How Do You Use QR Codes in Your District?

Like many school districts, we are in our budgeting phase. For our department, that means looking forward to next year to plan for all expenses for the upcoming school year.

Recently, a 40-year old piece of equipment in our copy shop died. It folds and staples all of our programs for musicals, plays, school events and awards. Thousands of programs are folded and stapled each school year. We had to request a new one in our budget for around $6,500.

I bet you are now wondering how this applies to social media. Well . . . during our budget meeting, our chief financial officer brought up an interesting question: “Do you really need paper programs with all of the smartphone and tablet technology? Couldn’t you just put a QR code on the wall with instructions to scan it and download it to their phone?”

What an interesting idea. I took an informal poll of several of our parents. They said they were not ready for only QR codes yet. They still wanted to have that paper copy of the program as a record of their children’s achievements. They also noted that the light from the screens might be distracting in a dark environment and that not everyone has a QR code reader installed on their phone.

But it really made me think. It could be a way to save thousands of dollars in printing costs, as well as help the environment. It would be quite simple to accomplish. Just create a .pdf file of your program and post on your website, copy the URL, and then visit a website that creates QR codes. Print a poster with the QR code and instructions and you are ready to go! The most difficult part would be convincing your students and families it is OK to not have a hard-copy program.

We use QR codes in many of our printed materials, including our district newsletter (view the latest edition). Our survey data indicates our community still relies on our hard-copy newsletter to receive information about the district, so we continue to produce it three times per year. We have not tracked the “scan-through” data for QR codes, but my assumption is that they are not frequently used by our readers.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in October of 2014 about mobile technology. Their data indicates that 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone and that number is growing every year. On top of that, 42 percent of adults own a tablet computer and 32 percent own an e-reader.

Our own district data is even more telling. We conducted a survey in November of 2014, and our respondents noted that 77 percent own a mobile device (smartphone, tablet or e-reader) – that number grew from 62 percent in 2013. The majority of people in our district and nationwide have the ability to use a QR code reader.

I am hoping to get some feedback from this blog post.

Does your school district use QR codes on a regular basis? How do you track the results?

Would you ever consider eliminating paper copies of event programs (or have you already) and asking families to download them onto their phone or mobile device?

Facebook Launches New Privacy Portal

Last week, Facebook launched a new Privacy Basics portal that the social media company hopes users will find friendlier and easier to understand. And because Facebook is often reinventing itself, an easy-to-understand primer on privacy will help users and administrators keep up with the changing privacy landscape.

In the new portal, you’ll find visual guides that cover topics including detecting suspicious activity on your account, setting a secure password and even identifying “trusted contacts” who can help you recover a lost password.

According to Facebook, the portal is available in 40 different languages and can be accessed from a mobile phone, desktop or tablet.

In the “What Others See About You” section, Facebook explains, among other things, how to delete posts, how likes and comments work, how tagging works and how to deactivate and delete accounts.

In the “How Others Interact With You” section, Facebook explains how to unfriend and block users, how to manage what others post on your timeline and how to manage likes and comments on your page.

Perhaps the most important section of the portal is the one called “How to Keep Your Account Secure,” where Facebook explains what to do if you think your account has been hacked, how to tell if phishing is taking place on your account and what to do if you spot spam messages.

If you’re managing Facebook fan pages, the new portal is worth checking out. You can find it here.

Smile — You’re on Candid Camera!

What’s the impact on public meetings when virtually every person in the room has a video camera in their pocket?

Recently my school district hosted a regional meeting for our state Department of Education, sharing information about the new Smarter Balanced state tests. This is a controversial topic in some surrounding communities, so I was prepared for a lively debate. What surprised me, however, was the number of cell phone cameras in use throughout the meeting.

Standardized testing protesters videotaped not just state presenters, but every attendee who asked a question or made a statement. How many in the crowd, I wonder, were afraid to voice their views, knowing they could appear on social media? How many worried that if they spoke about a child’s special needs, it would compromise student privacy? How many educators worried about the impact on their careers? How many folks wished they had sat in the back?

Video or audio recording at public meetings is usually legal and increasingly common. As public relations practitioners, how can we ensure that public meetings remain a safe place to exchange ideas and express diverse views?

Transparency is a trust builder, and video can be a way to involve community members unable to attend an event. However, there are ways to keep it from having a dampening effect on your public meeting:

1) Remind presenters to expect cell phone video cameras: Public officials should be aware that it’s likely they will be videotaped, especially when dealing with controversial topics. Remind them to be diplomatic. Make sure they are well prepared with talking points and real-world examples.

2) Lay some ground rules: Ask your audience to respect any individual requests not to be video or audio recorded when they speak in the meeting. Explain that people may have a need to protect student privacy or a child in protective custody.

3) Provide a way to ask questions or raise issues anonymously: Hand out cards for questions and comments, which can be read aloud by a neutral facilitator. Provide the presenter’s email address, so people can ask questions privately. Try a clicker-response poll using cell phone technology so folks can weigh in anonymously. Poll Everywhere is one of many such tools, allowing for open response, word cloud response and multiple-choice polls.

4) Balance airtime: Don’t let one person or viewpoint dominate. Allow the opportunity for a variety of voices to be heard. Setting a time limit on comments can help. Don’t allow a second question or comment until several others have had the opportunity to speak.

How to recover from a social media mistake

Mistakes happen to all of us. Sometimes they are inconsequential. Other times, a major disaster. They happen at work, in our personal lives, and on social media.

So, when you inadvertently misspell “magic” or accidentally post the wrong date or time on Facebook, how do you fix it? Sometimes it’s as easy as editing a post or uploading a new photo. But what do you do when you can’t fix it or when it’s a big one?

During our arctic blast in Texas last week, a neighboring district made a mistake. They tweeted that school was closed the following day. Then, a few minutes later, they tweeted that the initial tweet was a mistake – the decision had not been made yet. Oops.

Students fumed and raged. They creatively told the district what they thought about the mistake – in nice and not-so-nice ways. While this could have been a huge black eye for this district, they recovered from it nicely. It helped that they actually did cancel school about 30 minutes later, but a quick apology and continued ownership of the mistake made all the difference.

So how can you fix a boo-boo on social media? Here are some tips:

  1. Own your mistake. They happen: small ones like spelling errors or omitting a name and big ones like accidentally canceling school via Twitter. Just ‘fess up and take ownership. Apologize, correct the information and move on.
  2. Laugh about it (when appropriate). Humor can work in your favor in when a mistake happens. Recently, I responded to a student on Twitter and I spelled “magic” wrong. Oh, did our students have a heyday with me. A quick-witted response and correction gave them a good laugh. A few minutes later, when a student spelled his own tweet wrong, I ribbed him a little and gained some leniency with my own grammar faux pas.
  3. Give a little to those affected. Did your mistake directly impact someone? Maybe you posted the wrong time for an event or left a student off a list of winners. Give the event or the student a few minutes in the spotlight with their own post. Quickly explain (if you have space), and then put the spotlight on anyone or anything that might have been affected by the blunder.
  4. Go easy on yourself. Remember, mistakes happen to the best of us. None of us are immune, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Smile, laugh and move on – but take care to not repeat the same mistake again!

Snow Go or No Go?


It seems likely that most NSPRA members have experienced some sort of weather-related closings during this wacky winter. For some, record-setting snowfalls have made it perfectly obvious that schools will be closed. For others, iffy forecasts make the decision to close school a crystal-ball exercise, often rewarded by criticism and complaints.

Thankfully, once a decision is made, using social media to announce closings gives us more flexibility and efficiency in communicating the news. To make the best use of these tools and ensure clearer communication, here are some helpful guidelines:

  • Date-stamp and time-stamp your messages – Beginning a message with “EFFECTIVE March 5 at 1:30 PM” makes it very clear which message is the latest and currently significant.
  • Use very clear language (to the point of being redundant) – Don’t leave anything to interpretation. A message that states “Classes for Thursday, March 5, have been canceled” gives two points of reference.
  • Make sure your day and date are in sync with each other – There’s nothing more frustrating than sending a message to thousands of viewers only to have to send a revision 30 seconds later.
  • Use all the channels you have at your disposal – Go ahead and post on each platform you regularly use, but be sure to have a consistent message.
  • Share the chore – While you may restrict who can alter your website (which might also take more tech skills to change), pull together a team that can divide and conquer the work needed to update all the other channels you use. Just make sure all the team members have the needed access rights and the same message to deliver.
  • Don’t forget Plan B – Have a backup person at-the-ready in case you lose your power or technology.
  • Finally, when the storm has passed, be sure to take your website and voicemail auto-attendant messages back to normal.

Don’t Get Cut Off: Create Perfect Social Media Graphics With This Template

Have you ever been browsing your Twitter or Facebook feed and come across an image with its message cut off?

Twitter and Facebook on a smartphone

If you’re creating graphics like this in order to attract people to your posts, (which is a good idea according to experts) it would be a shame and a waste of your time for part of your message to be cropped off, not to mention how unprofessional and careless it looks. Plus, to create separate images to fit each platform would take a lot of time.

Thankfully, the helpful blog Social Media Examiner figured out what dimensions and parameters you should stick to in order for one image to be perfectly cropped in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. The key is to make sure any text and main imagery are within the “safe area.”

I’ve created templates that already have these measurements and guides set up, available for you to download here.

Photoshop .psd template | Fireworks .png template | JPEG template

Redesigning the graphic above using this template, here’s how the same image looks in both Facebook and Twitter:

Bonus tip: if you have graphics like these on your district’s homepage or other pages, see if you can have them sized and designed according to this template. Why? Whenever someone shares a link to your site in Facebook, it will pull the images it sees in the page and use them as part of the Facebook post. Voila — a perfectly sized graphic to accompany the link to the school district’s website.

Do you have any templates you use to make your social media posts look perfect?

Revisit and Revamp Your Social Media Strategy

Social media is ever-changing and there are always new social media channels being introduced. This is why it is so important to revisit and revamp your social media strategy on a regular basis. By making strategic decisions based on research and your audience, you can ensure you are being efficient and effective with your time.

That was our goal. Throughout this school year, we have been meeting with our digital communications committee. The goal of this committee was to help review, research, plan and define our social media strategy moving forward.

The committee . . .

  • Researched and discussed what social media channels other districts are using, how they are using them and the demographics of each. It was really important for us to determine if the social media channel was long-term or just a fad.
  • Talked a lot about who our social media audience is. Did we want our messages focused on parents, community, kids or all of the above?
  • Surveyed our teachers to see how they are currently using social media and how they would like to use it.
  • Developed our strategy moving forward. We decided to continue using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and our district app. There are several other social media channels out there that other school districts are using effectively to meet their goals. However, for our district, these four channels continue to meet our criteria. Every school district is unique, so this will look different for everyone.
  • Started tweaking our current guidelines to better meet the needs of changing social media and the needs and wants of teachers and students.

I encourage other districts to do this as well. Although it may seem daunting at times to have one more committee meeting, it has been well worth the process. The feedback and conversations we have had are invaluable. In addition, the perspectives from individuals throughout our district were helpful in defining what our staff wanted and needed.

Now that we have gone through this process, I am confident in the direction we are heading with our social media. Well . . . at least until the next social media channel comes along.