What Do the New Twitter Rules Mean for Schools?

The news is sweeping social media, so you’ve probably already heard: Twitter plans to stop counting images and videos toward your 140-character limit.

On Tuesday, Twitter came out with more details:

  • What Counts and What Doesn’t?
    To avoid counting against your character total, you’ve got to use an attachment rather than a link. So links to your article on the school-district website count against you, but using Twitter’s built-in photo or video uploader would not. Quote tweets won’t ding you for the link to the original tweet. And for those who like adding polls or silly GIFs from Twitter’s library, you’re in luck – those don’t count, either!
  • When Will This Happen?
    Twitter is giving developers time to work with the new rules, so it will roll out over the next few months. I expect we’ll just be surprised one day when the changes take effect, and we might not all get them at once.
  • How are Replies Different?
    If you reply to someone, the @handle won’t count toward your character limit. And for those of you who know how to use “.@” at the beginning of a new tweet that starts with an @handle, the period will no longer be necessary. New tweets that start with an @handle will go to all your followers, and if you want everyone to see a reply, you will just retweet yourself.



Five Ways to Keep School District Social Media Followers Engaged During the Summer

It is hard to believe the summer of 2016 is almost here. What happened to the 2015-2016 school year? You have worked hard to build your social media presence and audience throughout the school year. How do you keep that momentum going over the summer months?

Below are a five tips and strategies to keep your social media followers engaged and connected when your schools are out for the summer.

  1. One of our favorites is our graduation “roll call.” We ask our Facebook users to post the year they graduated during our annual high school graduation ceremony. It is a really simple post – we ask our fans to post the year they graduated in the comments section as well as a congratulatory message for the graduating class. Each time it garners hundreds – sometimes thousands – of comments, likes and shares and helps increase the number of alumni following our page.
  2. Another favorite is the “Throwback Thursday,” where we find a photo or historical nugget from our archives to share on social media. This is not a new or unique concept by any means. But we can set up our posts for the summer months in advance, which is very helpful when we are out of the office on vacation or at the NSPRA conference.
  3. Be sure to post when you have good content to share. Our district regularly features unique summer school activities. Whether it is a fun field trip, STEM activity, summer camp or other initiative, this is another positive way to feature your district in the summer months.
  4. Photos of summer construction, professional development and the implementation of new curriculum are not exciting – but they do keep your users in the know about things happening in your district when children are not in school.
  5. Finally, we like to feature fun stories and photos from students, staff and families. Be sure to ask your staff and families to send you photos if they took a once-in-a-lifetime trip or had an amazing experience in the summer months. It’s the personal touch and connection that keeps your social media followers engaged during slower times.

These are just a few of many ideas to increase social media involvement over the summer.  I am curious to hear what other districts are doing as well. Please share any and all ideas in the comments section below. Have a great summer!

Grow Your District’s Communications Reach with Tough Love

In the past, our district’s cultural mindset was that we, the Office of Communications, would take care of communications. Either we would go out and cover a story and take photos, or staff would send us information or pictures. We would then distribute the story or information districtwide via Twitter, Facebook or the district email newsletter.

However, even with only 16 schools, getting to each and every event can prove a problem with a small communications team. In the age of social media and web tools, we can’t and shouldn’t be the only funnel from which information gets out to our community. That kind of process is not only inefficient and untimely but it makes communication the responsibility of someone else other than the school.

This school year, we started giving our staff a dose of tough love. When someone sends us a photo to tweet out, a small event to cover or information to distribute, our team has gently refused and instead offered staff the opportunity to learn how to do it themselves.

This sounds harsh; however, our team provides staff with support and structure through our new mantra, “empower, train and coach.”

Empower: Giving district staff the permission and access to communicate directly to their audiences

Train: Providing staff with training on communications tools, an overview of district policies to follow, and guidelines and standards for communicating effectively and consistently

Coach: Offering continuing support for improving communications, including technical tips and content ideas

This framework applies not only to social media, but a wide variety of communications tools, including email newsletters, new school websites and blogs.

The change in mindset hasn’t been easy or perfect, and some school staff aren’t yet on board. However, some who were originally reluctant are now some of the most avid and creative in their communications, especially on Twitter.

This principal was very reluctant to join Twitter for many reasons. But after months of tough love from us, he was ready to be empowered. Now he is one of the most awesome and natural tweeters we have ever seen.

The result of our tough love has been viral. More and more staff are seeing the value of communicating on their own and are ready for training. The demand has been so high that we are expanding beyond one-on-one training and our Social Media Tips articles and are planning to develop recorded training videos and regularly scheduled group trainings.

We anticipate many bumps in the road ahead. But ultimately, more voices sharing the great stories in our schools will be more powerful than just a few.

How the Latest Facebook Tweak Affects Your District

Facebook’s hacker culture means constant changes.

The algorithm the site uses to decide which content rises to the top of your news feed is getting one of those changes.

Up to now, the main factors that decided whether your school district’s posts got lots of eyeballs included

  • How many people already liked it or commented on it
  • Whether it includes a photo
  • Whether it includes a video uploaded to Facebook’s player

Now, content that people spend a lot of time reading will also rise to the top, even if your page users don’t click on a reaction button or comment.

So your article about your school board’s big decision might get a lot of attention, even if it doesn’t inspire a lot of reaction.

In the same announcement, Facebook’s wizards said they will “also be making an update to reduce how often people see several posts in a row from the same source in their news feed.”

So if you’re posting a lot of content on your district page at once, chances are that some of it could get lost in the shuffle.

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.