This is the year I’m going to figure out what to do with Twitter and Facebook from a school communications perspective.
Last year, my district–Guilford County Schools (GCS) in Greensboro, N.C.–added a blog, podcasts, and news clips to its web site and started live video streaming of school board meetings. Now, we’re adding web-based digital telephone service so school board members can patch in while out of town without incurring long-distance telephone charges.
Like many districts, however, concerns about security have sharply curtailed our use of social media outside of TeacherTube and other education-oriented fare.
On an experimental level, we’ve tried a few things, such as posting a video of the superintendent launching the district’s new strategic plan on YouTube and creating a LinkedIn site to keep district "friends" apprised of state budget cuts.
It’s too early to tell whether these efforts will yield much communications benefit, although there is always value in demonstrating that a district knows how to use new and emerging technologies wisely.
Talking about technology isn’t nearly as convincing as using it. How can districts lay claim to world-class standards without demonstrating proficiency in 21st-century communication tools?
My theory is that by the time my one-year-old grandson starts kindergarten, using social media as part of the school communications toolbox will become standard practice.
How else will we reach my son and daughter-in-law, and the millions of other young parents just like them, when school eMails get filtered out at their work sites and they don’t have landline phones?
While using this stuff is still new to me, it’s old hat for them. All their friends have Facebook sites. They share photos of my grandchild via Shutterfly and they don’t subscribe to the daily newspaper, even though both are college-educated professionals. They also shun landline phones as hopelessly outdated.
Many universities already use Facebook for student recruitment and to stay in touch with alumni with great success, so there should be some lessons we can learn from our higher-education colleagues.
So, here’s my game plan for mastering Twitter and Facebook from a school communications perspective. If you’d like to learn along with me, send me an eMail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll hook you up to my sites.
In the meantime, here’s what we plan to do at GCS. Consider these our "New Media Resolutions for a New School Year":
• Use Twitter to track legislative issues at the state level and keep school board members and other constituents informed.
• Build on the LinkedIn page we started to keep community liaisons informed about state budget cuts to boost school voluntarism and donations.
• Experiment with using Facebook and LinkedIn for teacher recruitment, especially for critical need areas such as mathematics, science, technology, foreign languages, and special education.
• Monitor chat rooms periodically to find out what’s buzzing online about GCS, and use the "intel" as an early warning system about simmering issues that could easily spark into full-blown crises.
• Add RSS feeds to new media components we’ve placed on the web this year, including district-produced news clips, video casts, and podcasts.
• Determine whether "tweets"–those one-sentence "what are you doing right now" blasts that mirror telegrams of old–have a role in crisis communications.
• Measure what’s working, what’s not, and why via online surveys and other research tools.
With cheap survey tools like SurveyMonkey and free web site analytics from Google and other providers, there’s really no excuse for not doing some form of communications research.
We just did a baseline survey of employees to get their input regarding various GCS communication channels using K-12 Insight, an online tool.
The results were enlightening, and they’ve pointed out things we need to work on–from making information easier to find on our web site to increasing the frequency of our employee eNewsletter.
While seminars and courses are helpful in learning how to use these new communications tools, curiosity, experimentation, and a good network of colleagues who are willing to share ideas and practical tips will probably yield better results–and will cost less, too.
So stay tuned, and let us know what you’re up to in the new media world. See you on Twitter!