When I started my career as a school administrator, the closest thing we had to public relations and communications was the biweekly school newsletter that we cranked out in MS Word. Photocopied newsletters stuffed into backpacks on a Friday afternoon seemed to do the job of communicating with parents. For teachers, memos were placed in cubbyholes in the staff room.
As technology progressed and the schools where I worked got larger, new options became available. The need to better communicate and engage our students, staff, parents, and prospective families became even more essential. Here are a few ways that we at The International School (TIS) have engaged with our community.
Schools are busy places, and parents need a trusted place to find the right information. But information is not enough -- gone are the days of the website being just a digital brochure. Now it needs to facilitate two-way communication. We just updated our website this year to include these key features:
- It must be mobile friendly. It must work on phones and tablets as well as desktops. No exceptions.
- It must be easy to update, preferably automatically. For example, the information we add into our Google calendar automatically updates on our website. For static pages, make sure the content stays current.
- Link your other social media initiatives on your website. Parents should be able to easily find your official Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles from your webpage. Then use your webpage to share the content from those profiles.
- The hardest but most important part is that your site must provide a sense of your school's culture. People visiting your school website should feel like they are visiting your campus.
Peter Sutton told me in a workshop that "if you are not telling your school's story on Facebook, someone else is." He was right. When I checked, I found that a student had already set up a Facebook page with our name.
Use Facebook to celebrate the great things happening at the school!
- Promote sports, arts, and cultural events.
- Post blog articles, news items, and announcements.
- Publish fundraising goals.
- Share educational memes.
Should you use Facebook ads? We found good success in promoting our posts. For a minimal cost, it places them into the top of the timelines for your friends and their friends.
Be sure to monitor your posts. Which posts have more views and likes than others? While it isn't a popularity contest, you want to keep track of whether you are actually reaching your audience. Have more than one person as admin, but don't bring in too many people. Make sure they answer comments and direct messages. What happens when you get a bad comment? If it is inappropriate, we delete it. If it challenges or disagrees with us, we use it as an opportunity to educate and inform both the poster and the public. We will follow this with a private message inviting them to come in and discuss the issue. We also fully support Facebook's requirement that users be 13 or older.
Our teachers use Twitter to celebrate what they are doing in their classrooms, ask questions, share resources, and document their learning. It's had a profound effect on our staff. By creating a school hashtag, we are able to thread all of our school-based tweets. I used to think I needed some kind of official Twitter authorization to create a hashtag. You don't. Just make a memorable one that describes your school, and start using it. Twitter use by our staff grew slowly at first. Then we compiled all of the tweets onto our internal digital daily bulletin using our #TISMacao hashtag, and it allowed non-Twitter users to see all of the posts. Twitter use is growing rapidly now! See this blog article for more details. Also, see how staff members Zack Palmer, Louise Phinney, and Nick Chignall are using Twitter.
We are just starting to explore engaging our parents and local community with Twitter, as well as reaching out to a global audience.
At this point, we use LinkedIn to recruit potential teachers and reach the working members of our TIS families. We follow the major employers in our area and develop our networks within the business community. In addition to posting about major school events, we also share articles related to leadership, corporate social responsibility, and team building. We use it to announce our corporate fundraising, sponsorships, and partnerships. We post much differently on LinkedIn than we do on Facebook.
I can guarantee that there are already many videos of your school and students on YouTube. Once again, if you are not telling your story, someone else is. Since you may not be able to police the other videos, you should have an official YouTube channel. Check us out on YouTube!
A popular platform in Asia, WeChat is the medium TIS uses to connect with our Chinese-speaking families.
Remember that old newsletter? We don't have it anymore. At first, we switched to a digital PDF version, but then we got rid of that as well. Now our news is a blog, constantly updated -- we post articles and announcements as they are written. Every teacher has his or her own blog. Administrators have blogs, as we try to lead by example. Our next step is to engage further through integrating our blogs with social media.
Overall, our move toward digital engagement has been successful. Our community is much more connected. Our parents stay informed through our website and Facebook. Our teachers interact and share through Twitter, and we continue to seek new ways to engage our community through the tools that are available to us.
How about you? What ways are you engaging your school community? Which issues concern you about social media?