Mobile-friendly: more than just a good idea

As we’ve gone from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 to Web whatever, it’s been a struggle to keep up with the latest technology platform guidelines. Some of you may remember when screen resolutions exploded to 640 x 480 and the limited color palette blossomed from 16 colors to 256 and we wondered who would ever need more colors. Now, screen resolution and color choices appear to go on without end.

We were also told that we needed a mobile version of our website. Then . . . forget having a separate mobile site, but spend your resources on a responsive site, if you have the time and money. Responsive design was a progressive nicety, but not necessarily a necessity. And, it wasn’t even a concern when it came to email.

Today, mobile devices seem to have taken over the Web and the world. If your school regularly uses email blasts to communicate with your students and patrons, here’s some important news:

How can you make sure your messages are getting through to the mobile throngs? Many of the larger email service platforms (and blogging tools, like WordPress) include templates designed for mobile devices along with mobile previewers. Taking the time to use these tools can save some missteps and heartache.

Before you hit the send button, make sure you sneak a mobile peek.


Gaining a New Perspective

The task of telling your school or system’s story can be a daunting challenge—especially if you are a one-person shop. But just because only one person has the job title doesn’t mean you can’t recruit others to help. Look among your administrators and teachers who are already active on social media and get them in the game too!

These employees can help personify your organization by sharing their perspective. And let’s face it: sometimes it takes someone who knows what they are looking for to tell the story a professional PR practitioner can’t. For instance, if you came to school PR from either a news or public relations background, you might look at a classroom setting and miss what is jumping out at a teacher.

Take a look at the photo featured in this tweet from Terry Roller, director of high school education for the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools:

My background as a news reporter would have made me miss the story, but @tuscaloosahsdir didn’t. With 99 characters and a photo, he provided context for followers.

Before you start sending DMs to anyone with the same email domain as you, consider these points:

  • Find folks who have a comfort and a familiarity with the social channel
  • Enlist people who are subject-matter experts in your school or district
  • Train them in the social media strategy you are using
  • Encourage the use of photos, video and commentary to explain what the viewer is seeing and why it’s important
  • Use hashtags to connect what they see to the district’s and school’s message

By changing your perspective on who is responsible for positive PR, you can expand your idea of just how big your department really is and provide a different perspective for you and your stakeholders.

Using social media, collaboration tools to streamline communication


How many times have we copied and pasted the same reply email to multiple parents or staff? What about the same comment on social media? Even if we post the information everywhere possible, someone still has a question.

We know the typicals with any given situation, weather particularly: “When will you let us know if school is delayed or canceled?” “Does that mean after school activities are canceled?” “When will my child’s bus pick up if we are on a delay?” “I didn’t receive a call. Is school on today?”

Now is an ideal time to audit your communication resources and refresh or even document them. Take some time to outline the responses you repeat over and over in your district and save them. My staff shares a google doc with an extensive list of responses, information and communication for a variety of instances. In addition, Facebook has updated messaging to allow for saved responses — cutting down on the amount of time we spend communicating the answer to the same question sent from multiple people.

Then, when the time comes, our web and social media posts, including our responses, can be quick, consistent and accurate: the ideal communication for all of us!

Practical Tips for Helping School Administrators Start a Social Media Account

This school year, as part of our strategic communications plan, we started Twitter accounts for several of our school administrators and counselors. Since it is the new year and many of us are getting reorganized and refreshed for the second half of the school year, I wanted to give you some practical tips we share with our school administrators when they start a Twitter account. Feel free to use these or share with any staff members in your district who are considering taking the leap to social media.

Twitter tips:

  • It’s recommended to tweet three to five times a day. You can be both serious and silly. Be sure to include fun anecdotes, interesting facts and post many photos of what is happening in your school. It is also OK to have fun and show your lighter side.
  • If you’re finding that tweeting three to five times times a day is too much, at least once a day would be best so you stay on your followers’ radars.
  • Feel free to tag the district account by adding “@ritenourschools” (our district Twitter handle) to your posts.
  • Hashtag campaigns can be fun — for example, for our convocation this year, we used #RitenourExcellence and continued it throughout the school year.
  • Great things to tweet include photos that tell a story, 20-second videos in classrooms taken with your phone, bubble thoughts with students holding a white board with the thought (i.e.: Stay Organized; Get Involved In School Activities, etc.) and trends like “Throwback Thursday.”
  • Please do not to use copyrighted materials (most images you find in a Google search) and do not promote any political agendas or candidates, ballot issues, etc.

Ways to build following on Twitter:

  1. Begin following other colleagues, organizations and others in your professional circles. Typically (but not always), when a person or organization gains a new follower, they will follow you back.
  2. Use an incentive for students to follow you, but don’t follow them back. You can promote your handle with students through daily announcements, message boards, posters, etc. Consider picking a name of a student follower each week for spirit wear or other small incentive.
  3. Be sure to add your Twitter handle to your signature on your email and other correspondences.
  4. Promote your handle with parent newsletters, messages and fliers.
  5. Follow local news media. Keep in mind, when you follow them, they might follow you back to try and get a story idea.

Twitter is an excellent platform for sharing information with students, families and the community. I hope these tips help you begin the second semester in your school district. And, please feel free to share any tips you would like to add in the comments section.

Happy New Year!

Social Media Resolutions for 2016

As with your other new year’s resolutions, the beginning of 2016 is a good time to pause and take a look at your district’s social media strategies and tactics and see where you can improve.

Here are a few of the 2016 social media resolutions for my district:

  • Refreshing our social media profiles and making sure profile bios, cover images and other profile information are fresh and up-to-date
  • Developing a School PR Liaison program to launch in September
  • Empowering, training and coaching more staff to use social media to share good news and stories directly to the community. We will do this via drop-in training sessions and a social media tips series in our employee newsletter.
  • Committing to tracking our analytics, especially engagement rates, on a weekly basis
  • Posting more frequently on Facebook (at least eight times a week)

Some good resolutions you may consider:

Finally, some professional resolutions for my school PR colleagues:

  • Use and watch the #SchoolPR hashtag on Twitter to keep the conversation and learning going throughout 2016 (Thanks to Jason Wheeler for this and the following reminder).
  • Find and follow your school PR colleagues on Twitter. One place to start is the School PR Twitter list I have curated.
  • Participate in #K12PRchat every other Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET. Previous chats have discussed branding, leadership and legal communications. Keep an eye out for new chats starting up in 2016.

What goals and resolutions do you have for 2016?

Facebook’s Business Manager: Useful?

When I heard Facebook introduced a new tool for managers of pages, I excitedly signed up and started using it for my district’s page.

I quickly learned that all the new whiz-bang features actually target folks who frequently advertise on Facebook. Since we rarely do this in my district, it just became another step to accessing our page insights, which we use regularly.

My verdict on this tool for school PR: meh. Unless you’re using ads.

If you don’t believe me, you just want to see for yourself, or you advertise a lot, check it out:

Facebook as a tool for staff collaboration

This fall my school district began a pilot project with six other districts across Oregon. Eighty educators are participating, from urban and rural schools scattered across southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley to the Blue Mountains, Portland and the north coast.

Grant funding covers travel costs to meet once a month, but how can we keep continuous, two-way communication flowing as participants need to share research, planning and data?

My suggestion was to launch a Facebook group. This gives our collaborative the option of a closed group, allowing for free-flowing, large-group private conversations about our ongoing work, which may differ significantly from place to place.

The advantages are many:

• No email log-jam: Rather than flooding the inboxes of 80 people with a stream of reply-all emails, Facebook groups provide access in a non-intrusive way that makes it easy to scroll down through conversation threads.

• Casual conversations are creative: As an informal communication tool, Facebook frees group members to brainstorm and converse more freely than they would in Google Docs or Dropbox. In a groundbreaking project, the creative thinking and innovation this generates are keys to success.

• Continuous communication: With the moderator’s strategic use of “What-if” questions and weekly reports from each partner group, the long-distance collaborative project builds energy and momentum day-to-day, rather than drifting off the priorities list between monthly meetings.

Whether your group project is spread across a large school district, across an entire state or across multiple states, Facebook groups are an important tool to move your project forward through two-way, continuous communication.