About Kristin Magette

I'm passionate about making things better through strategic communications and collaboration. I am director of communications for a small, rural public school district just outside of Kansas City. I'm also the author of Embracing Social Media: A Practical Guide to Manage Risk and Leverage Opportunity. Learn more about my book -- and about me -- at kristinmagette.com.

When teachers know best

Not long after we empowered our district’s teachers to use social media in their classrooms, I saw a post from Mr. Stadalman’s Fifth Grade Facebook page. It was an afternoon post I’d seen for a few days prior, and it looked something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 4.03.11 PM

A mom of elementary age kids, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to know what happens at school each day. A quick summary from a student on a teacher Facebook page seemed a perfect way to keep parents engaged in classroom life. After seeing these updates, I reached out to Kyle to give him a virtual high five.

But it was his quick response that showed me the real power that social media offers a school system.

“Summarizing is typically very hard for fourth graders,” Kyle wrote. “So, to get the class to come up with the proper sentences has been challenging, but fun. We are getting a little desperate for new topic sentences, and it’s only September!”

I quickly learned that throughout the year, Kyle projects his laptop display on the classroom Promethean Board and invites one student up to the front to compose the summary on the class Facebook page. Students brainstorm as a class, while the post author records the ideas, adds any finishing touches and finally clicks “post” — an exciting privilege not lost on most tweens.

Leave it to an outstanding teacher to take such a simple, familiar tool as Facebook and use it not only to engage parents — but also as an instructional tool to help students practice essential skills in the curriculum.

When is the last time the teachers in your district were encouraged to experiment with social media in their classroom? It’s well worth the planning and training it takes to see teachers create great opportunities for students!

Accessibility on social media

Communications and IT leaders in school districts across the U.S. are working to ensure their district websites and online resources meet updated regulations by the American with Disabilities Act — and social media content cannot be ignored. If your employees are using social media to communicate and engage, you must create content that is accessible to people with disabilities.

Here’s a brief rundown of ADA considerations for common social media platforms:

Facebook
We all know that images and videos hold the highest potential for engagement, but this content must meet new standards for those with vision disabilities.In 2016 Facebook began describing the content of photos using artificial intelligence, reading the descriptions aloud on accessible devices. The images you share should be easy to describe, and know that the screen reader likely will not pick up on text in your image. If you’re using an image you created that says SNOW DAY!, make sure “snow day” is also included in the text of your post.

All videos now require captions to be accessible. (But this is great for overall engagement, as the majority of Facebook videos are viewed, at least in part, with the volume muted!). As a page administrator, Facebook provides you a convenient captioning tool that can be used when you upload native video; it can also be used to add and edit captions to any videos you may have posted in the past.

Check out the Facebook accessibility page.

Twitter
Users can add alt text to images, allowing for greater accessibility. Simply enable this feature in the Settings menu of your account. Whether on mobile or desktop, click on General > Display and Sound > Accessibility > Compose Image Descriptions, and you’ll have the ability to add a description any time you prepare to tweet an image.

YouTube
With speech recognition technology, YouTube can automatically create captions for videos. The quality of the captions varies, so always check for accuracy and edit any mistakes directly in YouTube.

Instagram
There is no reader available in Instagram, nor are there alt text options. Simply ensure that every photo or video you post includes a meaningful caption, and you’re good to go.

While it’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the changes these updated standards require,  remember that accessibility improvements take time. After all, it was many months after the ADA passed in 1990 before someone in a wheelchair could count on an accessible restroom in public buildings.

But also remember that the work underway isn’t just about compliance — it’s about engaging all people better on social media.

 

Special thanks to NSPRA member Steve King for sharing this information and additional details (including Snapchat resources) in a recent blog post.

Are you social on social media?

I once heard it said that a website is your living room, and social media is more like the kitchen or backyard. And because I can’t pass up a good mullet analogy, I think of it as business in the front, party in the back.

Social media isn’t just another website or newsletter — it’s a distinct space, a community of give and take. Here are a few ways to use this dynamic to your advantage and maximize engagement:

Be human. If you read your post aloud and it doesn’t sound the way you’d talk to your neighbor or friend, keep editing until you get it right.

When others post or comment, think of how you’d handle it in person. (Highly unlikely you’d walk away or sit in silence.) The vast majority of engagements deserve your attention, even if it’s just clicking like or favorite. If you’re dealing with a troll or unreasonable individual, go high. Respond once, invite an offline conversation (if appropriate) and — if it’s clear a fight is a higher priority than a solution — resist the temptation to engage further.

Be honest. Authenticity is the foundation of any friendship. If we can’t be honest when times are good — and honest when times are difficult — we can’t really be friends. When you need to share difficult news, or explain after an embarrassing incident that you’re already planning how you’ll do better next time, remember that you are actively building trust.

Loosen up. Generally speaking, we humans love warmth, humor and high fives. When the timing and tone is right, don’t be afraid to joke around or throw down some slang, a meme or a GIF. (It goes without saying, but there is no appropriate moment for a district voice to use vulgarity of any sort.)

Full throttle snark can be fun, but keep in mind it works best in certain social media communities and sites. It’s best to consider your platform, your audience and your purpose before adding “Be snarky” to your list of social media strategies.

If you’re not quite sure about letting down your guard, here are some simple examples that could play well in virtually any district:

Empowering parents on social media

When we think about social media in schools, we typically focus on the communication, teaching and learning that we manage in our jobs.

Parents are an indispensable ally in our efforts to teach digital citizenship — and schools can help parents seize this opportunity. Even the most tech-savvy parent knows the uncertainty and worry that comes when children and teens begin to use social media. Parents worry about their children’s safety and well-being in the digital world, but so often they also feel overwhelmed. With an ever-changing social media landscape, it feels impossible to keep up with every new site, scam and threat to our children’s healthy development.

In my district, we work to engage and encourage our students’ parents to take an active role in their children’s growth as digital citizens. A page in the parent section of our district website offers parents support and empowerment with the most basic tools. We’ve aimed to make it a helpful, supportive place to start for parents to navigate across the spectrum of social media. Developing this resource has given us simple content for school newsletters, social media posts and parent engagement activities all year long.

We have countless opportunities to remind our community that being a good parent doesn’t require anyone to be an expert in social media. After all, if they can have conversations about their children’s experiences with friends on a Friday evening, they can — and should — have the same conversations about their children’s experiences on social media. It’s that simple, and it can make a powerful difference in your schools and community!

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.

 

Facebook wishes granted in 2016

Despite the rapid growth and change that takes place in the social media landscape, Facebook still crushes its competition. With more than three times the daily traffic of Twitter and 10 times the traffic of Instagram, it remains the place where the largest audience goes to socially connect online.

For districts using Facebook to engage with key audiences, 2016 has already delivered new features with great value.

  • Verified pages. It now only takes entering a unique code delivered by phone to get that all-important check mark next to your district or school’s account name. This has been available for school districts on Twitter for more than a year, but has only just recently rolled out for all pages on Facebook. In five minutes or less, you can help protect your brand and social media presence against confusing, malicious or other unofficial accounts. Get started here.

  • Privately contact commenters directly from their post. If your Facebook pages are anything like ours, there are countless times you’d like to answer a person’s question privately. Facebook has made this easier than ever with a new feature that was unveiled this month. Now when you post about online enrollment and someone posts an individual comment or question — “Why won’t it let me log in?” — you have the option to click message below the comment, right next to the familiar like and reply.

  • New ways to share visual elements in your page’s posts. Now when you click Photo/Video to begin creating a page post, you have a couple of new options. You can create a collage of photos that will play advance automatically in slideshow fashion. Or you can choose to include photos and a web page link by creating a photo carousel. (Think multiple photos on a website news story about high school graduation.) Whether you’re creating organic or ad content, visual elements are the single most important key to engaging an audience. These new tools offer great potential to up your game.

And, although it isn’t rolled out quite yet, Facebook has announced that it will extend the live video streaming feature now available to public figures to all pages. We still don’t know the exact timing of this roll-out, but insiders say it is coming soon to any page that has been verified with the little check mark. The ability to live stream naturally raises various questions and concerns, but with some basic risk management in place, it will most certainly be a powerful way to engage our audiences and showcase the great work that takes place in our schools and classrooms, every day of the year.

While it’s unlikely that Facebook will ever again be the hottest social media option, it is a tried and true tool for schools and districts to engage with audiences — and these new features make that tool all the more valuable.

 

How 40404 Changes Twitter

If you use Twitter regularly, you already know it’s a rich source of information and a powerful tool for engagement. But if you already use Twitter, you’ve also heard people give reasons why they don’t use it … it’s intimidating, it’s confusing, it’s too complicated. Getting used to a new social media platform takes time, especially in a space like Twitter, which can feel like it’s filled with people who were born understanding the language of hashtags, RTs and H/Ts.

And even for the initiated, trying to keep up with a Twitter timeline can feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

Enter 40404, which allows anyone to subscribe to specific Twitter users and receive their tweets as SMS text messages on a mobile phone. It requires no Twitter account, no computer, no login. For example, text Follow @nspra to the phone number 40404, and you’ll receive all of NSPRA’s tweets as text messages. Do the same for your superintendent or other district voices, and you’ll be able to keep tabs in real time on what is being pushed out.

In my district, our high school activities director manages a Twitter account that includes scoring updates and schedule changes — the information that students, families and fans want. Encouraging these people to subscribe to tweets with 40404 helps them get the information they want. But a subscription also means they also will receive the information that’s important to us, such as a reminder for online enrollment or request to contact legislators.

The 40404 function isn’t new — in fact, it’s been around since 2010. But as Twitter becomes an ever-more effective tool for school districts to communicate with different audiences, it makes even more sense to engage audience members in a customized, direct way that feels comfortably familiar.