Donovan Group Insights

Productive Communication: What’s the Purpose of Your Message?

Communication is important. It keeps stakeholders in the loop and improves your district’s relationship with the school community. Many district leaders know about the importance of communication, but a smaller number of them know how to do it well. Communication alone isn’t enough—it always needs to serve a purpose.

District leaders are so busy producing content that few stop to ask themselves why they’re creating it in the first place. Communication is your chance to work toward the district’s goals. And to do that, you have to consider all sorts of factors, such as the target audience, the underlying message and the way people will receive it. Create content with these factors in mind, and your communication efforts will become much more productive.

Communication needs a purpose

Communicating with stakeholders comes with many benefits. Consistent communication builds stakeholder trust and establishes your district as a credible source of information. It strengthens stakeholder relationships and earns their support during tough times. District leaders believe they can achieve all this and more simply by communicating.

But it’s a bit more complicated than that. District leaders shouldn’t just communicate to communicate. Communication needs to be consistent, but it needs to have a purpose, too. District leaders achieve very little by posting content without a purpose behind it. You should create every piece of content with a goal, audience and key takeaway in mind. Otherwise, you’ll have a hard time engaging your stakeholders.

Aside from the content itself, you need to think about who will be receiving it. If you try to communicate with everyone, you’ll end up communicating with no one. It wouldn’t be very effective if you wrote one message and sent it to every stakeholder in your school community. Various groups exist within your community, and they absorb information in different ways. You have to think about how different groups consume content and which channels of communication they prefer the most.

Outline your communication goals

Before you start creating content, identify a few goals you want to achieve with it. Write down a short list of three to five goals for your district’s communication efforts. The school board should review and agree with these goals as well. Next time you’re about to post a photo, video or update, ask yourself this: “What’s the goal behind this piece of content?” The content should meet at least one of the goals on your list.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. One district’s goals might be entirely different from your own. It all comes down to your district’s strong suits and areas that need improvement. Maybe you want to focus on increasing enrollment or aligning internal stakeholders with the district’s mission. You might even consider engaging community members who aren’t directly involved with your district. You could strive for any combination of these goals as long as the right content is posted in the right places.

Goal setting is a good first step toward creating content with purpose. Rather than communicating for the sake of communicating, goal-oriented content will make your communication efforts worthwhile. Every piece of content is an opportunity to achieve something, even if it’s just a group of photos from a recent school function. Content is so much more than what stakeholders see on the surface.

Define the message behind your words

To communicate effectively, you have to think beyond the words themselves. Some district leaders make the mistake of creating content without thinking about the big takeaways for their stakeholders. What’s even more important than the content itself is what your stakeholders get out of it. Ask yourself, “What am I trying to say? What messages do I want to get across?” Answering those questions can help you create content that serves a greater purpose than simply communicating with stakeholders.

Whether it’s an email, parent letter or talking points for an interview, everything you write should start with a bulleted list of key messages you’re going to incorporate into the content. Once you’ve identified those big takeaways, the next step is to generate language that communicates them in a way that resonates with stakeholders. It’s crucial to have a few key messages in mind because they’ll help you figure out exactly what you want to say.

Now more than ever, stakeholders are consuming large amounts of content online. By identifying your big takeaways, stakeholders will be more likely to remember what you said long after viewing the content. Effective messaging can positively influence stakeholders’ perception of your district. It can also help you win over their trust, support and respect. No matter what the content is, your key messages always have to shine through.

Speak to the appropriate stakeholders

Many stakeholder groups make up your school community—students, staff, parents, non-parents and so on. You may want them all to receive the same message. However, these groups often prefer to receive messages in different ways. Try to avoid creating content that’s aimed at the entire community. Instead, ask yourself this question: “Who am I talking to?” This will help you determine not just what to say, but how to say it and where to post it.

Think about how and where specific stakeholder groups get their information. For example, many parents are content with receiving school updates via email. However, some might prefer a letter sent home with their children, especially if they have limited access to an internet connection. If an incident occurs within your district, some stakeholders will look for a news release, while others might prefer a video message straight from you. Use a variety of channels to make sure your message reaches everyone it needs to.

Tailoring content to each specific group takes time, energy and research. But in doing so, you can reach a wider audience and increase your chances of connecting with stakeholders. Tailored messages won’t reach everyone, but they’ll resonate much more strongly with the people they do reach.

Think of how you want people to react

Stakeholders will always have some sort of reaction to your district’s content. Even ignoring a piece of content counts as reacting to it. When you create content, one big question to ask yourself is, “How do I want people to react?” You can’t control how people will react, but you can make content that works toward a certain outcome. Considering stakeholders’ potential reactions will help you make content that achieves your communication goals.

For instance, maybe your district has a referendum coming up on the ballot. In this case, you would create a campaign that encourages stakeholders to vote in favor of the referendum. Maybe you’re focused on boosting your district’s image in the public eye. You could post photos, videos and stories that make stakeholders feel welcome in your school community. No matter what the content is, make sure you create it with a desired reaction in mind.

Communication is great, but if it doesn’t serve a purpose, there’s little use in communicating with stakeholders at all. Again, district leaders shouldn’t communicate just to communicate. You have to consider who’s viewing the content, what you’re trying to say and how you want stakeholders to react to it. Make your district’s communication efforts count for something!

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