company’s marketing on-point (I mean, what better mascot than a stuffed animal s’more?!), but they’re also doing a great job at providing low-cost communications tools for schools.
I actually never heard of Smore until I worked in a large public school district with 750 employees who all had weekly or monthly e-newsletters or event invites to send out to various audiences. It was a great tool to help them keep track of who opened the emails (versus just regular email) and who clicked through to the links provided.
For my large school district clients, I usually set them up with a Smore account, enabling schools and teachers to utilize the same platform (cutting down on the number of “How do I do this again?” questions) that’s easy-to-us and provides top-notch metrics.
However, if you’re looking to set up more complicated funnels, Smore is not the option for you…move on to the next tool.
If you’re into learning more about topics such as digital marketing, social media or coaching, I bet you’ve come across a Flodesk template.
Like Showit, Flodesk was built with creatives in mind, making it the perfect tool to disrupt admissions marketing in schools.
Well, why not?
If you have a distinct brand and you’re savvy enough to be able to set up things such as marketing automation funnels or lead magnets for your school or your own business, Flodesk is definitely worth checking out (and if you’re not, hire my agency to do these things for you!).
Creating funnels is SO easy in Flodesk. The templates are stunning and simple to edit, the visual builder allows you to move items around and, unlike some other email systems, Flodesk emails rarely end up in junk mail.
When I moved to Flodesk, my open rate shot up (and stayed) at more than 70%!
Flodesk is also pretty affordable when you consider it has the ability to create complex automation systems that work particularly well for admissions. For example, if someone fills out an admissions inquiry form on your website, the trigger of being added to a list can automatically generate and send out a personalized email to the person who inquired, thanking them for their interest, telling them more about your school, giving them links to check out and even showing photos and a welcome video. You can then set up another email to go out in, say, three days, with frequently asked questions and answers and an invitation to set up an appointment.
It also enables you to re-send emails to people who didn’t open your first message, which is a great feature seeing that so many people get stuck in email jail. This gets you to the top of the inbox.
Think about how much work that will take off of your plate! All for only $19/month when you use this link.
Grammarly, I love you. That is all.
In all seriousness, Grammarly has saved me from making SO many errors, especially when I’m working on a one-person project with a tight turnaround time.
The Chrome extension means Grammarly checks ALL of my work–from blog content to Canva designs to emails to Google Docs to Planoly and Pinterest posts, Grammarly has my back. And, at the end of each week, I get an email with my stats that include fun things such as the number of unique words I used, my most common errors and the top 10 tones of my emails.
I have a Premium Grammarly subscription which typically runs $140/year, but I purchased mine on a Black Friday special (same with Yoast), saving me about 40%. With that, I get 400+ different types of checks and features including vocabulary enhancement suggestions, plagiarism detection and citation suggestions.
The free plan is well-worth it, though, and I encourage you to try it out by signing up here.
I’m not a huge fan of stock photos for school branding and marketing campaigns (we have our own photographer and videographer over at Holdsworth Communications), but if you need some, head to Unsplash.
Personally, I like the search function and the variety of photos they offer that are appropriate for schools. Many of the photos on School Comms Lab actually came from Unsplash, so you can definitely find a few good ones without having to look too hard.
10. School Comms Lab
Last, but certainly not least is School Comms Lab. You just knew I had to mention this, right?
School Comms Lab grew out of a desire to help schools and education leaders communicate more effectively and creatively. As the idea took shape and the more research I did, my passion for serving schools only intensified.
Our membership program gives users hundreds of Canva and Adobe design templates, downloads, resources and extensive, on-demand trainings. I’ve spoken to school communicators and leaders around the world and, after spending two decades working in the field myself, created an easy-to-access, all-in-one program designed to not only provide tools for better communication, but the professional development training so many people need.
We’re not replacing the role of school communicator; instead, we’re elevating the importance of branding, marketing, engagement, strategy and communications within a school setting.
And, for those schools and districts that don’t have a communicator on staff and can’t afford to hire an agency, what better way to streamline your communications efforts than with School Comms Lab?
My goal with this post is to get you thinking outside the box when it comes to creativity in your school communications. Although there are a lot of tried and true platforms and tools in the education space, there is nothing wrong with checking out something new and perhaps, in your field, untested. I have, and I’ve won 24 industry awards for my work.
Let me know, in the comments below, what some of your favorite tools are and why. I’m always looking for new ones to test out.
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