How Schools Can Use Social Media

school-social0011As spring break winds down and the kids get ready to return to school, my mind cannot help but merge the two worlds of kids/school and work/social media. Both education and the internet are in a state of flux. Social media is leading the charge in the latter. I think that it could also do wonders for the former. Here are some quick thoughts on how.

Could our schools be harnessing the powers of social media to …?

  • Keep parents up-to-date on events and school goings on
  • Educate community members on important issues and policy to encourage advocacy
  • Build a stronger hive of followers (parents and community members)

Our answer? Yes but like all businesses or organizations that use social media you need a defined strategy not only for ease of execution but also for maximum impact. I make this last point because at most schools today a lone teacher or principal utilizes blogging or YouTube for some singular purpose but what if all social media outposts were brought together as part of a comprehensive school or district social media plan working in concert together. What could this strategy look like? Here’s a glimpse …

With a social media plan, I always start with blogging as the centerpiece. I think blogs are really the crossroads where ideas and comments are expressed and shared with the online community. The other reason I start with blogs? Because I think more and more your blog is your website rather than a mere extension of it relegated to some secondary link that says Hey look we’ve got a blog so that’s done. Schools (and others really) should ask themselves why their website is not blog driven? Once you start blogging and maintaining a blog-driven site (as we started doing ourselves) you’ll never go back. Blogs are websites and websites should be blogs.

Schools could use a blog-driven website to easily post announcements, events, issues, etc. A blog-driven website also puts site control and updating in the hands of lay persons (non-webmasters/coders). It’s very empowering. Yes, it often takes folks like that to get set up but after that it can be in educators’ hands. Beyond being an easy-to-update website, a blog site would allow parents to comment and join in the conversation with educators. A friend of my wife’s has a husband who is a principal that blogs.

Now here’s where some could think it gets problematic but  I don’t think so for one simple reason. The Facebook Page created for the school would be for parents and community members to interact — NOT students. Now it’s fair to say that with a Facebook Page you cannot stop anyone from joining. If anything, though, the school Facebook page would be dry and boring for students who are already at school all day. It’s difficult to imagine that students would fan it in droves. But busy parents who are already on Facebook and are desperately looking for ways to stay on top of what’s going on … that’s another story. And one that I think could be aided greatly with school Pages on the Face. Not to mention the fact that the new Facebook Page structure offers organizations a lot of exciting benefits.

I am very in-tune to what’s going on with the Iowa DOT, from traffic jams to weather and road conditions. Not because I know someone that works there but because of Twitter. I started following the Iowa DOT a few months back and now count them among my most valuable tweeps. They are timely and a wonderful source for important info. Using this model, it’s not hard to imagine how schools could use this micro-blogging service that is already the third largest social network. School delays, closings, important alerts and reminders — Twitter could offer schools seemingly endless possibilities. Many districts already utilize email for messages like these. This is just another channel but one that needn’t be ignored.

FTD says “Say it with Flowers.” My version of this is to “Say it with YouTube.” Think of getting a weekly YouTube address from your school principal or the superintendent like we now get from President Obama. Heck, even the Pope has a YouTube channel. Online video offers a much more personal opportunity and effective way to deliver messages to your constituencies. It’s quick and easy not to mention the fact that YouTube and other online video players like Viddler can be seamlessly embedded into most blogging platforms.

The other big piece of a school social strategy is promoting your new channels. You can say anything you want but it won’t matter unless you have followers. But even this challenge can be overcome. Like promoting a business, you start with your core customer groups — teachers and of course, your PTO or PTA. You can also do a lot by adding social links on your outgoing communications (newsletters, etc) and in-store — er, in-school signage.

Again, this is just a glimpse — a stickman or outline — of what could be done. Westergaard Advertising has developed a presentation called “Growing Your Business with Social Media” that we have given to several of our clients and other organizations recently that we could easily tailor to help schools build a following. If you are a school in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids corridor or the Des Moines area — or anywhere in between or around — we would be honored to give this presentation. If you are further away, contact us and we can find a way to make something happen.

Educators face challenges today that we can’t even begin to help solve. But we can help schools and districts communicate effectively with parents and the community at large using social media tools.