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.

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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.

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!

When the Thunder Rolls…Dealing With A Social Media Storm

We see it on social media ALL the time. Someone posts something that seems innocent enough, and before we know it, the post or tweet has gone viral as a misstep. The thunder rolls in and a social media storm develops.

This fall our district dealt with a social media storm when we least expected it.

The backstory:
When we changed from carton milk to bagged milk, we tested it in several schools the year before. We implemented it this year. All seemed to be going well…until one day. We posted about one of the local media stations doing a story on the new milk, and the storm hit! The district became inundated with comments of parents unhappy with the decision to change and rumors began to fly.

Now that the clouds have dissipated and the storm has passed, here are a few things we were reminded of during our social media storm:

  1. Listen to your Audience
    The great thing about social media is the two-way communication. If you are on social media, you should be willing to take that feedback, evaluate and make changes if necessary. For us, the situation was something that wasn’t on our radar as a concern. After hearing from the public, we took the opportunity to take polls and hear more from our community about the issue.
  2.  Know the Difference Between Misrepresentation of Facts and a Difference of Opinions
    It is important to know the difference between misrepresentation of facts and a difference of opinion. Not everyone is going to agree with a district decision, and that is OK (snow days). If someone has concerns, we would rather they involve us in the conversation then take that conversation elsewhere. If there is incorrect information – take the opportunity to give them the correct information.
  1. Educate Your Audience
    With any situation, rumors tend to fly quickly. Take the opportunity to tell your audiences the facts. Make sure they hear them from you, which leaves less room for misinterpretation.
  1. Transparency
    Transparency is key. Throughout the whole storm, we remained very transparent. People had a lot of questions and concerns about reasons for the change, nutritional facts and the taste of the milk. We answered all their questions in multiple communication methods, shared the nutritional facts and even had our Board of Education taste the milk at a public meeting.
  1. Vocal Minority
    Look at the commenters. Is a small number people posting multiple times or is it a large number of people posting concerns? Many times it is a vocal minority.
  1. Admit Wrongdoing – Correct the Problem
    If there truly is wrongdoing, admit it! Sometimes the best thing to do is apologize, show your audience that you are learning from the issue and fix it.
  1. Build Trust With Your Audience Ahead of Time
    No matter what the issue is, follow these steps prior to any storm – social media or otherwise – and you will build trust with your audience. Building trust helps to minimize social media storms ahead of time.

For many, when they experience a social media storm, their first instinct is to shy away. The way we handled this storm showed the value of schools using social media. We give our community the opportunity to provide feedback, we listened and evaluated what we were doing. We included our audience in the whole process. Ultimately, we didn’t change what we were doing, but I believe our community feels like we listened to their concerns and took them into account when making a final decision. That’s invaluable.

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.

Watch What Others Do On Social Media; Use Facebook Pages To Help

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Some of the best social media ideas I have implemented have come from watching what other schools and districts are doing. Watch what others do on social media. Repeat after me: watch what others do on social media. Watching what others do will give you ideas on how to expand your social media presence and ideas on how to keep content fresh.

As part of my professional development, I follow several other schools, districts and school PR people from across the country on social media. However, sometimes I miss really great posts. To help, I use Facebook Insights. It helps me to track schools I know are using social media really well.

In Facebook Page Insights, I can add pages to watch. It lists the pages, the total page likes they currently have, their increase or decrease in likes for the week, the number of posts for the week and their engagement for the week. If I see a page had a high number of likes or engagement, I can click on the Facebook page and see what their posts were about and what posts had really high engagement.

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Connect With Colleagues on #K12PRchat

teachers-noncertIf you aren’t personally on Twitter, you most certainly have colleagues in your district who use it for professional development. From renowned authors and speakers to fellow teachers and administrators, Twitter offers educators unprecedented access to a dynamic professional development network.

In fact, a Twitter executive reported last year that, of the half billion tweets that post each day, 4.2 million are related to education.

And while school communicators have been connecting individually on Twitter for some time, a new Twitter chat offers targeted professional development and networking, from the convenience of a computer, smartphone or tablet. Every other Tuesday evening, #K12PRchat will bring together school communicators from across North America for one hour to share and learn.

If you’re new to Twitter chats or Twitter in general, this is a perfect chance to get your feet wet. A Twitter chat is a group conversation that is designated by a unique hashtag — in this case, #K12PRchat. Moderators ask questions, and participants tweet answers to those questions, using the hashtag. Click here for more background on Twitter chats and great tips to get the most out of the conversation.

The value of a Twitter chat is clear: The first #K12PRchat took place on Tuesday, and you can view all the tweets with the hashtag here. You don’t even need a Twitter account to read the encouragement and great content that your colleagues are sharing. (You do need an account to participate in the discussion.)

Make plans now to join or watch the next #K12PRchat, scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 7 p.m. Eastern. Future chats will take place at the same time, every other Tuesday. Take this chance to engage and share — your professional learning has never been more accessible!

 

Modern day press clippings made easy

You may still have a photo album or four sitting around your office holding press clippings from your early days on the job; but nowadays, with online news, social media, bloggers, and more, it can be difficult to maintain a thorough collection of the news circulating about your district.

Enter Storify. Storify is an online tool used to gather, save and share online content. I relied on it first in grad school to collect online research on story topics and to monitor current stories about what I thought was a novel story idea. Now, I use it as my online press clippings album for what is actually put in print about my district.

Within Storify, you can set up feeds, or “stories,” by collecting and organizing various media from various platforms – from Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter to Getty Images, Google Plus and Flickr. You can search news feeds, images, even set up RSS feeds. You can organize by date, topic or media type – it’s all up to you. You can make your “stories” private or share them with the public. You can even share links to collections to show others all the media on a particular issue or accomplishment.

If, like me, you have Google Alerts or Talkwalker Alerts set up, you can easily enable the Storify Chrome Extensions and your press clipping file is now just a click (or share) away.

Of course, as a former journalist, I’m still fond of starting my day with the Metro section in hand. But now, I can save myself from the missed articles, inky fingerprints and tape, glue and photo books all over my office. Now I may never have to take a pair of scissors to a newspaper again!

What do you think? Do you have a way of keeping track of media reported about your district? Share your tools or tips with us!