About Doug Bray

I joined the Ritenour School District in July of 2006 after spending the first nine years of my career working in professional and amateur sports. In March of 2013, I was named the Director of Communications and Community Services for Ritenour. Prior to that I was the Communications Manager for the St. Louis Sports Commission from 2003-2006, a non-profit organization that works to attract the top amateur and professional sports to the region. From 1997-2003, I worked in the public/media relations office for the St. Louis Rams football team.

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!

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.

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!

Connecting a Community through Social Media

With this being the season for caring for others and giving thanks, I wanted to share a wonderful way social media is being used to honor a retired educator in my hometown.

This fall, we found out our recently retired band teacher and athletic director was suffering from cancer and not doing well. His treatments were becoming very difficult, and his health prognosis for the long term is not good.

In October, his son decided to start a secret social media group on Facebook and asked his former students to share stories and anecdotes about their time with his father. Within days, the group grew to more than 2,000 people and has now ballooned to more than 3,500 members.

To put the numbers in perspective, the population of my hometown is a little more than 8,000 people, so 3,500 is a significant group for the size of the community. While the entire town is sad about the the prognosis, the outpouring on social media has been nothing short of amazing.

Students began to fill the page with stories, anecdotes and photos right away. Shortly thereafter, parents, co-workers, friends, family members and many others joined the group. All were sharing favorite memories about the teacher – the good, bad, ugly and funny. It is an entire lifetime of memories and photos shared on one Facebook group page.

Personally, I have seen many memorials after someone has passed away, but this is the first time I have seen an outpouring of this magnitude for someone who is still living.

For a few weeks, the posts were kept from the teacher. Then, as he started going through some difficult treatments he was added to the page. Reading the posts helped distract him from the pain and helped him pull through. He still reads and responds to the posts on a regular basis and notes that he is still “alive and kicking!”

As I have been reading the postings and observing this outpouring of goodwill, I wanted to share this wonderful way to celebrate the life of a retired teacher. What a tremendous way to show education professionals the impact they have on the lives of thousands of students throughout their career.

Summarizing the School Year Using Video and Social Media

Our project started off very simply, with members of our communications team asking “what would it look like if we put together a film featuring a video clip from every school day in our district?”

From there, the idea for “One Second of Every Day in the Ritenour School District” was born. The concept of the video was simple – compile at least one second of video from something happening in our district for all 180 school days. The end product turned out to be an amazing look at our entire school year in less than three minutes.

We began the process by creating a planning calendar, ensuring that we captured every facet of our district. We also wanted to showcase the beauty of each of the four seasons here in Missouri. The video also features a few scenes following the civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. in November (Ritenour is located just a few miles away), which was something that we did not include in our plans – but ended up being a powerful part of the piece.

We officially released the video at the end of the last day of school on June 3, 2015. Our first “official” screening was to more than 100 community members during a presentation that night. We also sent the link via email and text message to our staff and families, and we included it on all of our social media channels.

We received an overwhelmingly positive response from our staff, students and community.

Our employees sent us dozens of messages. Many said they felt a deeper connection to the district.

“This video has me in tears. So moving! So beautiful! So touching!” said one of our special education teachers. “I am beginning my 29th year with the Ritenour family and could not be more proud.”

“Thank you! Wow! Your video made me cry. Beautiful!” noted another one of our teachers.

What we discovered through the process was the continued positive connection we could make with our employees, students and community through video.

The video had more than 260 likes, 62 shares and 24 positive comments from our Facebook audience of more than 4,000 people. The post reach was nearly 16,000 people. It has the most favorites and re-tweets ever on our Twitter page and received more views on YouTube than any other video we posted this school year.

How Do You Use QR Codes in Your District?

Like many school districts, we are in our budgeting phase. For our department, that means looking forward to next year to plan for all expenses for the upcoming school year.

Recently, a 40-year old piece of equipment in our copy shop died. It folds and staples all of our programs for musicals, plays, school events and awards. Thousands of programs are folded and stapled each school year. We had to request a new one in our budget for around $6,500.

I bet you are now wondering how this applies to social media. Well . . . during our budget meeting, our chief financial officer brought up an interesting question: “Do you really need paper programs with all of the smartphone and tablet technology? Couldn’t you just put a QR code on the wall with instructions to scan it and download it to their phone?”

What an interesting idea. I took an informal poll of several of our parents. They said they were not ready for only QR codes yet. They still wanted to have that paper copy of the program as a record of their children’s achievements. They also noted that the light from the screens might be distracting in a dark environment and that not everyone has a QR code reader installed on their phone.

But it really made me think. It could be a way to save thousands of dollars in printing costs, as well as help the environment. It would be quite simple to accomplish. Just create a .pdf file of your program and post on your website, copy the URL, and then visit a website that creates QR codes. Print a poster with the QR code and instructions and you are ready to go! The most difficult part would be convincing your students and families it is OK to not have a hard-copy program.

We use QR codes in many of our printed materials, including our district newsletter (view the latest edition). Our survey data indicates our community still relies on our hard-copy newsletter to receive information about the district, so we continue to produce it three times per year. We have not tracked the “scan-through” data for QR codes, but my assumption is that they are not frequently used by our readers.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in October of 2014 about mobile technology. Their data indicates that 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone and that number is growing every year. On top of that, 42 percent of adults own a tablet computer and 32 percent own an e-reader.

Our own district data is even more telling. We conducted a survey in November of 2014, and our respondents noted that 77 percent own a mobile device (smartphone, tablet or e-reader) – that number grew from 62 percent in 2013. The majority of people in our district and nationwide have the ability to use a QR code reader.

I am hoping to get some feedback from this blog post.

Does your school district use QR codes on a regular basis? How do you track the results?

Would you ever consider eliminating paper copies of event programs (or have you already) and asking families to download them onto their phone or mobile device?

Partnering with Students and Teachers Yields Results

When we first introduced our district social media accounts, there were two basic interactions we had with students on a regular basis:

1.  Students would complain on Facebook or Twitter about the lack of a snow day, about being too hot or cold walking to school, about school lunches, etc.

2.  They would make surprisingly disparaging remarks on an otherwise normal story on our Facebook feed, which we would quickly hide.

Flash forward just a couple of years, and now we have partnered with students and faculty to provide some of our most popular and meaningful content.

It has been a relationship that has taken time to develop, and it has been helped along by a new program at our high school (we are a one-high-school district).

Thanks to a bond issue passed by our community, Ritenour High School opened a $1.25 million Media Convergence Center at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. It features 5,000 square feet of space dedicated to a radio station, video production, television studio, print news and yearbook.

The program is the combination and exploration of all aspects of media – both creation and consumption. Students learn about many forms of media communications: newspaper, radio, film, video, social networking and various new media. We are preparing students to become responsible communicators who are literate as creators and consumers of media.

Through our partnership with media convergence students and faculty, we are able to tap into different social channels to amplify our message, and they are able to do the same through our channels. All of the retweets (it helps if you give them an @ mention) and cross-posting on Facebook give our social media communications an extra boost.

Working together, we are building our social capital, through likes or followers, and facilitating new partnerships within our community. It is a mutually beneficial partnership that helps our social media efforts.

Interested in what our students are doing? You can find them on the following pages:

•    https://twitter.com/KRHSMedia
•    https://www.facebook.com/KRHSradio
•    http://ritenourlive.org/