How to fight back against devastating budget cuts


While social media networks won’t replace grassroots advocacy, the blogosphere is a powerful tool for informing and mobilizing constituents.

From President Obama’s success in galvanizing the youth vote to the recent toppling of a 40-year dictatorship in Egypt, social media networks have become the new public square. To make sure their voices are heard, educators need to learn how to negotiate this new medium successfully.

According to a 2010 study of social media use, 23 percent of corporations listed on the Fortune 500 have blogs, 60 percent have Twitter accounts, and 56 percent have Facebook sites geared toward public consumption. These efforts are characterized by frequent postings, quick replies to consumer questions, online discussions, and subscription options via eMail or RSS feeds.

“These large and leading companies drive the American economy and, to a large extent, the world economy,” writes Nora Ganim Barnes, the study’s author. “Their willingness to interact more transparently via these new technologies with stakeholders is clear. It will be interesting to watch as they expand their adoption of social media [networks] and connect with their constituents in dramatically new ways.”

Read other recent columns from Nora Carr:

Recognizing the warning signs for teen bullying, suicide

Can eBooks help bridge achievement gaps?

Demographic shifts require changes in school communication

How to avoid committing social media gaffes

How to tailor your school site for mobile web users

Few industries shape the future more than public schools, yet unlike their corporate brethren, school leaders have largely been slow to adopt these new tools.

If educators are going to win back the hearts and minds of the public in support of public schools, they need to learn how to engage social media networks successfully.

Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in New Milford, N.J., is using social media networks extensively to keep teachers, parents, and students informed and build pride in the school.

From emergency weather alerts and athletic score updates to news about student honors, staff accomplishments, and school events, Sheninger posts information daily.

“Many people in education are reluctant to get involved with social media. I know, because I was one of them,” says Sheninger, citing frequent postings and transparency as social media fundamentals. “However, using social media to communicate has made me more efficient and effective as a high school principal.”

Sheninger might be on to something. NorthSocial, which offers a customized Facebook application, estimates the value of every “fan” at $137, while Syncapse, a social media management firm, pegs it at $136. For a comprehensive school like New Milford, 500 fans would represent roughly $68,000—a pretty healthy rate of return on a minimal investment of time.

For a school district like North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools, which—with more than 4,100 fans—has outpaced the local daily newspaper’s blog, the value rises to nearly $570,000.

More importantly, according to Syncapse research, 28 percent of consumers are more likely to use a product or service if the company has a Facebook site, and 68 percent of fans are very likely to give a favorable recommendation. Fans are also more likely to feel connected to a brand, as compared to only 39 percent of non-fans.

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