About Evelyn McCormack

Evelyn McCormack is Director of Communications at Southern Westchester BOCES in suburban New York, and a frequent presenter on the subject of using social media as a public relations tool. She also serves as Vice President at Large for Communication Technology and Innovation for the National School Public Relations Association.

Facebook Launches New Privacy Portal

Last week, Facebook launched a new Privacy Basics portal that the social media company hopes users will find friendlier and easier to understand. And because Facebook is often reinventing itself, an easy-to-understand primer on privacy will help users and administrators keep up with the changing privacy landscape.

In the new portal, you’ll find visual guides that cover topics including detecting suspicious activity on your account, setting a secure password and even identifying “trusted contacts” who can help you recover a lost password.

According to Facebook, the portal is available in 40 different languages and can be accessed from a mobile phone, desktop or tablet.

In the “What Others See About You” section, Facebook explains, among other things, how to delete posts, how likes and comments work, how tagging works and how to deactivate and delete accounts.

In the “How Others Interact With You” section, Facebook explains how to unfriend and block users, how to manage what others post on your timeline and how to manage likes and comments on your page.

Perhaps the most important section of the portal is the one called “How to Keep Your Account Secure,” where Facebook explains what to do if you think your account has been hacked, how to tell if phishing is taking place on your account and what to do if you spot spam messages.

If you’re managing Facebook fan pages, the new portal is worth checking out. You can find it here.

How to Use Facebook’s New Call to Action Button

If you’re the Facebook fan page administrator for your school or district, you might have recently noticed a small “Create Call to Action” button that suddenly appeared at the bottom of your cover photo, next to the “Like” button.

This little feature has been rolling out on fan pages over the past couple of months. If it hasn’t appeared on your district’s Facebook page yet, it will be there shortly.

call to action 1

Here’s how it works. The Call to Action button provides you with a drop-down menu of seven choices: “Sign Up,” “Shop Now,” “Contact Us,” “Book Now,” “Use App,” “Watch Video” or “Play Game.” These options, says Facebook, will permit you to link the button you choose to “any destination on or off Facebook that aligns with a business’s goals.”

On the NSPRA Facebook page, we decided to put the Call to Action button to use recently by choosing “Book Now,” and placing a link directly to NSPRA’s registration page for the 2015 July Seminar in Nashville, the organization’s most important event each year.

call to action 2

While your district may not want to use the Call to Action button for that reason, you might want to consider the “Sign Up” option to persuade users to sign up for the District’s e-newsletter, or the “Contact Us” button to bring readers to your website contact page. “Watch Video” or “Use App” are both great options for districts that want to promote their new mobile app or their latest YouTube or Vimeo video.

If you don’t yet have this option, you can keep checking your Facebook page for the Call to Action button. If you have one, just follow these simple steps to put it to good use:

1. Go to your page’s cover photo and click on the “Create Call to Action” button at the bottom right, next to your “Like” button.
2. Choose which call to action option you’d like to use, and then provide the web address URL you’d like to link to.
3. Click “create.”

Any time you would like to delete the Call to Action or edit it, go to the button and use the drop-down to make those changes.

How have you used the new Call to Action button?

Locked Down by Yik Yak

Last month, while I was interviewing a high school student in one of my school districts, our conversation was interrupted by the announcement that the school was on lockdown.

For two long hours, my delightful companion and I spoke in whispers about our families and her college plans. She was calm and collected, occasionally checking her smartphone for texts from classmates and reassuring her parents by text that she was safe. I asked her what might have precipitated the lockdown, which ended only after a police officer knocked on our locked office door and set us free.

“Yik Yak,” she said. “It’s disgusting.”

Yik Yak is the latest in a long litany of anonymous social apps, this one providing users with a way to have Twitter-like conversations with others within a 1.5-mile geographic radius. Like a location-based bulletin board, Yik Yak permits users to “upvote” or “downvote” others’ posts.

But since the app’s inception only a year ago, some of the comments posted by its young users have included serious threats and persistent bullying, resulting in lockdowns, evacuations and even arrests on college campuses and at high schools around the country.

Yik Yak was intended, say its creators, to provide college students with a way to converse with each other about campus life in an unofficial and unfiltered way. But as is often the case when an app is anonymous, problems have plagued its use.

In fact, in a digital landscape that includes the often-maligned and anonymous Ask.fm, Whisper and 4chan, the Washington Post wrote recently that “perhaps none has proved so consistently problematic — so apparently irredeemable — as Yik Yak.”

Because of the bad publicity, Yik Yak creators now say that posts flagged as “inappropriate” by two or more users will be removed, and are said to be working on a tool that will notify them when posts come directly from a high school or middle school.

But social apps – good and bad — will continue to be a moving target for school officials and communications professionals. We need to be ready to respond. Here are some tips from my own recent experience:

  • Ask your technology team if a “geo-fence” can be established around your high schools and middle schools to block troublesome apps.
  • It’s never too early to send a letter or an email out to parents, informing them about the latest app making headlines. If schools in Chicago or Marblehead, Mass., are being locked down, the problem is likely to reach your doorstep.
  • Remind parents and students that even “anonymous” comments and posts can be tracked by law enforcement, particularly if a post can be interpreted as a threat.
  • Include discussions about the dangers of anonymous apps in your digital citizenship classes and at parents’ nights. Enlist the help of your PTAs.
  • Invite experts on the use of anonymous social media and apps to make presentations to your school community. In another of my districts next week, we’re hosting cyberbullying expert Josh Gunderson, who will speak to students during the day and to parents in the evening.
  • If your school community finds itself in the midst of a Yik Yak invasion, be ready to handle calls from the press. Rather than evading reporters, engage them in a thoughtful conversation about the problems of anonymous apps and provide them with the bigger picture. They will probably appreciate the research you did and the wider perspective.

Hyper Over Hyperlapse

That title might sound like space-age lingo, but many school communications professionals I know are beginning to get hyper about Hyperlapse, a new app created by Instagram that provides you with the capability to transform a normal-speed video into a time-lapse video.

Hyperlapse also stabilizes your videos, which makes viewers feel like they’re a part of the action. The app is currently available only on iOS, but is likely to be available on Google Play in the not-too-distant future.

The playback speed available on the app makes it fun to use. You can either use the default speed of 6x, or choose from 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 10x or 12x. At six times the speed, a 60-second video will be shrunk to a 10-second video, and a 90-second video will be shrunk down to 15 seconds — the maximum length of an Instagram video. If you plan to upload your video to YouTube or Vimeo, then you can make it a longer production.

Here are six cool ways you can use Hyperlapse to promote your schools:

1. Campus tour: Take your iPhone and videotape a walk around campus, through classrooms, playgrounds, the gymnasium, etc.
2. Get to Know Our Community: Give new or prospective families a quick look at your city or town. Travel to some of the landmarks, the parks, your schools, city hall, the mall, and create a time-lapse video of your travels. You can find a great example on YouTube, in this Hyperlapse look at the bridges of New York City.
3. Classroom activities: Use Hyperlapse as a fun way to videotape classroom activities, things being built, discussions taking place and students in action.
4. Special events: Wouldn’t the school’s annual Halloween parade be more interesting as a time-lapse video? What about the homecoming parade? And spirit week? What about videotaping the construction of the set for the high school musical in time-lapse?
5. Field trips: Recording highlights from class trips would be fun using Hyperlapse and Instagram. Take a look at how the National Aquarium in Baltimore recently used the app to film its Blacktip Reef.
6. Sporting events: Not everyone wants to sit through a full-length video of a football or basketball game. Using the app, you can produce a cool, sped-up video of much of the sports action in a thoroughly entertaining way. The routines of the cheerleading squad would be a super subject for a time-lapse video.
7. The arts: Hyperlapse can be used to videotape students as they’re painting a masterpiece, sculpting a ceramic bowl or rehearsing for the next concert.

You can find Hyperlapse on the iTunes store.

Where to Learn More About Digital Communications Tools

Lifelong learning and professional development is just as important to school public relations professionals as it is to teachers, principals and superintendents. Even with a limited budget, you can learn more about using social media and other digital tools by attending conferences, tuning in to webinars (many of them free) or taking in-person or online classes. Here are some good resources if you’re feeling left behind at the 21st-century station:

The NSPRA Seminar:

The National School Public Relations Association, as many of you know, holds its annual conference — an important event for anyone in school communications and leadership — each July. This year’s seminar, to be held in Baltimore July 13-16, is a must for anyone trying to sort their way through the complex social media landscape. Dozens of related workshops are on tap for this year’s seminar, and you can still register. You can also register for day-long pre-seminar workshops on Saturday or Sunday, including Shane Haggerty‘s “Strategic Social Media: Taking Your Social Platforms and Content to the Next Level,” or Jake Sturgis’ “Video Boot Camp.” Go to the NSPRA website to register for the Seminar.

NSPRA PR Power Hours:

This popular series of audio and webinar workshops is held throughout the year by NSPRA and almost always on Fridays. This year’s topics have touched on many topics, including social media and mobile apps. They offer an economical and convenient way to continue your professional development and provide a conversational and interactive forum for learning best practices from top experts in school communication. What’s more, registration is just $59 for NSPRA members. For another $10, registrants can get audio files from the PR Power Hours. 

ISTE:

The organization is not exactly geared toward school communications professionals, but rather technology directors, teachers, school librarians and superintendents. But many communications colleagues who have attended the annual ISTE conference have come away with mountains of great information about technology, social media, mobile apps, website maintenance and other issues that some of us confront every day. A whopping 18,000 educators and education leaders attend the ISTE national conference every year, so if your superintendent has room for you, it might be worth asking about. The 2014 ISTE Conference and Expo will be held this year at the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta from June 28-July 1.

National School Board Association:

The annual conference of the National School Board Association just passed us by, but this year’s event was held in early April. Again, you may not be a school board member, but you can tag along (if finances permit) and learn. Just a sampler from this year’s workshops prove that digital communications remains a hot button: “Digital Citizenship in the Age of the Common Core,” “Engaging Stakeholders: Paperless Agendas are a Win-Win Solution,” “Branding and Marketing Your School With Social Media,” and “In the Cloud: Demystifying the Journey to the Cloud.” What’s even better about NSBA is that you don’t have to attend the conference to reap the benefits. The organization has put all presentation handouts on its website, where you can look through them and print them out. Here’s the handouts link.

MediaBistro

Just want to take a class on your own time? Then visit MediaBistro, one of the best lifelong learning portals around. More than a decade ago, I took an online MediaBistro class about social media that changed my life. The great thing about MediaBistro is that it offers a multitude of options, including on-site classes (only applicable if you live in New York), and everything from one-time online sessions to full multi-class courses. If you’re a social media newbie, then MediaBistro can help. Upcoming classes and workshops include a five-session course called “Social Media 101,” a six-session Twitter Marketing class, a four-session Writing and Editing for the Web class, a two-session class called “Pinterest: Market Your Brand,” and and a four-session course, “Public Relations: Build Your Portfolio.”

EdSocialMedia:

EdSocialMedia is an organization of technology directors and communications professionals at private, independent schools that has been around for some time. I frequently visit the EdSocialMedia website to learn more about how social media is being used in private education. Even though the group hosts numerous social media boot camps each year, those events tend to be geared toward private schools (some of the best in the nation, by the way). But I like this group because they’re happy to share the knowledge and make many of their webinars and workshops available to watch online for free. I once watched a live, free webinar taking place in Boston, on what ended up being snow day for me in New York. For a taste of EdSocialMedia offers, take a look at webinars like “Instantly Actionable Ways to Leverage Twitter”or “What’s the Interest in Pinterest?”

Share Your Social Media Knowledge

Many of us have seen an explosion in the use of social media by school administrators in the past couple of years, particularly on Twitter. But some school superintendents and building principals remain either skeptical or simply too busy to take on social media in a direct way. You know who you are.

The major social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn – are no longer a playground reserved just for the communications and instructional technology staff. The superintendents and building principals who have decided that they wanted to join in on the fun have come around to understand the platforms, and to participate themselves.

As a school public relations professional, you might find (as I do) that you’ve become the social media teacher, and your superintendents and building principals have become your students. I can’t tell you the number of times over the past several years that a district administrator has asked me, “So what’s this social media thing, anyway?”

To answer that question, you might want to consider some of the following tips:

  • Conduct a social media workshop for members of your district’s cabinet, or explain how your district is using social media at a Board of Education meeting.
  • Offer to do a social media workshop for your PTA – usually an eager, social media-deprived audience. I’ve presented for the past two years, for example, at the annual Westchester/East Putnam Parent Teacher Association’s conference on social media. As you might expect, the audience has grown.
  • Develop a social media toolkit page on your school district website. To see how this is done well, visit the Chicago Public Schools’ Social Media Toolkit page here. Chicago has developed a toolkit of resources that includes how-to videos, documents and links to other sites, meant primarily for school principals who want to use social media to connect with their communities.

You might be surprised at the reception you’ll get by sharing your social media knowledge.

Streamline Your Life Using Twitter Lists

Feeling a bit overwhelmed by your Twitter feed these days?

Try creating Twitter lists, a great way to customize your Twitter timeline, follow conversations among people categorized by occupation, topic or relationship to you, and clear your Twitter “desk” in an organized way.

If you’re not using Twitter lists, you normally see the tweets of all the Twitter accounts you follow at once, and that can be overwhelming. By creating your own Twitter list or by following already existing lists, you automatically create or join a community of like-minded tweeps. The key here is that even if you join a Twitter list, you don’t have to follow every individual on that list, keeping your timeline a lot more manageable.

To create your own Twitter list, click on “Lists” in the drop-down at the top right of your Twitter home page. Choose “Create a List,” and then follow the steps. To follow a list that has already been created, visit the list on Twitter and click on “Follow This List.” (Try Googling Twitter lists and see what comes up.)

If you’ve created your own list, you can add people by going to their profiles and clicking on “Lists.” Check the box next to the List to which you’d like to add the individual.  While creating a list, you can decide if you’d like it to be private or public.

Here are some Twitter lists I follow, and others, all education-related, that I recommend. Have fun with these lists, and feel free to add more in the comments section here.

National Education Associations  (a Twitter list of 24 national education associations)

Education Media

NSPRA Tweeps (a list of 155 tweeting NSPRA members and chapters, organized by Nicole Kirby)

K-12 Schools on Twitter (A list of 242 schools on Twitter)