Why Path Portal
New comm channels inspire a culture shift
Redeemer University serves just under 1,000 students in Hamilton, Ontario. They wanted to move away from a link farm portal and sending notifications to students through ListServ emails. Their pivot to Path (formerly Campus) was just in time for the global pandemic, creating an urgency to figure out the best practices for leveraging a system with omnichannel notifications.
We’d never had a centralized or coordinated approach to communications across our institution.
– Shannon McBride, Communications Manager
Shannon McBride, Redeemer’s Communication Manager, knew that introducing a new tool with more communication options could easily lead to overwhelming students. In addition, they had to acknowledge that people were accustomed to receiving communication from the university from one channel, and not all would be eager to transition to something new.
“We really had to consider how this would change, not only for receivers of messages but also for the senders of messages. We were obviously thrilled to have this new option, but we needed to consider what was needed for a transition period. For us, that meant considering when we needed to continue to push notices via email so that people who aren’t really using the app yet are encouraged to do so. We also had to find a balance for how often they would receive notices. Not just email, but in general.”
When you have a very limited number of ListServ administrators, there’s a natural gatekeeper for communications. It’s easy to understand when the last communication was sent, how similar it was to the current communication, and whether or not the audience has been overburdened. When you open up notification abilities to multiple administrators, they may not see what other departments are doing.
“We’d never had a centralized or coordinated approach to communications across our institution. Timing and quantity weren’t really given much thought prior to the implementation of the Path app. So we needed to consider all those things, as well as developing criteria for what actually needed to be sent via the notice function.
The Right Solution
What’s right amount of communication?
When it comes to communication, less is best.
If you’ve ever scheduled a reminder to workout during lunch, then consistently ignored that reminder, you’ll understand how easy it is to ignore alerts. The more you see something, the more tempting it is to either shut it off, unsubscribe, or ignore it.
At Path, we think of a communication pyramid. Push notifications, be it app notifications or SMS, should be used very sparingly. Those communications should be timely, relevant, and actionable.
Students should see, at most, two alerts or notifications every day (one in-app flag and one push notification). Push notifications are only used in true emergencies or when students need critical information. For example, if the health department changes COVID restrictions and in-person classes are canceled, this is a great time to use push notifications.
The information overload issue is significant, and especially in a pandemic where everything is very virtual.
– Shannon McBride, Communications Manager
Shannon’s team has a goal of reducing their daily notices to one or less. Right now, they have a standing daily push notification to prompt students to do their COVID health check form, so that goal is for the near future.
“We hope to max out at one a day on average, and hopefully even less than that.”
Communication & notice best practices
Shannon said it best:
“The information overload issue is significant, and especially in a pandemic where everything is very virtual.”
It’s critical to find a way to keep students informed without making them feel overwhelmed. When people are overwhelmed, they shut down. Institutions can and should take several steps to ensure they aren’t contributing to the sense of information overload students are feeling right now.
01 Revise Administrative Roles As Needed
When communication channels, such as Path Notices, are opened to a wider array of administrators, it’s a good time to review your existing roles and make changes as needed.
“We developed new roles for Notices. The reason for doing that was some staff should have access to send notices—just notices—and some staff have access to send notices and alerts. Those were mostly senior leaders in our organization or folks that dealt with security issues.”
02 Don’t Forget to Communicate Internally
When you send out a notice or alert, make sure you include internal staff and faculty who should be aware that their audience is getting a communication. When staff and faculty are left off of notices, they don’t get an accurate impression of how informed their student base is.
“We realized there were a number of key staff who needed to see communications. We created a role for them as well for a kind of carbon copy function, like in email. For example, people who needed to see communications being sent out to the student body were put in a CC Students role.”
03 Create Communications Guideline
Shanon’s team created a large procedural document to outline the different communication types and when to use them. As part of this detailed document, they produced a reference sheet with the top ten scenarios people were likely to run into with which type of communication to use. This helps both the delegated administrators who post the content and the people coming up with the requested content.
04 Create a Communications Group
Shannon’s team created a group for all of the notice and alert administrators. This created a forum where people could collaborate and see the volume of activity happening across different audiences. It’s also a great place to link to procedural pages or reference sheets.
“Under the resource tab in the group, we’ve included our notice sending criteria along with some of our other documentation around when it should be an alert or when it should be a group post. We’ve got some how-tos in there, some tips for notice senders and including a clear, concise subject line. Things like that.”
An added benefit is that Shannon has a centralized location to answer questions publically. “And the nice thing about that is I don’t have to answer questions individually. I do it on this group, and then everyone can see the answers in one place. Hopefully, that cuts out a bit of work for me too.”
05 Create a Communications Calendar
It’s difficult to keep people on the same page when it comes to streamlining communications. Shannon’s team created a simple spreadsheet for people to post their notices in advance. This gives them a way to push back when too many communications are scheduled for the same audience on a given day or a message isn’t urgent enough to warrant a notice or alert.
“We just created a simple spreadsheet with publish dates, notice subject, the audience that they’re intending to send to, and the delivery channel. It gives us the ability to see, ‘Okay, we’ve already got a notice going out this day about this topic to this audience, perhaps we can push out this other one to the next day, or a couple of days down the road.’ After only doing this for a couple of weeks, we’ve noticed the number of notices going out per day have drastically dropped.”
Organizations can use a spreadsheet, an editable page in Path, or a free project management application that allows them to map items out on a calendar. We encourage your organization to use whatever works best for your organization to provide a clear visual to people who request high-visibility communications.
“I think it’s just given all of our notice senders an awareness. ‘I’m not the only one sending a notice. My information may not be quite as important, or as necessary, or as timely, or as personal as someone else’s. And now I can see in the greater grand scheme of things where my information fits on those spectrums.’ It has been a good tool for us.”
06 Ask for Student Feedback
Utilizing surveys or a student focus group to get feedback is a great way to ensure your communications aren’t driving students to ignore your communications. Analytics are also helpful, but subjective feedback directly from end users is good to have.
Watch the entire session from the 2021 Better Together Conference here: