Always, always have a social media plan

Take a deep breath. Now let it out. It’s time to look at your social media plan for the year.

Are you on track? Have you put any of your plan in place? Do you even have a plan yet?

If you are part of a small office (like mine) you may not have yet taken to the time to evaluate your social media plan yet this year. So, let’s take the time today.

Your social media plan should be proactive, if you will. Often we find ourselves at the mercy of groups or clubs that want last minute posts about their event or fundraiser, or your coworker wants you to share a local business’ post about a discount that is going on today. How do you manage these last-minute requests?

Here are a few tips to ensure your social media plan is effective for both you, your schools and your community:

1. Schedule time for social media. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I think it is crucial to a successful social media campaign (or just general use of social media for your organization) to plan and make time. So, make time for it. Spend 20 minutes a week and schedule a month’s worth of content.

2. Set standards. You should have criteria on what makes it on your page, when it goes up and how often it is posted. Stick to this. While those days come up that you need to share last-minute information, remind those eleventh-hour requesters that you can better promote their event, story or fundraiser ahead of time. Ask them to post to your page or share the info earlier.

3. Have enough, but not too much. You should encourage consistency within your organization. One school should not have separate pages for all groups while another only has one page for the entire school. Find out what works best, how those pages are being used and create some uniformity. If you have too many pages (one for each club in a school, and for the parent organization, and for the afterschool tutoring, and for…you get it), people won’t know where to go to get information or will miss information. Uniformity will help with this.

4. Share and share alike. You are busy. Your campus staff is busy. If you are going to post about your elementary school’s fundraiser, check out their pages. They have probably already posted the info. Look at the comments. Are there any questions that needed to be answered? Any other info that needed to be included? No? Share away. If so, share the status and include the answer in your post. And remind others they can share your content as well.

Tell Me Again About this Social Media Thing

If you’re having a tough time convincing your administration team of the district’s need to have an official social media presence; allow faculty and staff to use social media while working; or (gasp) have a staff position dedicated to social media communication, here are some key metrics that speak volumes:

  • 72% of Internet users are active on social media.
  • 93% of marketers use social media (yes, your district is a marketer).
  • Social media use cuts across all age groups, including younger patrons with elementary age kids, mid-life parents with high schoolers, and senior citizens with great-grandchildren in your school.
  • Social media usage keeps growing and growing and…

There are tons of statistics like these (and more details are available in this infographic from Jeff Bullas), but the point is that this social media thing is not a fad. It’s a serious force that needs to be a vital part of your communication mix. Be sure to mine this data and be prepared to make your case.

5 Tips for “Designing” Perfect Social Media Posts

I’m a graphic designer, and the main goal of that job is designing information in a way that it is most easily understood, attracts attention and makes audience members do something. In the case of social media, the “design” of your content includes the words you use, number of words, punctuation, emojis, images, links and layout on a viewer’s screen.

Have you ever considered that the “design” of your social media posts affects whether or not they will be seen, understood and acted upon?

Tweet comparison

Here are five general tips for designing your social media posts for maximum impact:

1. Cut down on auto crossposting and craft each post for the site it’s going to be shown on.
Autoposting across multiple platforms can save time, but if you’re not careful and the content cuts off or otherwise doesn’t “look right,” it can give the impression you’re not really paying attention. Plus, you miss out on using the posting tools specific to each network.

2. Take advantage of the intricacies of each network.
Do you embed your images in your tweets, versus linking to them? Do you edit the title, description or preview image of the links you post on Facebook? Do you know the ideal images sizes for each network, and how your images are automatically cropped? These are considerations that may determine whether you’ll get a retweet, like, clickthrough, or nothing at all. More on these in future blog posts.

3. See things through the viewer’s eyes.
Just like a good advertisement designer tries to see how his or her ad will look among the clutter of a magazine or newspaper, you should try to think how your social media post will look among the clutter of the timeline or news feed. The best way to do this?  Become personally active on each network and make note of the posts that catch your eye.

4. Experiment and test.
Create dummy social media accounts where you can test things every so often and learn the intricacies of each platform. If you’re using third party apps like Hootsuite, make sure you understand how using that app affects the way your posts look on each platform, versus using the platform directly. For example, unless you are paying for the Pro version of Hootsuite, any image you “upload” to post within a tweet will show up as a link, not as an embedded image.

5. But . . . don’t overthink it.
If you’re a perfectionist, it’s hard not to overanalyze your social media content. A hard lesson I am learning is “perfect is the enemy of good.” Don’t analyze so much that you don’t get the content out there because it isn’t perfect.

In future blog posts I’ll go over some of the different options for designing your posts for maximum impact on the “big two” networks, Facebook and Twitter.

“Improvements” Coming to Facebook News Feed

Nearly a year ago, Facebook changed its formula for how information was displayed in users’ news feed. The new formula was supposed to pull more pertinent information based on an individual user and the pages and people they follow. It was designed to pull status updates that Facebook felt was the “right content at the right time.”

For many organizations, the change in this formula was frustrating. Instead of seeing the news feed in chronological order, posts were shown in the news feed based on content and engagement. Much of the audience for a particular Facebook page wasn’t seeing the information that was being posted. If you are a Facebook page owner that looks at insights like I do, you might have seen a shift in the numbers of people seeing your posts. Less reach and less engagement.

In a statement last week, Facebook said they are again tweaking the formula to show more timely stories. The new formula will factor in topics that are trending. It will also factor in when people are liking, commenting and sharing on a post. The article explains:

“If people are engaging with the post right after it is posted, and not as much a few hours later, this suggests that the post was most interesting at the time it was posted, but potentially less interesting at a later date. Based on this signal it is more likely to appear higher in News Feed earlier on and lower at a later date.”

As a part of this change, Facebook will also look at this formula to see what information needs to be bumped. Bumping occurs when Facebook determines a user hasn’t seen a post yet that is getting a lot of engagement. Facebook then bumps that post back to the top of a user’s news feed to ensure they are more likely to see it.

What does this mean for Facebook Pages?
Facebook doesn’t anticipate major changes in what users see. They are still encouraging Facebook page owners to create “great content that is relevant and resonates with their audience.” Also, be sure you are posting your great content at peak times. Read the post on this blog Life is About Timing by Ken Koch, APR for more information. I am hopeful that this new change will enhance what posts our audience see. Stay tuned to see how it goes.

Rediscovering Your District’s History through Video

This summer, our department received an interesting task from our human resources department. They asked us to create a video to encompass the history of our district for administrators and new employees.

It seemed like a simple assignment, until we started doing research and writing a script for the history of a district that went all of the way back to 1846. After weeks of script writing, filming and pulling photos from our archives, we produced the final video in late July. We were able to encompass nearly 170 years of district history in about 17 minutes! Admittedly, I am a documentary nerd, so I really enjoyed this project.

What we discovered through the process was the positive connection we could make with our employees, students and community through video and social media.

Our first official screening of the video was to our 800 employees during our annual district convocation. Ninety-six percent of our staff gave the video an excellent review in our post-event survey, and the anecdotal comments showed many positive comments from employees. Many said they felt a deeper connection to the district by better understanding its history.

A week later, we shared the video on social media, and within a few days had more than 2,400 views on YouTube. The video reached nearly 10,000 of our Facebook fans, which is an extraordinarily high amount for the Ritenour School District page.

The comments by our fans were even more humbling. “Fills me with Ritenour pride! And brought tears to my eyes,” said one fan. Another commented: “The things we learn about our past here on Facebook amazes me.”

We’ve had numerous requests to show the video at meetings within our community, and the overall positive response has been amazing.

The power of video is unmistakable. Who knew that one project introduced to us by our HR department could leave such a positive impression with so many people in our community?

Just in case you are interested and have about 17 minutes to spare, you can watch the video here:

Hyper Over Hyperlapse

That title might sound like space-age lingo, but many school communications professionals I know are beginning to get hyper about Hyperlapse, a new app created by Instagram that provides you with the capability to transform a normal-speed video into a time-lapse video.

Hyperlapse also stabilizes your videos, which makes viewers feel like they’re a part of the action. The app is currently available only on iOS, but is likely to be available on Google Play in the not-too-distant future.

The playback speed available on the app makes it fun to use. You can either use the default speed of 6x, or choose from 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 10x or 12x. At six times the speed, a 60-second video will be shrunk to a 10-second video, and a 90-second video will be shrunk down to 15 seconds — the maximum length of an Instagram video. If you plan to upload your video to YouTube or Vimeo, then you can make it a longer production.

Here are six cool ways you can use Hyperlapse to promote your schools:

1. Campus tour: Take your iPhone and videotape a walk around campus, through classrooms, playgrounds, the gymnasium, etc.
2. Get to Know Our Community: Give new or prospective families a quick look at your city or town. Travel to some of the landmarks, the parks, your schools, city hall, the mall, and create a time-lapse video of your travels. You can find a great example on YouTube, in this Hyperlapse look at the bridges of New York City.
3. Classroom activities: Use Hyperlapse as a fun way to videotape classroom activities, things being built, discussions taking place and students in action.
4. Special events: Wouldn’t the school’s annual Halloween parade be more interesting as a time-lapse video? What about the homecoming parade? And spirit week? What about videotaping the construction of the set for the high school musical in time-lapse?
5. Field trips: Recording highlights from class trips would be fun using Hyperlapse and Instagram. Take a look at how the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently used the app to film its Blacktip Reef.
6. Sporting events: Not everyone wants to sit through a full-length video of a football or basketball game. Using the app, you can produce a cool, sped-up video of much of the sports action in a thoroughly entertaining way. The routines of the cheerleading squad would be a super subject for a time-lapse video.
7. The arts: Hyperlapse can be used to videotape students as they’re painting a masterpiece, sculpting a ceramic bowl or rehearsing for the next concert.

You can find Hyperlapse on the iTunes store.

Testing the Common Core waters using social media

As the new school year begins, preparation for the new Common-Core-aligned tests is a hot topic across the nation. Our local newspaper did a feature article about the tests and how teachers are preparing, complete with examples of test questions for different grade levels. What do parents think of all this?

In PR, we always start with research. I decided to take the pulse on our district Facebook page, posting the article and asking, “What questions do you have about the Common Core curriculum and the Smarter Balanced tests?”

Parents responded with some thoughtful concerns and questions. Here’s a sample:

  • “I’ve forgotten all that high school math! How can I help my child?”
  • “My worry about the Common Core is that it is too much, too soon. Our kids need to learn how to learn, how to think, and how to problem-solve before all the memorizing starts.”
  • “What kind of 3rd grade math problem requires an hour to complete?”
  • “There is a serious problem when officials predict that 2/3 of students will fail the first year. I sure hope our kids are prepared to pass these grueling tests.”
  • “Where can I find the Common Core curriculum for my child’s grade level?”

People fear and speculate about what they don’t understand. To address misinformation and answer their questions, I built on our website a new Common Core FAQ on our website, and used social media to guide parents to it.

Next, I shared the FAQ with principals, helping them anticipate questions at Back-to-School night events.

As momentum builds toward the spring tests, I will continue to check in with our community to see what they are thinking about Common Core assessments. This two-way dialog will be an essential tool in preparing our community to understand what the tests entail, how our schools are preparing students to meet this new challenge, and what to expect from the first round of scores.