19 tech tools recommended by in-the-trenches communicators

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 7.30.05 PMIdentifying best practices and new trends are reasons enough to network with others in your field.

Networking generates ideas for  fresh new ways of doing things, which can result in a competitive edge, as well as a more vibrant and valuable social circle.

Because of the nice response to the recent summer reading suggestions sent in by a dozen school communicators, I’ve circled back again and asked a few more experts to share their favorite tech tool.

It’s my hope their A-List offerings will enhance your productivity and create more free time for you.

Sara DeVries

Sara DeVries

Sara DeVries: Basecamp makes it easy for people in different roles with different responsibilities to communicate and work together, which is why Sara, public relations director at Herrick District Library in Holland, Mich. uses it to organize projects that include several people and require multiple tasks. She said she considers Basecamp indispensable because it’s a place to share files, have discussions, collaborate on documents, assign tasks, and check due dates. A 60-day free trial period is available. After that, Basecamp will cost you at least $20 a month. More information is available at basecamp.com.

Basecamp stores everything securely and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere. helps me manage all the timelines and tasks for different PR projects we are working on, including assigning tasks to colleagues and approving their drafts.

Karen McPhee:  The, education policy adviser to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and former superintendent of the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District, says a powerful search engine is a communications leader’s best ally. “This might seem like a ‘duh’,” Karen said, “but understanding where and how to find reliable information quickly is essential.” Google is Karen’s favorite search engine because she knows how it responds and how deeply she’s need to dig into the search results to discover what she needs.

Karen McPhee

Karen McPhee

McPhee  also recommends that school communicators try a “read it to me” news service like Umano. This app gives you an audio versions of the day’s top print news stories and articles from leading print sources. plus articles that have been recommended by listeners. It also offers a selection of audiobooks. Karen says having news read to her in short spurts while she’s transitioning from one activity to another helps her keep up with what’s happening in the world.

“A world view is the hallmark of a communications leader in any industry,” Karen said.

Tom Gould

Tom Gould

Tom Gould: As director of Howell Public Schools in Michigan, Tom has occasion to write in different styles. But when he’s writing a press release, his aim to write in perfect Associated Press style so print media outlets don’t have to clean-up his copy. Tom says he runs AP StyleGuard, a plug-in for Microsoft Word, in the background as he writes. If breaks an AP style rule (like spelling out February instead of using out the Feb. abbreviation), the app flags it and asks whether he’d like to change that to AP style. AP StyleGuard costs $39 per year.

Although it’s more of service than an app, Tom also recommends using Help a Reporter Out, also known as HARO. Reporters enter queries looking for sources with expertise in certain areas. He answers queries in which he can recommend an excellent source. This is how a Howell Public Schools gym teacher was quoted in a recent Parents Magazine article.

Dave Tchozewski

Dave Tchozewski

Dave Tchozewski: The primary software on Jenison (Mich.) Public Schools’ technology director’s  “Must Have” list are  Google Apps for Education. This absolutely free suite of software (email, calendar, docs, sheets, slides, and more) are how Dave said he gets work done.  These productivity tools work on any computer, any tablet and any smartphone. The most important part of the package may be Google Drive, a file storage and synchronization service created and managed by Google. It allows users to store documents in the cloud, share files, and edit documents with collaborators. Users do have to access Google Apps for Education through the domain of a registered educational institution.

Ron Koehler

Ron Koehler

Ron Koehler: The assistant superintendent of the Kent Intermediate School District (Mich.) agrees with Dave Tchozewski about Google Apps. ”They’ve become so commonplace that a huge gap would exist if they were no longer available,” Ron said. However, in the interest of full disclosure, Ron believes it’s important that users, and would-be users, recognize and remember that Google collects and markets some personal information in exchange for the free use of their apps.

Stephanie Tuttle

Stephanie Tuttle

 Stephanie Tuttle: The app this Grand Rapids (Mich.) attorney wouldn’t want to live without is just for fun: Trivia Crack. It’s a platform for playing trivia games online with players worldwide. Stephanie’s go-to app for professional purposes is FastCase, an online law library database that allows her to conduct legal research in every jurisdiction in the United States, for both state law and federal questions. There are 12 different ways to search and results are populated in a Google-esque fashion with the the most relevant sources placed at the top of the results list. “I have often used this in situations where I’m negotiating a settlement out of the office, or having discussions with other attorneys outside of a courtroom setting,” Stephanie said. FastCase is affordable when compared to other legal research services. A free trial subscription is offered. It’s possible to subscribe month-to-month. An annual subscription to the premium service costs just under $1,000 per year.

School Communicator Gerri Allen

Gerri Allen

Gerri Allen:

This Detroit-area public relations consultant uses radio apps and news tracking services in an attempt to stay abreast of trending stories. “It’s always important to scan the environment for the next big thing that could impact the schools,” Gerri said. Fortunately, there are a lot of good apps in this category. National Public Radio has a good app for mobile devices. Stitcher provides a user-friendly interface for keeping up with favorite radio programs.

Gerri also recommends Dropbox  as a safe, low-cost way of sharing, syncing and storing files in the cloud. A free trial is available.

Kate Snyder

Kate Snyder

Kate Snyder: “Staying up-to-date on current affairs is the most critical part of my job,” says Kate, principal strategist at Piper & Gold Public Relations in Lansing, Mich. “My must-have apps are those that help me stay up-to-speed on local news,” Kate said. The ones she uses most are the  Michigan Radio app, which allows her to live-stream a Michigan NPR-affiliate on her mobile devices, and apps from MLivewhich allow her to tap into news by metropolitan areas.

Linda Wacyk

Linda Wacyk

Linda Wacyk: Communications director for the Michigan Association of School Administrators first used TweetDeck to monitor Twitter traffic in multiple hashtags at a professional conference. It made following conversations in real-time so much easier! Unfortunately, if you’re  not working on a desktop or laptop computer, you’re better off using HootSuite, a Twitter management tool which has mobile applications. The free version of HootSuite allows the user to manage up to five different social profiles.

Rob Pocock

Rob Pocock

Rob Pocock: Email is the most useful technology tool, the world around, says SCN this SCN contributor and former vice president of communications for Spectrum Health (Mich.). Rob says his favorite apps are the ones he uses socially to keep in touch with family and friends: Facebook, Instagram and FaceTime. His affection for visual media didn’t surprise me, since I know that Rob and his wife Cindy are new grandparents.

Kym Reinstadler

Kym Reinstadler

Kym Reinstadler: The cybersphere is glowing with great apps, but I’d be hard-pressed to name one more useful to me than Evernote. Years ago, my life was littered with scraps of paper on which I’d scrawl notes to myself of things I wanted to remember. For quick reference, I’d impale these notes on one of two spindles that sat on my desk. One spindle was for my personal life and the other was for my professional life. One day, two male colleagues seized my spindles and had a sword fight in the newsroom! That’s when it dawned on me that I was being dumb having my three kids’ Social Security numbers — and other important information that I’d hate to flutter away — on spindle that could be commandeered as a play toy.

Evernote is in infinitely better solution. The free version has all the features I need but there’s also a premium version.

I can take a digital note. I can group the notes into topical notebooks. I can instantly access those notes from my Evernote account from any device anywhere that I happen to be.

Evernote makes me look sharp, without a pointy spindle!

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