Getting Started on Instagram

While I’ve had a personal Instagram account for quite a while now, I’m just starting to explore the possibilities for an Instagram account for my district. This smartphone-based photo-sharing app is popular with both students and adults, but it’s just starting to become a platform for brands and organizations.

So far, we’ve found this is a useful tool for

  • Spotlighting school activities
  • Recognizing student and staff achievements
  • Announcing positive news
  • Showing sneak peaks and behind-the-scenes looks at familiar subjects

Here are the top lessons we’ve learned as we explore this tool for engaging our community:

  • Unlike Facebook, which publishes stories about interactions in users’ feeds, it is more difficult for Instagrammers to stumble on your account. This means you need to promote your Instagram feed more actively. 
  • You can connect Instagram to your district’s Twitter feed and Facebook page. It’s a little tricky to connect it to the brand page instead of your personal profile, but the business page on the Instagram site has good tips about this.
  • We tag our photos with the schools and locations where we take them. While we’re doing this, we check out the other photos tagged at our schools and hit “like” on appropriate photos from students, parents and staff. This leads active users to discover us.
  • We are looking for more ways to make our feed interactive. This summer, we plan to  try a hashtag photo contest.

Have you used Instagram professionally yet? Any tips?

Social Media From the Eye of the Storm

On behalf of Oklahoma and OkSPRA members, thank you for all the messages of concern and offers of help. We know many of our NSPRA colleagues have been through similar situations and we appreciate your contributions and advice.

It’s still too early to comprehend all of the outcomes from this week’s outbreak of deadly storms in Oklahoma, but it is a good time to recognize the incredible job that our fellow PR pros are doing under very difficult circumstances. Keep up the good work!

Some tips to keep in mind as we all review our crisis communications plans include:

  • Social media can play a huge role in keeping the public informed, but those same channels make it too easy for rumors and misinformation to spread quickly. It’s important for a school district to have established official, branded outlets that can be timely sources of information the public can trust and reference.
  • Facebook has a feature named “pin to top” that will ensure your most vital and latest information stays at the top of your district’s page. This will keep your official announcements from getting pushed down in the timeline. After making a post, hover over the top right corner of the post, click on the pencil icon (“edit or remove”), and then click “pin to top”.
  • Have the ability to post to your social media channels from somewhere other than your office. Make the connections needed to use your smartphone, tablet or home computer remotely. Then try them out, without the pressure of a crisis looming over you.
  • Cell phone traffic quickly overwhelms available networks, and calls can’t get through.  Text messages, though, use a different spectrum and are more likely to work. Consider this as you make plans on how to communicate with staff and patrons when the crisis occurs.
  • Have a “fail-over” system in place for your district website. If your school’s site is hosted on-site and the servers are destroyed or disabled by the disaster, a key communication channel has been lost. Talk with your counterparts at nearby districts to make arrangements for “mirrored” sites that can be deployed quickly in the event of an emergency. Although more costly, another solution is to have a mirrored site running through a third-party hosting facility.

Editor’s Note:
Several OKSPRA members, along with school PR pros from Joplin, Mo., are now supporting the Moore Public Schools. Check out the Facebook page they already created for Moore.

What Does This Have to Do With Me?

I scour my district’s Facebook insights, Twitter retweets, Instagram likes and YouTube views. Some posts blow up, with people responding in droves. Some molder quietly, with nobody seeming to care about them at all.

In order to provide more engaging content, I try to figure out what the most popular posts have in common.

From what I can tell, it comes down to one central theme: the popular posts connect to the audience in a personal way. They answer the question, “What does this have to do with me?”

Here are the top three best ways I’ve found to address this question:

  1. News that affects everyone
    Posts about the newly approved calendar or about snow days appeal to everyone because they affect everyone. These are the posts that are so popular they attract you a bunch of new followers.
  2. Awards
    I was initially surprised by how appealing posts about awards were. We get huge responses when the district, a school, a staff member or a student gets a major recognition. This is because these awards give people evidence that they are in a high-quality school district. Our awards make them look good.
  3. Pictures of people they know
    It’s becoming common knowledge that people respond to photos on social media sites. But I find that our best responses come when we post photo albums with lots of faces from around the school district. This increases the chances that they know someone in the photos. Photos+personal connection=engagement double whammy!

The Surprising Benefits of Purchasing a Facebook Ad

In November 2012, our department conducted Ritenour School District’s annual community survey.

We conduct a community survey on a semi-annual basis. During the years when we don’t conduct a survey, we use other data collection initiatives, like focus groups or community forums. Because the cost is dramatically lower, we decided to use an online survey last fall as opposed to the traditional telephone survey.

Our department developed a strategic communications plan that used our website, rapid telephone system, email and postcards backpacked home with students to promote the survey to our community.  We also asked staff members, friends and business partners to share the information with their Facebook friends as well.

Our entire budget this year was $40 for promotion of the survey. We poured it all into Facebook ads. We took advantage of Facebook’s targeting advertising feature that allows the user to select a specific group of people based on many categories. In this case, we chose individuals who were not associated with the Ritenour School District, but lived within specific zip codes within our area.

The ads ran for a seven-day period while the survey was open. Our goal was to get more of our community members who do not have children in school to participate in the survey.

According to the statistics downloaded from Facebook, the results were outstanding. We were amazed by the number of people who viewed our post:

  • Our weekly total reach was 7,563. Normally it is 2,500 – 3,000.
  • We received a total of 100 new likes on our page in one week. The only other time we see a spike like that is following a snow day.
  • Most importantly, we received nearly 1,000 responses for our survey – including more than 400 non-parent community members we targeted through the ad.

By no means am I an advocate for purchasing or “boosting” your regular posts on Facebook. I notice on a regular basis (and it makes me sad) that our posts are only reaching a few hundred people because Facebook wants you pay to promote your posts.

But in this case, purchasing an ad was very beneficial, which is why I am so excited to share this information. If you are looking to drive traffic to a certain page or conduct an online survey, this might be the right tool for you.

Happy posting!

The Infographic Explosion

Infographics have become my favorite online obsession. I post appropriate infographics on my Pinterest page, Facebook page, and Twitter. But how to create your own infographics?

There are several options.

  • Hire an infographic designer
  • Purchase infographic services from dozens of online websites
  • Ignore the infographic explosion altogether (but that didn’t work out too well when you dismissed Facebook, did it?)

Here’s what, an infographic design website, recommends if you’re looking to hire an infographic designer:

“…look for someone who understands the ‘info’ part. Infographics are used to display information in a way that’s easy to understand. Many infographic designers focus on fancy design that actually makes the infographic harder to comprehend.”

It’s also wise to examine how you would use your infographic designer. recommends that you create a “design brief,” which most good designers will expect. It should answer these questions:

  • What stories are we trying to tell that can be better told using an infographic?
  • When will we use an infographic designer most? Strictly during the budget season? For our annual reports?
  • Where will we use the infographics once they’re completed? In print? Online? Both?

Because many of you currently use page designers, it might be wise to ask if they’re able to produce infographics. Ask for samples.

But know, too, that many websites also provide infographic design services, providing a way to take smaller steps toward creating infographics, on a project-by-project basis.

Any number of sites offer these services, and some even provide templates so you can design your own infographics. This popular site, through its Marketplace, can provide you with infographic designers and even data researchers who will pull together customized infographics based on your needs. If you’re considering this option, be sure to check out their offers for “organizations,” including non-profits. Prices for customized infographics on can start at $1,495 and take at least 18 days to produce.

But also has a limited number of infographic templates you can use. You can import your own information into the template, check out how it looks, and then download the infographic as a PDF or JPEG. You can also use an html code to embed your infographic on your website, or simply link to the URL of your masterpiece. Here’s what I did in just five minutes of tinkering — a look at the“Facebook life” of the White Plains, NY, School District. 

Piktochart: This site provides three membership options, including a very limited free option. But trying out the free option (which will include a Piktochart watermark) can give you a general idea about what it’s like to create an infographic. Their professional option, at $29 a month,  provides you with 100 themes, some customization options, and more than 1,000 graphics and images. This site provides 15 themes that you can customize with your own information. The site is currently in beta, which means that it can only offer you so much in terms of customization. But if you’re just getting your feet wet, might be a good option.

Don’t forget that you might occasionally want to use a great infographic, created by someone else but available for free use, because it contains fascinating and pertinent information about public education. I post these often on my school district websites, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, and especially on Pinterest. As a curator of useful information, consider this (yet another) part of your job.