Using WordPress for School Communications: A Tool Review
Schools are in the business of effective communication between the many stakeholders in education. Most schools manage multiple channels for communication. School websites, Facebook, Twitter, and Abre announcements all ensure folks receive important news from the school and the district.
This management of channels can get complicated for the folk involved in running communications. There are, of course, many ways to write, edit, and share news (indeed, I have a recipe for using Abre as a core aspect of communications over in the community site). A host of tools exist to assist the process. For this post I want to share a favorite (and common) tool for communications in schools: WordPress.
One of the holy grails of a communication center is to write once and then let the content flow to all necessary channels. I’ve personally found WordPress to come close to achieving this objective. Getting there requires some technical know-how (this isn’t necessarily a “works out of the box” solution), but once WordPress and the necessary plugins are active, the process can run smoothly.
What is WordPress?
WordPress is a content management system (CMS). It’s open-source, modular, and runs a good portion of the web (it’s extremely popular). Most importantly, you can customize WordPress to fit many organizational needs.
At its most basic level, WordPress consists of three components:
- WordPress Core files
- A Theme (which specifics how WordPress Looks)
- Plugins (applications within WordPress that add functionality)
You can decide to host WordPress on your server (be it dedicated, VPS, or shared hosting) or use WordPress.com (with does have some limitations). Don’t be too intimidated by hosting your version of WordPress. Many companies make this as simple as a few clicks.
How does WordPress Work?
Again, at a basic level, users write two main types of content.
- Pages: Content that stays relatively static.
- Posts: Content that is updated continuously. Think news, announcements, and the like.
The combination of pages and posts make up a website. You can get pretty creative with different post types and plugins (that incredible customization appears everywhere), yet pages and posts form the foundation of WordPress.
The Set Up
For this example, we’ll use the following theme and plugins.
While you can use any theme you want, I’m using the current WordPress default theme “2020”. I also highly recommend Generate Press. Generate Press is simple and has a clean code base.
Plugins are crucial to making this entire process work (the holy grail!).
PublishPress adds an editing workflow to your writing. You can write a news post, assign it to other editors, and then eventually publish after going through a series of checks and rechecks. PublishPress’s default workflow is pretty slick. Even better is that you can modify/create your own workflows to match your organization. Notifications are built into the plugin.
This plugin lets you track changes made in a post. This is pretty critical when you have multiple people editing content, as you can now track changes on a granular level.
Once you’ve written your content, you want to push it out to not just your website, but all your social networks as well. SNAP allows you to push content into Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
SNAP takes some technical skills as you must generate various API keys with the social networks. They provide excellent documentation, but you will need to get familiar with some developer counsels.
So what does this look like? Let’s break it down to a few steps.
Step 1: Write the Content
Login to a WordPress site and create the first draft.
Step 2: The Editing Process
Assign the draft to an editor. Fill out any other necessary fields (for example, due dates, theme, etc.).
Step 3: If Necessary, Compare Edits
During the editing process, you may need to compare edits.
Step 4: Social Media
In this example, I’m showing Twitter as I have it configured. But I could use a multitude of accounts created.
Geek Bonus: What About Other Communication Channels?
WordPress generates many feeds you can use in other communication channels. For example, an RSS feed is generated for all published content. Likewise, developers can use WordPress APIs to pull content into their applications. Developers have created integrations into such platforms as Twilio (an SMS application), Flipboard (a web magazine), and proprietary mobile apps.
WordPress is a viable solution for helping schools with communications. While it does require a level of technical skill, the final solution can send communications to a variety of channels.