About Lesley Bruinton, APR

Lesley Bruinton can usually be found brainstorming and selling a big idea, much to the chagrin of those around her who know it will be a lot of work, but a lot of fun! Her ideas come as quickly as her rapid-fire typing skills. Bruinton is a nationally award-winning, Accredited in Public Relations practitioner with more than a decade of experience in both television journalism and public relations. She is presently the Public Relations Coordinator for the Tuscaloosa (Alabama) City Schools, serving more that 10,000 students in grades Pre-K through 12. She is currently the Alabama School Public Relations Association​ president. Honors include being named a 2014 NSPRA "35 Under 35" (which she just crept in under the wire), a 2015 NSPRA Frontrunner for the Southeast region and a 2016 NSPRA Gold Medallion recipient.

Searching for Cassandra

As the school year comes to a close for many of us, it’s often a time to reflect on the things that have happened. I can’t help but think back to my school days.

Image result for copyright free cassandra greek myth

Cassandra by Evelyn De Morgan,  1898. where my curiosity was sparked by Greek mythology.

According to myth, Cassandra was given the gift of foretelling the future, but in a twist of fate, she was cursed with no one believing her.

While you may not have Cassandra’s gift, you likely have tools at your disposal that can help you foretell possible social media crisis.

Many of us are already using social media monitoring services, but sometimes there are items the monitoring just doesn’t catch. When’s the last time you just typed your organization’s name (or another key term) in the Facebook or Twitter search tool to see what pops up?

I do this from time to time, and on Facebook, I narrow my search to the city in which I live to see what our community is really saying.

A disengaged parent, student or employee may be negatively posting about your organization without you realizing it. The more sensational, the faster it seems to travel when you consider the reach of said post.

Never heard of this? It’s because you weren’t supposed to. If this is being done on Twitter, it’s called a subtweet.

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Either way, it can be damaging to your organization’s brand.

This simple search can help you see a crisis on the horizon, giving you time to alert leadership that trouble may be around the corner.

Cassandra’s curse doesn’t have to be yours. Knowing what’s around the corner can give you the proof you need to protect your credibility as a practitioner and the time to prepare social media crisis response.

When Communication and Culture Combine

Social media can mobilize an organization to action, but how can you use social media to reinforce your school’s (or system’s) commitment to serving students? As school public relations practitioners, we are in the service industry of supporting those who take care of people’s most precious possession each day: their children.

Social media gives parents (and grandparents) a peek into the classroom. This transparency can help families develop relationships with the inanimate objects of schools and school systems. As school public relations practitioners, we train and support our schools in developing their brand, this is probably a novel concept when it comes to schools.

One of my schools, Central Elementary School, has taken the ball and run with it, by developing their own hashtag #CES360. But more than a hashtag, it is about impacting culture. The hashtag isn’t lip service to what goes on inside the building, but rather a showcase of it.

Credit goes to the principal, Dr. Monte Linebarger, for seeing the connection between communication and culture. He defines #CES360 as the school’s method for creating a positive environment to help close the achievement gap by focusing on five different areas: attendance, discipline, partnerships, academic achievement and leadership.

Like any great PR plan, evaluation is needed, and Dr. Linebarger has measured the impact of this work and is seeing positive change. The school is presently undergoing major renovation work, and as a result of their branding work, we are having to adjust our construction plans. The school will need a larger parking lot to accommodate all of the volunteers it now has as part of its efforts to move the needle towards excellence for students.

Their social media stream is just a reflection of it. Just follow #CES360 to see it for yourself.

Let’s Get Engaged!

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Let’s face it: any  PR pro working on social media projects is after the brass ring: engagement. (If you’re not, you should be!) Simply put, engagement is the connection made among social media users, whether it is likes, shares or comments. No matter how great your news, if it doesn’t get eyeballs, it’s not getting out. Experts offer many useful suggestions on how to increase engagement, but I’m going to add my short list to the mix.

Timing is Everything. Consider the time of day you are posting your content. If you’re posting based on the convenience of your schedule rather than the needs of your stakeholders, you’re missing out. Use the scheduling tool to post at times most likely to reach your audience. For example, morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up may be an opportune time to share content.

The Hook. Good writing, like good manners, is still important. If you’re hurriedly rushing through your writing to post, this is a missed opportunity. There is nothing wrong with lifting your own work to repurpose it for social.

The Payoff. Develop content that gives your stakeholders a payoff (and your organization too). By selectively choosing your content to include interesting visuals, you can advance your key messages while evoking emotion. Remember those newsworthiness values? They work on social media, too.

The Look. After you’ve submitted your post, you’ve gotta look . . . at the analytics. This form of measurement offers so much information and validation if you’re doing it right.

My office recently changed our social media approach when it comes to sharing content. For articles, we use pull quotes to draw people to click to read it. We’re doing the same for video too, and we’re using our analytics to determine when to post.

Curious how it worked? Our analytics show an increase in engagement of 122% over last week.

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How’s that for grabbing the brass ring?

 

 

 

Making Data Digestible

As a school leader, you well know that data informs our decision making on behalf of students. In a digital age, this data can be used to garner support and explain the decision-making rationale for school or system initiatives. But how do you make the data digestible on a social platform—especially when it comes to a multi-sheet Excel spreadsheet, volumes of academic data and other reports?

It’s not like you would want to tweet an invitation to read a 140-page report in 140 characters. And who would want to read it on a mobile device? Probably only a handful who were directly involved in its creation. Making your data digestible goes a long way toward promoting transparency for your district.

Draw stakeholders into your data by:

  • Highlighting key points from your report;
  • Using qualitative responses to share stakeholder opinions;
  • Illustrating data points with charts and graphs; or
  • Closing the loop on stakeholder engagement efforts by touting how you used feedback to inform your decision making.

It’s no secret you can get higher engagement when you use infographics to share those data points. But take your work to the next level by carefully crafting posts to drive people back to the report itself or to re-engage stakeholders for more feedback.

Since many school PR practitioners are one-person shops, we must be creative in the way we tell our stories using data, especially if time and budget are a concern.

Even if you are not proficient in graphic arts, free online tools make the task a snap; get professional-looking results in a matter of minutes using your system’s color palate and branding!

In this day and age, making data digestible is easy!

Gaining a New Perspective

The task of telling your school or system’s story can be a daunting challenge—especially if you are a one-person shop. But just because only one person has the job title doesn’t mean you can’t recruit others to help. Look among your administrators and teachers who are already active on social media and get them in the game too!

These employees can help personify your organization by sharing their perspective. And let’s face it: sometimes it takes someone who knows what they are looking for to tell the story a professional PR practitioner can’t. For instance, if you came to school PR from either a news or public relations background, you might look at a classroom setting and miss what is jumping out at a teacher.

Take a look at the photo featured in this tweet from Terry Roller, director of high school education for the Tuscaloosa (Ala.) City Schools:

My background as a news reporter would have made me miss the story, but @tuscaloosahsdir didn’t. With 99 characters and a photo, he provided context for followers.

Before you start sending DMs to anyone with the same email domain as you, consider these points:

  • Find folks who have a comfort and a familiarity with the social channel
  • Enlist people who are subject-matter experts in your school or district
  • Train them in the social media strategy you are using
  • Encourage the use of photos, video and commentary to explain what the viewer is seeing and why it’s important
  • Use hashtags to connect what they see to the district’s and school’s message

By changing your perspective on who is responsible for positive PR, you can expand your idea of just how big your department really is and provide a different perspective for you and your stakeholders.

Can I Get A Like?

A Facebook or Twitter post not connected to strategy means you’re missing an opportunity. That said, why are you even on social media? What do you want to accomplish? How does the image you project online square with what’s happening IRL? And who’s even listening?

Social media gives your district’s mission an opportunity to play out online. These are answers you should know when crafting your district’s social media strategy:

Know Your Audience. Amassing new fans who can’t help you meet your goals is an exercise in futility, especially when they live hundreds of miles away.

Understand (And Reinforce) Your Brand. If your district has made a case for changing the way school is “done,” then showcase those innovations! This is your moment to tell your district’s story…over and over again!

Set Goals. Need new partners to help you reach your goals? Post to highlight existing partnerships and encourage new ones. Your social network may connect you with opportunities you never knew existed.

Protect Your Credibility. You may be headed for a #brandfail when your community doesn’t believe the claim of your district having a great _______, especially when everyone (and the data) knows it’s not. A social audience is a savvy one and will be all too happy to correct the record for you.

Celebrate! Remind your network of what you were trying to do and how you accomplished it. When you build a strong social network, your publics will share in your celebrations and share them — after all, that’s what social media is for!

As a public relations practitioner, you have a unique opportunity to guide your organization into a social media strategy that relies on more than just likes. If that’s all that’s motivating you, you’re missing out and that’s definitely a thumbs down.