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Developing and deploying Facebook for school districts

How school leaders can leverage Facebook to boost district visibility in the community

district-facebookThe Norris School District has deliberately cultivated a combined social media brand over the last several years by deploying multiple official district-managed Twitter feeds, and primarily by deploying a Facebook fan page.

Our school district is a system of about 2,100 students in southeast Nebraska. The district covers a wide geographic area and is a consolidated system serving students in seven small communities, as well as in rural areas just south of Lincoln, Neb.

It is our belief that having a vibrant, timely, and active social media presence has become an expectation of our constituents. For everything from the latest sports scores to school closures, our followers on Facebook access information online and share it with others–and it spreads the word and magnifies our presence as a district. When it comes to the realm of social media, our district’s parents and many of our constituents are active on Facebook.

Our Facebook page has now been “friended” by more than 2,000 separate users, including alumni, current students, parents, and others in our district population. The fact that a district our size has attained this level of followership indicates the potency of social media in penetrating a crowded information environment.

(Next page: Steps to make Facebook an integral part of your school district)

What have we done to make Facebook a functional arm of Norris District communications and information? Here is some of what’s worked in deploying and developing a Facebook following for our school district – and while acknowledging that information and communication solutions are best determined locally, we believe these offer broadly-applicable lessons for schools looking to expand their social media footprint:

End the paper parade

In many grade levels, we were sending a veritable avalanche of papers home weekly – many of which had little, if anything, to do with academic achievement or official school programming. However, local businesses, from daycare providers to activities promoters, wanted to reach the student population because they offered valuable services for kids and families.

Over the last several years, we have cut down on the paper parade by simply scanning and uploading images to a “flyers” section of our Facebook profile that serves as an electronic bulletin board or clearinghouse for local services and events, ranging from the next upcoming road race or charitable run for a cure or a kids’ camp offered over a fall break.

End the “Where is it on the website, again?” charade

Our district has a great website. That said, most users don’t want to go to the district website’s comprehensive archives to search for one item. We believe that if the hot topic is school supplies, a link to and information about school supplies should be posted on Facebook. Hundreds of parents will breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Keep it positive; keep it fun

The Facebook forum lends itself more to bumper-sticker sloganeering than philosophical treatises on education. It is not the place to wade into a lengthy policy debate. Instead, we use Facebook to promote the best brand possible for our district.

For us, that means featuring upbeat stories on student achievements along with exciting information about Norris activities–accomplishments from band contests to swimming competitions. We post relevant and current information, but we do not use it as an exchange for debating the merits of controversial policy proposals or decisions.

Don’t react, but always respond

The medium of Facebook provides an opportunity for instantaneous feedback from folks who view it as a nonthreatening means of conveying feedback. They share or react. This means that, inevitably, sometimes we are subject to criticism – and it is probably a given in school administration that whenever a decision is made, someone won’t be happy about it.

A parent doesn’t like the decision made on a snow day, for instance, or has a complaint about the lunch program. We manage the page and we don’t allow negative comments to linger. We remove the comment but not before we have noted the respondent and deployed our plan to follow up personally with a phone call or eMail. Almost universally, we have found that folks are awed by the follow-up and really appreciative of the personal touch.

Link it, don’t overthink it

We have made sure that our district Twitter feed is linked to our homepage, so that when a new article is posted, the Twitter feed links to the new content, and a link appears on our Facebook page announcing the arrival of new and noteworthy information on our website. It’s a good outreach combination to reach the widest audience possible and drive traffic back to the traditional district website.

Again, these are just some of the strategies that work with the ongoing social media integration in our school district. With most folks’ grandparents now on Facebook, we feel the discussion has evolved well beyond the point of arguing about the merits of Facebook and other social media platforms. Simply put, they are a necessary component of a comprehensive communication strategy for schools.

Dr. Skretta is the superintendent of the Norris School District in Firth, Neb. He has helped his district deploy a multi-platform tech plan incorporating iPads and Google chromebooks, and has steered the district’s commitment to technology infusion by identifying technology integration as one of the central elements of continuous professional development at Norris.

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