Sunday, July 7, 2013

Social Media for Schools: Five Suggestions

"It's always a risk speaking to the press. They are likely to report what you say." So goes the old media relations quote.

True, talking to the press can be a bit scary ... but it's far scarier to be excluded from conversations altogether.  And while a positive relationship with the press should be a key component of a school's PR plan, keep in mind the media landscape has recently undergone a radical landscape shift to the benefit of schools and districts.

Now, everyone's a publisher. Organizations can circumvent the traditional press entirely through the power of social media.

I'll go even further and claim: A large high school has the publishing power and potential influence of a small weekly newspaper. By publishing power I mean the ability to communicate key messages to a mass audience.

Getting a Clue

I was a senior in college when the ClueTrain Manifesto was published. These ideas of openness and having actual conversations with our audiences resonated with me strongly, and struck me as common sense.

"... markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked."  - from ClueTrain

Around this time social media took off, and new media marketing experts popped up overnight. I've always held that the rules for social media are really pretty simple. A pro does it best, but anyone can do it well as long as the tenants of the '99 ClueTrain serve as guiding principles.

Here are some simple social media suggestions for schools, as they strive to realize their publishing potential:

1. Social media by nature and by definition is a two-way street. Like ClueTrain states, the key word is conversation.

Using social media only to rebroadcast the same top-down messages you are pushing out in other places is a great way to get tuned out by students and your community.

Think about promoting contests, calls for pictures and requests for community comments. Gauge student interest on important issues, take polls, conduct voting, etc. Always be looking for ways to talk with your school community, and for ways your publics can share with you and with each other. Great conversations usually center around sharing.

2. Multipurpose your content.  As you accumulate digital assets (fancy phrase for online stuff), consider how to get the most bang for your buck.  The sporting event where you asked students to take pictures and post them online? Why not use that content in as many different ways as you can. A great picture can find a home on your website, Facebook page, yearbook, and then on the digital newsletter you are putting out next month.

The best part: An army of engaged, enthusiastic teens is now doing much of the lifting for you, while building a spirit of community in the process.

3. Stay abreast of basic developments in the social media field.  For example, now Instagram is surpassing Facebook as the place for teens to hang out.  When mom got on Facebook, kids felt it was time to lighten their presence. But now parents are migrating to Instagram as well, so we'll see what media platform kids stake out next.

Another development worth noting: Facebook now uses hashtags.  Hashtags are a simple way to organize information online.  Students posting content online and tagging them at #yourschool is an easy way to aggregate content.

Here I searched for #edtech on Twitter, and the results produced a slew of recent tweets labeled edtech by posters.

Tags in action: Your school could request pictures from prom, with the tag #yourschoolprom, for example. It's helpful to keep hashtags as short as possible by the way ... my example is actually pushing it.

4. Teamwork: Form a social media committee, and bring in team members with specific responsibilities. Building an online community should be a collaborative process, after all.  It also helps to spread the workload; last time I checked most schools don't have budgets for full-time marketing pros. Don't let social media overwhelm you ... which leads us to the last suggestion.

5. Choose your platforms conservatively. While I think we should know the social media basics, I also think that's all we need to know. Don't try to be on every new platform that comes along. Time is limited, so pick a few top channels and get active on them.

Many channels are already integrated, making things easier for us. Google owns Blogger and YouTube. So a blog and YouTube account are easily managed through one master Google account.

Facebook owns Instagram, and Twitter now has Vine, a video hosting service for short videos.

Remember, there's a constant conversation taking place about your school - with or without your input. So why not join in with both a strategic plan, and a genuine voice - and help positively influence both your brand's* perception and the conversation about your school.

*A school's brand is the space you own in the mind of the student, parent or community member. Volvo is safety, Campbell's is soup, and your school is ___________?