While businesses primarily use social media to increase their profits and compete for customers, public school districts should use it to improve their image with taxpayers and to open the lines of communication.
Yet public school leaders have struggled with the relevance of using social media platforms to communicate with students, parents and the communities they serve due to a focus on the potential negative aspects.
An Oct. 8, 2015 Pew Research study revealed that 65 percent of all adults now use social networking sites. Since 2005, the number of adults using this form of communication has increased by 75 percent, with the 18-29 demographic listed as the highest percentage of individuals regularly using social media. However, the 30-49 age demographic is a close second, which encompasses adults who are most likely in the prime of their parenting years , making them a prime target for social media contact.
Key Reasons to Incorporate Social Media in Public Education
The social media tools available today are varied and can be used in a multitude of ways, depending on an individual’s overall objective. Public schools are generally not interested in generating new business, but rather are interested in using social media as an effective communication tool.
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow public schools to relay information in real time to its core audience – parents, students, teachers and community members. We live in an instant gratification nation, where individuals not only expect – but demand – news and information about important events the moment they become available.
While most public schools use a rapid response service to communicate emergencies such as school closings, they are not ideal for sharing news such as reminders about athletic or other school events or good news about a student or faculty member. Twitter and Facebook are equipped for this kind of sharing, allowing public schools to disseminate this kind of news in real time to any smart phone or electronic device.
In addition to improving communication between the school and its stakeholders, social media also is a great way to boost your positive public relations. School districts know all too well how difficult it can be to share the positive things their students and staff are doing with the media these days. Layoffs and cutbacks have reduced the number of reporters and available space in publications, making it extremely difficult to get the good word out about your school. While websites and blogs are great, using social media to push out the good news about your school can be an effective tool for not only sharing with your local stakeholders, but also encouraging them to repost and retweet your information so that others who are unfamiliar with your school can learn more about it.
Social Media Options
The success of early social media platforms like Facebook has prompted the creation of several other social media tools within the last decade, including Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter to name a few. With all of these choices, how do schools decide which one is the best option?
A quick survey of public schools across the nation revealed that of those schools that have incorporated social media into their communication models, the majority rely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as their go-to social media platforms of choice. While some schools allowed followers on their Facebook and Twitter accounts to comment on posts made there, others opted to turn off the commenting feature to avoid any potential for negative interaction with the public.
Let’s explore the advantages of using some of the more popular social media platforms:
- Facebook – launched in 2004, Facebook has more active users than any other social media outlet available today. As of April 2016, Facebook is reported to have surpassed 1 billion registered accounts with 1.59 billion active monthly users. Advantages to using Facebook include its overall format, which is great for interacting with an audience. Facebook has the ability to post links and updates, photos and now live video. It can even be used to conduct real-time chat sessions with stakeholders, which can be advantageous if school districts would like to receive feedback on a new policy or initiative.
- Twitter – this social media platform went live in 2006, and as of April 2016, has 320 million registered users. Of those registered users, 310 million members actively “tweet” each month. Twitter is best used to send out short bursts of information, such as school closings or delays or times and locations for school events. It also can be used to redirect users back to school district websites or other outlets.
- Instagram – created in 2010, this social media platform is ideal for sharing photos and videos. An advantage to Instagram is it is user friendly, allowing the posting of information not only through its site, but also on other social networking platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Instagram currently has 400 million registered users.
Encouraging Audience Engagement
Inviting others to like and follow your school district is one of the biggest advantages to using social media. Unlike with personal pages on social media, an official Facebook page for a school district is not able to like or “friend” anyone. Viewers only will be provided with the option to like and follow the page, which will in turn allow anything posted by the school district to appear on followers’ news feeds.
Twitter is a little more flexible and allows you to follow other users, in addition to encouraging them to follow you. Users are able to retweet posts made by those they follow, which expands the potential of reaching a global audience. It also is important to follow local media and individual reporters, as well as any educational institutions with which your school district is affiliated or partnered.
In addition to following other entities on social media, consider commenting, retweeting their content or posing questions on their posts in order to redirect interest back to your own online accounts. Schools also can offer incentives to those who retweet or share posts. For example, offering discounts or even free passes to athletic or other school district events is a great way to encourage followers to share your content. There are many creative ways to excite followers and to encourage them to continue sharing your news on their accounts.
Effectively Using Social Media
There are a variety of ways to effectively use social media as a communications tool with parents, students and the community-at-large.
Announcements and reminders about school district events can be sent via Facebook and Twitter, or teaser photos for upcoming events can be sent out via Instagram. Special announcements, such as the closing of school district facility or an early dismissal, can be posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Reinforcing actions taken by the school district, such as important documents and mailings that have been sent out, can be achieved by posting those same documents on Facebook and Twitter. Press releases also can be shared, as well as news coverage received from local or national media.
Lastly, social media can be used to respond to bad news or negative publicity by making a post that includes either a response or an official statement on behalf of the school district.
A final word
Schools that opt to add social media accounts to their online repertoire may wish to start out slowly. Facebook and Twitter are both easy to use, and great tools for sharing information, photos and video (both live and pre-recorded). Instagram also is a great tool for sharing photos and videos, and some schools have opted to use this in conjunction with Facebook and Twitter to reach a broader audience.
Generating content for social media, and then monitoring how it is used and responded to by the public, can be a time-consuming process. Schools that decide to incorporate social media will want to have a staff member whose primary responsibility is to manage all social media accounts. It is important to remember that the Internet is forever, so even if you hit that delete button if you post something that you later regret, chances are, it’ll never truly be gone, so think before you post. Have a system in place that guides the person responsible for monitoring the social media platforms to help prevent disaster.