I see a lot of schools and districts launch mobile apps during the back-to-school season. New year, new app is a great strategy. However, when I read an article about Grand Forks Public Schools in North Dakota achieving 800 downloads just a few days after launch, I had to hear their story.
Tracy Jentz, Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator at Grand Forks, took some time to calm my curious mind about their outstanding accomplishment. Below is an excerpt from our conversation, with some launch tips that can apply to every district.
Q: Why was a mobile app important to your district?
A: A mobile app was on our radar but wasn’t something we had taken on quite yet. Then when we did the research, we saw over 75 percent of parents have smartphones, and that over 80 percent of mobile users spend their time on apps compared to the mobile web. Even though we have great websites that are branded and clean and organized, we knew that if we really wanted to get information into the hands of our families and community members, a mobile app was the way to go.
Q: How did you decide what information to include in your app?
A: Our families told us that having a one stop shop was important. We’re making sure we have lunch menus, absences, and attendance. And they will be able to contact teachers, so we’re trying to have that one spot where we can direct families to go for that information.
Q: You had 800 app downloads shortly after launching. How did you drive people to the app?
A: It all happened in about a week. We were ready to launch for about a month and a half but waited until back-to-school which was the perfect time. We had a few other things launching at the same time, so we released the app first and then put the other launch announcements in the app. That way when people downloaded the app, it would be the first place to hear about other things too. It has really been driving people to the app to get new information.
Blackboard has so many great materials. It was going through everything in your launch guide piece by piece, then tailoring it to us. We made graphics with screenshots of the app homepage and our information – which only took about 30 minutes. Then we created a communications plan. We wanted to share it with our administrators and school board first. At the end of that same week we introduced it to our staff. We gave them a two-page document that described what the app was, where to download it, and a short description of each button within the app.
We waited a day and put a teaser on social media for the community. It was a “coming soon” image that said check this out, stay tuned for more information. I believe it was two days later that we officially launched it on our social media and shared it with families. We essentially did the same messaging as with our staff. They received the same two-page document and we asked them to please share the news.
In addition, we did a news release on the first day of school. So, we had that excitement and knew people were going to be looking for information, especially the media as they like to have a unique take on back-to-school. We’ve received great media coverage, including an article in the newspaper, and a TV reporter came out on the next day and did an interview. It’s been creating more information and more opportunities for people to hear about it.
Q: What feedback have you gotten from parents so far?
A: Our parents really like the Google Calendar integration. They are saying it’s nice to get reminders about locations and times of events. And it’s easy for us to make changes, too, because the app updates automatically. I’ve also heard from parents that it’s a one stop shop mentality. They don’t have to go back and look for something on a website or in an email, it will come directly to their phone.
Q: Do you have a goal for how many downloads you’d like?
A: I did initially, and then it surpassed my imagination! We were hoping to hit 800 by the winter season, but now I’m not even sure what to guess for another goal. I know we will come up with more plans and some unique ways to put things on the app first, like winter weather, to get people to download it.
Q: What advice would you give to another school or district looking to launch their app?
A: I would say the first thing that they should do when they’re thinking about launching an app is doing their research on some of the following:
- What does my community want?
- How can I customize it for my community?
- What buttons should we add?
What works for our district community is going to be a little bit different than somewhere else in the country. There are so many things available on the app, just knowing your community and getting their input can really help.
If you already have a district mobile app and need some help refreshing your downloads and usage, check out our other blog titled, 3 reasons your district mobile app is failing and how to fix it. Or, if you’re in the market for a mobile app, read our evaluation guide for ten key considerations to keep in mind when searching for a provider.