The COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to move quickly and adjust their normal routine to create a stabilized learning environment for students. Part of the strategy for most schools was the use of crisis communications. In short, this method of communication is the way an organization communicates and disseminates information to constituents during events that pose a risk to its organizational structures and protocols.
As the virus wreaked havoc around the world, some schools had detailed crisis communication plans in place, while others struggled to adequately inform students, families, faculty and staff on the most up-to-date information regarding closures, remote learning and new cases of the virus.
One of the most useful tools that schools employed to disseminate information was their website. Below, we outline how your school can use WordPress to maximize reach and inform the community with your digital presence.
Before we jump into how websites can be used during times of crisis communications, it’s important to list the kinds of crises a school may face. A few to note include:
- Extreme Weather
- Closing of School
- Bus Wrecks
- Bomb Threats
- Healthcare Emergencies
- School Shootings
How to Use Your Website for School Crisis Communications
Since educational institutions adopted digital technologies decades ago, websites have become an essential hub for providing information. Fast forward to today and schools are using websites as a central location and delivery platform for crisis communications. Below we outline how they are using or can use websites in this regard:
1. Dedicated Page
Today, it’s common for schools to publish a page on their website that serves as a permanent location for when emergencies occur and crisis communication is vital. Even when there are no active crises, the page can prompt visitors to sign up to receive future communications and instructions on what actions to take when these situations do occur. These pages can have a location in the website architecture, then can be prominently displayed on the homepage and other locations. In short, your crisis communication page is your hub for information, no matter where and how it is disseminated.
2. Banners and Popup Boxes
Once you have created a dedicated crisis communications webpage, there are multiple ways to draw a visitor’s attention to it. One option, aside from a prominent navigation location, is the use of banners. These website elements give you the flexibility to display information in a way that is hard to miss. Options include a block at the top of your homepage that displays the latest information and link to your dedicated page. Text in these blocks is easily changed if you are using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress.
Another option is popup boxes. These are displayed on school websites and overlay webpages. They are particularly useful when the crisis communication to be disseminated is particularly urgent and the intent is for visitors to get that information above all other.
3. Email and SMS Alerts
Email and SMS alerts are vital ways to communicate to the public during times of crisis communication. This is especially true when schools wish to push information out to students, faculty, staff and families quickly, when information dissemination is critical.
Your audience members can simply sign up for these alerts on your website. Remind and Schoolmessenger are two example services that can integrate with school websites to manage email and SMS communication and push notifications when urgent news is published.
Interactive calendars on the homepage and throughout your website can serve as a great place to highlight events, presentations, Zoom calls and other functions related to crises at your school. To make it even easier, WordPress plugins allow the community to add your school’s events to their personal Google Calendar or iCal as a reminder.
A video speech or presentation given by a school leader can serve as a great way to inform the public about the latest developments on your campus. With today’s technology and devices like smartphones, it doesn’t have to be a major burden or production to create.
In fact, a video shot on a smartphone can humanize the speaker and give viewers a sense of relatability. Simply shoot a video, upload it to YouTube or other video platform, grab the embed code and place it on the page where you want it to appear. This video can be repurposed for email, social media and other places where applicable to get maximize exposure.
6. Social Media
With the ubiquitous nature of social media these days, it’s important to have a presence on multiple platforms. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter or others, schools have an opportunity to communicate with users who engage with these channels on a regular basis. To do so, schools can choose from multiple plugins that allow you to connect and directly share from your WordPress CMS to official school social accounts.
There is also a built-in WordPress option under the Tools section that allows schools to optimize and share posts/pages to social as well. Lastly, schools should add social “share” buttons on all pages where visitors can spread the news on their own networks.
7. Chats and Chat Bots
These two options allow visitors to gather information in an on-demand environment. In chats, visitors can ask questions regarding school crises and receive immediate responses. If a chat administrator is not immediately available, visitors can leave a message and email address, and their question or comment will be answered later.
A Chat Bot is a software application that uses artificial intelligence and gathers data from the users. Based upon the user’s question, Chat Bots then provide webpages and other information that are relevant to the user query.
Most live chat and chat bot services integrate easily with WordPress and can be added to sites with just a few clicks.
8. Help Desk
Finally, community members can gather crisis communication information through an online help desk or just a simple contact form. Schools can set up multiple pages and populate them with forms where users can ask questions or request information. It’s also wise to include a phone number on your help desk pages for those web visitors who simply prefer to give you a call.
9. The Team
Crisis communication teams will vary from school to school based upon size, the crisis at hand, available personnel and other factors. However, to maximize your crisis communications efforts, schools should take a couple of measures into consideration. They include, but are not limited to:
- Defining Goals – Schools should define what it is they want to accomplish with their website during these times. This includes crisis communication pages, emails, texts, social media and other platforms.
- Personnel – Schools should appoint multiple employees that have the digital skills to post information on your website and disseminate it through multiple routes. Having a crisis web team will allow you to communicate to the public in a 24/7 crisis environment.
- Chain of Command – Including web/communication specialists in your plan is essential. In fact, having a direct line between your web team and those accountable for approved messages is a must.
- Practice and Training – Schools should practice crisis communications to ensure they are ready when messages are necessary. This includes making sure your web team is prepared for these times and is familiar with the latest WordPress updates.
The WordPress Solution
Selecting a website platform is an important task for schools to undertake. Your website is an essential tool for times of crisis communication, as well as during normal school operations.
WordPress can provide you all the options you need to meet crisis communications challenges by allowing your school to disseminate information from your website to other digital channels.
In fact, WordPress powers just about 40 percent of all websites in the world that use a content management system, including these K-12 schools.
At CampusPress, we’re experts in bringing innovative web solutions to K-12 schools through WordPress and our wide range of out-of-the-box and custom plugins and products.
In fact, our services in accessibility, security, hosting, support, along with an extensive suite of other tools, power millions of education websites, blog networks and portfolios.