The power of student-led social media campaigns

We’ve all seen the damage cyber-bullying can do, including suicide. In some states, schools have a legal responsibility to address it. The big question is how to do that effectively.

Student leaders at Gladstone High schooled me on this recently when they tacked the issue head-on through a student-led social media campaign. Expanding on last year’s effort – a Twitter compliments page that drew local news media attention – they planned Unity Week.

Each day of the week-long celebration had a special theme. For example, on “Sweet Tweet Tuesday,” students sent positive tweets complimenting others. On “Whatcha Know Wednesday,” they posed for selfies posing with someone they didn’t know well, including a fascinating fact they discovered about that person (“Did you know Ms. Schuberg ran a radio station in college?”).

One day during lunch, kids competed in the Selfie Challenge: a prize was awarded to the student who posted the most selfies, each with a different classmate or school staffer.

The celebration culminated with Blue Friday, when students wore blue to show school-wide unity against bullying. An assembly that day included elementary school students performing a skit celebrating diversity and a skit by Gladstone High students about the importance of being a positive influence on others.

The whole week showcased the fun of being positive on social media, while reminding kids of the harm cyberbullying can do. More than 200 students signed a pledge against cyberbullying, and an additional 125 students pledged to fight name-calling.

Gladstone High has worked hard to build a positive, inclusive culture, and this social media campaign was just one piece of a year-long effort by student leaders. What made it fun and effective was that the campaign was planned and run by students, who understand the power of social media better than any other generation.

Live from Facebook: Your video!

Facebook leaders surprised the world by announcing on April 6 that live video had been made available in all Facebook pages groups. Cue the applause — and every conceivable emoji — as social media managers let that big news soak in.

Facebook isn’t the first to offer live stream video. Periscope and Meerkat hit the scene in March 2015 and quickly established the next level of engagement. After all, live stream video offers real-time interaction and organic engagement unlike anything we’ve seen before. But Facebook’s announcement changed the game. Facebook, after all, is the largest and most active platform — by a long shot — for social engagement.

For school systems, this news offers the biggest chance yet to showcase the great things happening in our classrooms and buildings. Pep rallies, award presentations, science fairs, prize patrols…now observers outside our schools can experience in real time the dynamic, supportive learning environments that we enjoy each day. Consider, as well, that live video allows parents to be a fly on the wall during a special activity, student presentation and even the occasional everyday classroom moment. Can’t make it to the special science presentations at 2 p.m. or the choir concert at 7 p.m.? If a parent can get an Internet connection, it won’t be missed.

Like so many other new frontiers, live video is one that we explore as we go. Here are guidelines and tips to consider as you broadcast on Facebook, or on any other live video platform:

  • Ensure that you have the policies and procedures in place to manage the risks of social media engagement, and consider a bit of professional development to prep your teachers about the world of live video.
  • Legal restrictions for performances still apply with live video. Whether it’s a second grade music concert or a high school dance team performance, the vast majority of popular songs are protected by copyright law.
  • Perfection is never the goal, but quality makes a difference. If possible, use a tripod (or a gimbal if you’re moving) to stabilize the video. Using an external microphone, rather than your phone’s built-in mic, will greatly improve your audio.
  • Practice helps. Don’t wait until the big moment to learn how to work the live stream process. Test it out on your own personal account — your personal Facebook friends are likely a more sympathetic audience than your district’s thousands of followers!
  • Like any other post, Facebook live video will archive to your Facebook page, group or event. You may only have a half dozen live viewers, but your views and engagement will balloon over the next few hours. Facebook has made it clear that live video will rank well in news feeds, and that appears to be true.

Finally, remember that broadcasting live video will require a strong signal on your phone or tablet. For an award presentation or other short, special event, planning ahead will help you avoid disappointment. Visit the place where you’ll be, check out your cellular bars and wifi signal, and consider a private hot spot if you’re concerned about signal strength. And if things go south in the moment, remember to switch over to your camera and just use your trusty old video camera. After all, better to capture a special moment on standard video and upload it to your social feeds than to miss it completely.


Donkey Basketball: A Case Study in Monitoring Your Social Media

donkeyWhen a student tweeted at my district about a fundraiser her school’s student council had planned, I followed our procedures and forwarded her message along to the principal.

She was concerned that the donkey basketball game her classmates were putting on would include animal abuse.

The principal went to the student council and started a conversation with its members about how to handle this feedback.

By the time the student and her mother decided to go to one of the local TV stations, the student council had already had a chance to discuss the issue.

I was able to share with the reporter that the students had listened to their classmates’ feedback and decided not to hold this fundraiser, and they planned to evaluate how they select fundraisers in the future.

Keeping a watchful eye on social media helped us get ahead of this situation, so we didn’t hear about it first from the reporter.

Anyone Surprised?

AP StyleIn a move widely expected, the AP Stylebook has announced that, as of June 1, the 2016 Stylebook will lowercase internet and web. How does this affect you? That all depends on whether your district follows AP Style, Chicago Manual of Style or any other style guide at all.

Choosing and adopting a style guide for your district’s publications, websites, social media channels and other communications activities will make your job easier:

  • You can justify why and how you edit other’s submissions.
  • If you have colleagues helping you out, they will have a reference point when they are creating or editing material.
  • The number of emails you receive suggesting you spelled something incorrectly will diminish.
  • A guide will give you a consistent resource so you don’t have to remember which way you chose to spell a word.

Once you’ve chosen a style guide, be sure to stay up-to-date with it and use the latest version. Things do change (even those rules you learned the hard way in J school) and who wants to get “e-mail” from “Webmasters” about your “Internet” gaffes?


Update: Connecting with District Retirees through Facebook

Back in the fall 2013, the Ritenour School District started a private Facebook group for retired employees. After nearly three years, the page has proven to be an effective way to engage and correspond with some of the district’s most valuable communicators.

In Ritenour, located in suburban St. Louis County, Mo., our retired employees are an active and influential group. They get together for lunch and dinner on a regular basis, and many serve as tutors for our elementary school students. We consider our retirees some of our greatest ambassadors and key communicators within the community.

We correspond with our retired employees in a variety of ways: by hosting an annual luncheon, providing volunteer opportunities, sharing our district’s newsletters, and, on the sad occasion, sending a funeral notice via email.

In three years, we have added more than 50 of our retirees to our private Facebook page. In total, we have more than 400 active retirees, so we are always trying to increase the number we connect with on social media.

The feedback from our Facebook page has been tremendous. We receive dozens of “likes” and “shares” for each post. Because it is part of a private group, you can see how many people have viewed each item, which helps us track our analytics. Many users have commented that the page helps keep them more connected to our district and provides them with points of pride to share with others. Several of our retirees are prolific Facebook users and like to share and comment on every post.

We have a lot of fun on the Facebook page as well. We share the good news from our district, birthdays, personnel moves and some fun Internet memes. We also share videos, anecdotes and the occasional funeral notice. We don’t share everything from our district page; typically we find two or three stories or news items to share each week.

If you have the time, building and maintaining a Facebook page like this should be part of your social media toolbox — it is well worth the time and effort.

Facebook Multilingual Posts and Other Hidden Gems

Facebook, now 12 years old, doesn’t lack when it comes to options and settings to toggle. It seems that each time I log on, a feature has been added, moved or has completely disappeared, often without explanation.

Posts in Multiple Languages

Facebook now gives you the ability to write a post in more than one language simultaneously. Each person who has liked your page will see the post in their timeline only in the language they have chosen for Facebook.

However, this option has to be turned on manually in the Settings area ( for each page you own.

Featured Pages

Each Facebook Page can feature other pages that it has liked. These will show under the Liked by This Page section in the left-hand column on the page. This is one way, for example, for a high school page to promote the pages of its feeder schools.

These featured pages can be selected by first liking them as your page, then going to the Featured tab in the Settings area (

Merge Pages

Over the last two years I’ve noticed many unclaimed place pages for our schools, some of them with hundreds of likes and check-ins. Little by little, I have claimed them and used the merge pages feature to roll them in with the official school pages. All check-ins and likes are combined with the official page.

Suggest Page to Email Contacts

This option seems to be available only to pages with a few likes who need a boost. While on your page, click the three dots button over the cover image and select “Suggest Page.”

A panel will pop up where you can upload email addresses. Facebook will see if any of those addresses match the email addresses of its users, and show those users a suggestion to like your page.

This is a free alternative to Facebook Ads and is a good option for new pages trying to boost likes.

Are there any hidden gems you’ve found in Facebook?

Give ‘Em What They Want: Three Things the Data Reveal

One of the benefits of social media is how much more measurable it is than most of our other communication tools. We can see what people like, what they click on, what they respond to and what messages resonate for them.

In my district, using Facebook insights, Twitter analytics, survey data and focus group feedback, we developed a picture of what our key audiences want to hear from us:

  1. Things that affect their lives
    If it answers the question, “What does this have to do with me?”, it is great content. This is why the school board approving the calendar is such big news. It is also why people care more about pictures and videos from their own schools. In my district, we make sure to cover every school in the district at least once a month.

    When we, like the other districts in the Kansas City area, canceled school for the Royals’ World Series parade and celebration, our social media posts blew up. Like a snow day, this affects everyone.


  2. Success stories
    When the district succeeds, it validates for people that they are in a successful district. District awards, teacher awards and student awards all get great engagement, and not just from the people who know the award-winners.Our Facebook photo album from our annual awards banquet got off-the-charts engagement:


  3. Visual storytelling
    Thanks in part in to people’s love for strong imagery and in part to social-media algorithms that push photos and videos, visual elements have the most impact. To fully take advantage of this, we not only produce lots of photos and videos, we tag people in the photos and we make sure to use the native video players. On Facebook, using the platform’s auto-playing videos get lots more eyeballs on our content than links to videos somewhere else.