About Leslie Robinette, APR

Leslie Robinette, APR is the Communications Coordinator for the Gladstone School District in Oregon. She is a past president of the Oregon School Public Relations Association. She received the NSPRA Frontrunner Award and is an NSPRA Gold Medallion recipient.

School’s out, so get schooled up!

The class of 2016 graduated. Our classrooms are empty. Now that the school year ended, it’s our turn to learn! Summer is the perfect time to add some new social media skills to your toolkit.

Not sure where to begin? Here are a few goals from my list:

Start making infographics:
Why? Images double your Facebook likes and boost your online traffic by 12 percent. And a whopping 87 percent will read your infographic text. Here are a few free tools to make it easy: http://www.creativebloq.com/infographic/tools-2131971. Some handy tips for infographic use on social media can be found here: http://socialmarketingwriting.com/tips-sharing-infographic-facebook-twitter-pinterest-linkedin/

• Practice live-streaming video on Facebook:
Celebrities are doing it. Now you can, too! But before you go live this fall, you’ll want to practice. Here’s how to launch: https://www.facebook.com/help/1636872026560015

• Organize your YouTube channel:
If you’ve been in a frenzy of video production all year, summer is the perfect time to organize your channel and work up a promotional blurb for fall. Here’s a quick how-to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkwDPc-KRDE

Need help getting started? Head to Chicago July 17-20 for the NSPRA Seminar! There you’ll find a mind-blowing array of over 70 workshops, action labs and presentations by some of the best school PR professionals in the business. Find out more: http://www.nspra.org/

NSPRA sessions include:

Infographics & Other Cool Tools: Using Visual Content to Inform and Engage
Back from the Twitterverse: Community Engagement through Conversations
Harnessing Technology to Engage a Diverse Community
Why Video Content is King and How to Do It Yourself
Grandma’s on Facebook: Engaging Seniors to Support Public Schools
The One Day Campaign: Building Successful Twitter Engagement
Telling Your District Story: Repeating, Repurposing, Retweeting


The power of student-led social media campaigns

We’ve all seen the damage cyber-bullying can do, including suicide. In some states, schools have a legal responsibility to address it. The big question is how to do that effectively.

Student leaders at Gladstone High schooled me on this recently when they tacked the issue head-on through a student-led social media campaign. Expanding on last year’s effort – a Twitter compliments page that drew local news media attention – they planned Unity Week.

Each day of the week-long celebration had a special theme. For example, on “Sweet Tweet Tuesday,” students sent positive tweets complimenting others. On “Whatcha Know Wednesday,” they posed for selfies posing with someone they didn’t know well, including a fascinating fact they discovered about that person (“Did you know Ms. Schuberg ran a radio station in college?”).

One day during lunch, kids competed in the Selfie Challenge: a prize was awarded to the student who posted the most selfies, each with a different classmate or school staffer.

The celebration culminated with Blue Friday, when students wore blue to show school-wide unity against bullying. An assembly that day included elementary school students performing a skit celebrating diversity and a skit by Gladstone High students about the importance of being a positive influence on others.

The whole week showcased the fun of being positive on social media, while reminding kids of the harm cyberbullying can do. More than 200 students signed a pledge against cyberbullying, and an additional 125 students pledged to fight name-calling.

Gladstone High has worked hard to build a positive, inclusive culture, and this social media campaign was just one piece of a year-long effort by student leaders. What made it fun and effective was that the campaign was planned and run by students, who understand the power of social media better than any other generation.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

How can you expand the reach of your Facebook posts to different demographics than your current fan base? It’s easy with a little help from your friends!

My school district page reaches mostly women 25 to 54, mothers and staff members. However, by connecting with other local pages, I am able to spread our school district message to other groups in our community – more men, empty nesters and seniors.

In a small town, this happens naturally. Frequently I see my district posts shared by several other community pages:

  • Meanwhile in Gladstone: Run by a local retiree, this page frequently shares school posts.
  • Downtown Gladstone: Run by a local coffee shop owner who has invited me to be a co-editor of her page
  • Gladstone Historical Society: This page draws a mostly senior audience that is less connected to schools.
  • Gladiator Sports: Run by a local sports buff, this page features news about both school teams and youth leagues. Because it reaches a targeted audience, it’s a great place to post when we have a change in the athletic schedule or an important playoff game. Also, it provides a way to engage more men.

As an involved community member, I run the Facebook pages for both the Rotary Club and The Gladstone Community Festival. This gives me the opportunity to cross-pollinate messages with different audiences as appropriate.

As the operator of multiple pages, remember to have each of the pages you run like the content on the others’. As a result of doing this a few times each week, all three pages I run have increased their fan base substantially.

Just remember to keep your cross-page liking and sharing audience-appropriate. For example, on the sports page, stick to sharing sports stories, but sneak in some news lauding the achievements of scholar-athletes so they see the academic benefits schools bring to local athletes. For the historical society, try a then-and-now post highlighting the changes in schools over time.

Be sure to do your neighbor pages a favor by liking and sharing their posts appropriate to your audience. This encourages them to return the favor.

Facebook as a tool for staff collaboration

This fall my school district began a pilot project with six other districts across Oregon. Eighty educators are participating, from urban and rural schools scattered across southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley to the Blue Mountains, Portland and the north coast.

Grant funding covers travel costs to meet once a month, but how can we keep continuous, two-way communication flowing as participants need to share research, planning and data?

My suggestion was to launch a Facebook group. This gives our collaborative the option of a closed group, allowing for free-flowing, large-group private conversations about our ongoing work, which may differ significantly from place to place.

The advantages are many:

• No email log-jam: Rather than flooding the inboxes of 80 people with a stream of reply-all emails, Facebook groups provide access in a non-intrusive way that makes it easy to scroll down through conversation threads.

• Casual conversations are creative: As an informal communication tool, Facebook frees group members to brainstorm and converse more freely than they would in Google Docs or Dropbox. In a groundbreaking project, the creative thinking and innovation this generates are keys to success.

• Continuous communication: With the moderator’s strategic use of “What-if” questions and weekly reports from each partner group, the long-distance collaborative project builds energy and momentum day-to-day, rather than drifting off the priorities list between monthly meetings.

Whether your group project is spread across a large school district, across an entire state or across multiple states, Facebook groups are an important tool to move your project forward through two-way, continuous communication.

Think like a parent: when NOT to use social media

Social media is a good tool for spreading news in a hurry. But when a personal touch is needed, social media should take a back seat. Two recent incidents drove this home for me.

Two weeks ago, a school bus carrying middle school students hit a pedestrian on a busy highway. The pedestrian was seriously injured, and the 20 students on the bus were shaken up after witnessing the horrible accident.

First we took care of the kids. A school counselor and the vice principal personally accompanied the students on the remainder of their bus route with a different bus and driver.

After that, our first communications priority was to have the principal and vice principal personally phone the parents of the students who witnessed the accident. We wanted parents to hear this news first from us, not from the news media or via social media.
The phone calls took awhile, but when I explained to the reporters and other community members who called that our first priority was taking care of the students and personally notifying their parents, they were willing to wait for details.

A second incident happened last week, while students were en route to school. Police reported that a man with two guns was running through the neighborhood near one of our schools. During the police pursuit, the man ran past three buses of elementary students, colliding with a side mirror and breaking a window on one of the buses. While no one was hurt, the children were shaken up by the incident.

This time we quickly put a basic message out by email and social media to all parents in our small community:

This morning at approximately 7:20 a.m., there was police activity near Kraxberger Middle School. Police resolved the issue without incident. There is no threat to students, and schools will operate as usual today. Once we have all the facts, we will provide you with more information.

Again, our communications priority was to have school staff phone the parents of the children on the school buses. After that was accomplished, we followed through with our promise to provide detailed information via social media and email.

Phone calls are not the fastest or easiest communication strategy, but they are the most personal. In both incidents, our first thought was, “if my child was in this situation, what would I want to happen?” Taking that approach has built a lot of trust in our schools.

A little help from my friends

Social media is a great tool for making news go viral. But what if you need that to happen overnight?

Recently my ever-spontaneous superintendent decided –- at the 11th hour — to craft an op-ed piece advocating for more school funding. He wanted his message to go out statewide immediately, making a big splash in the last two weeks of our state’s legislative session.

First, I anchored the op-ed to our district website and sent it to the daily newspaper at the state capital. Then I called on a few friends!

Here are some partners who helped make the message go viral by sharing my post on Facebook, Twitter and key organization websites:
• The state NSPRA chapter (Thanks, OSPRA!)
• The state school boards association
• The state teachers’ union
• State PTA leaders
• Friends who are school advocates
• The state school business professionals association
• The state classified union
• School advocacy groups

For maximum effectiveness, include one or two photos to accompany the message, and send your partners a list of suggested hashtags appropriate to your target audiences.

How well did it work? Over the course of a week, the piece did go viral for over a week! All thanks to a little help from my friends. The next time they call me for help, I owe them big time.

Smile — You’re on Candid Camera!

What’s the impact on public meetings when virtually every person in the room has a video camera in their pocket?

Recently my school district hosted a regional meeting for our state Department of Education, sharing information about the new Smarter Balanced state tests. This is a controversial topic in some surrounding communities, so I was prepared for a lively debate. What surprised me, however, was the number of cell phone cameras in use throughout the meeting.

Standardized testing protesters videotaped not just state presenters, but every attendee who asked a question or made a statement. How many in the crowd, I wonder, were afraid to voice their views, knowing they could appear on social media? How many worried that if they spoke about a child’s special needs, it would compromise student privacy? How many educators worried about the impact on their careers? How many folks wished they had sat in the back?

Video or audio recording at public meetings is usually legal and increasingly common. As public relations practitioners, how can we ensure that public meetings remain a safe place to exchange ideas and express diverse views?

Transparency is a trust builder, and video can be a way to involve community members unable to attend an event. However, there are ways to keep it from having a dampening effect on your public meeting:

1) Remind presenters to expect cell phone video cameras: Public officials should be aware that it’s likely they will be videotaped, especially when dealing with controversial topics. Remind them to be diplomatic. Make sure they are well prepared with talking points and real-world examples.

2) Lay some ground rules: Ask your audience to respect any individual requests not to be video or audio recorded when they speak in the meeting. Explain that people may have a need to protect student privacy or a child in protective custody.

3) Provide a way to ask questions or raise issues anonymously: Hand out cards for questions and comments, which can be read aloud by a neutral facilitator. Provide the presenter’s email address, so people can ask questions privately. Try a clicker-response poll using cell phone technology so folks can weigh in anonymously. Poll Everywhere is one of many such tools, allowing for open response, word cloud response and multiple-choice polls.

4) Balance airtime: Don’t let one person or viewpoint dominate. Allow the opportunity for a variety of voices to be heard. Setting a time limit on comments can help. Don’t allow a second question or comment until several others have had the opportunity to speak.