It’s okay to be picky about social media

Headed into my district’s fourth year of using social media, some days I wonder why I dove into this pool all alone. With no staff to help manage the world I’ve created that my community and parents rely on, sometimes I can feel like I’m drowning.

So how does a one-person PR office manage a social media network (or three) for an entire school district? Easy. I’m picky. And purposeful.

Here are my tips to keep from drowning in the sea of social media.

1. Get on board. If your community and parents are there, you should be too. Do your research. In fact, take a survey, or ask on whichever platforms you are currently using.
2. Get off the boat. If that Instagram account you set up has hundreds of photos and few to no followers in the two years it’s been active, consider moving away from it. Don’t focus what little time you do have on a network that isn’t giving results. Don’t be on a network just to be there. It wastes time and isn’t useful.
3. Go with the flow. Spend your valuable time on the networks that work. If you are seeing dozens of new page likes and even more comments on your Facebook page every day, stick with it. If Twitter is picking up steam, spend some time there.
4. Row, row, row your boat. Once you establish the networks that work, be purposeful about engaging your audience. Know what engages them and use it. Follow an editorial calendar to schedule posts, and aim to post content that increases interaction. Don’t harm your networks that work by neglecting your audience.

With so much going on in our schools and communities, don’t waste time on social media networks or content that don’t bring value. Be picky.

Uses for #Hashtags

First of all, in case you’re wondering what all this hashtag stuff is about, let me break it down:

  • A hashtag starts with the # symbol, and it has no spaces or punctuation.
  • You can use hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many other social sites.
  • It was originally used to group together messages about a theme, because the hashtag links to a search for every message that contains the same hashtag. We used the #NSPRASeminar13 hashtag in San Diego to have a useful online conversation.
  • Today, people use hashtags for commentary, even if they don’t expect people to click on the link or use the same hashtag to have a conversation. #thesepeoplearetryingtobefunny

How can you use hashtags in your social media outreach? I’ve struggled with this in the Park Hill School District.

At first, I tried using a #parkhillschools hashtag. I thought it might catch on. But two things happened.

  1. It didn’t catch on.
  2. I remembered that kids make bad decisions, and they might think it was funny to hijack this hashtag to post inappropriate stuff.

So I stopped.

I decided to only use hashtags that are commonly used and are not specific to my district. So far, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of the #tbt hashtag, which is the shorter version of #throwbackthursday.

On Thursdays, we join thousands of people across the web in posting old photos. I post them on Instagram and push them through to Facebook and Twitter. These are fun and produce high engagement. We even found an old photo that tied in to our current district discussion about classroom technology.

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How are you using hashtags?

Using Social Media to Enhance Classroom Communication

Social media has become a great communication tool for schools. Schools and districts now have a way to push information to parents where they are instead of parents having to come and find the information themselves.

However, using social media isn’t just a great communication tactic for schools; it can also be useful in the classroom. Teachers in our district and around the country are strengthening the school-to-home connection by using social media.

Teachers use Facebook groups to connect what is happening every day in their classroom to parents. Teachers post photos, videos, upcoming events and reminders. They also share with parents what the students are currently learning and how that learning can be supported at home. Some examples:

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In an effort to support teachers using social media in the classroom, our District developed guidelines. Below are highlights of the guidelines, and the complete list can be found here.

  • Teachers set up a professional account using their school district email.
  • They create a closed group, so individuals have to ask and be approved to join. The nice thing about groups is that they create a place where people with a common interest can come together to share ideas without being “friends.”
  • Communication must be directed at parents for grades K-8 and parents or students for grades 9-12. This is based on the Facebook Terms of Use and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).
  • Teachers are required to have a second administrator on the Facebook page. For some schools this is a building administrator, for other buildings it is myself.
  • The District Rules of Engagement must be posted in every group.

We have been doing teacher Facebook groups in our district since we implemented social media four years ago. The feedback we have received from parents has been very positive. Parents love the opportunity to feel more connected to their child’s classroom and the opportunity to connect with other parents. See for yourself!

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Connecting with Families in 160 (or 140) Characters or Less

Lately, I have found myself trying to promote our district and its events in 140 or 160 characters or less. Let me tell you, it can be a challenge. Whether we are advertising an upcoming event at a school via text message (160 characters) or posting information about a dedication and ribbon-cutting event on Twitter (140 characters), my world as a verbose writer has been turned upside down.

When I first started using Twitter several years ago, I thought “this can’t be difficult, using 140 words or less.” Little did I know that it counted every character, even spaces! In the new world of unlimited space in the Internet and our websites, I felt like I was going back to writing for the space constraints of column inches in a newspaper or hard-copy newsletter!

Now I’ve had to say goodbye to punctuation marks, shorten sentences and sometimes resort to a just-the-facts approach to sharing information with our families and community using Twitter and text messaging.

The good news is that by texting and tweeting with our families, our building administrators have reported increased attendance and involvement with building and district events. While this is simply anecdotal data and evidence, we are experiencing success in this world of what I call “short attention span theater.”

Below are a few helpful tips to help you connect with families in either 140 or 160 characters or less (some of which was compiled from other websites):

  • Be careful with your word choice. Readers want small, easy-to-digest words. Most readers don’t want to see a second tweet or read number 2/2 of a text message.
  • Shorten those sentences and be conscious of your word choice. Limit your use of adverbs and other unnecessary words like “that” and “which.”
  • Make sure you get it right by editing, cutting and then editing some more.
  • Keep it simple. Sometimes all you need is the basic time, date and place with a link to more information.
  • Tiny URL (http://tinyurl.com/) or other websites like it are your friend. Our website creates some of the longest links I have ever seen! But by using sites to shorten your links, you will have more room for content.

As I was doing research while writing this blog entry, I came across an interesting fact – did you know that Twitter uses only 140 characters so it can leave 20 characters for the username of the sender?  Standard texting (or SMS) allows 160 characters.

Now, let’s see if I can end this blog post in 140 characters or less…thanks for reading! (Only 88 characters!)