Social media is here to stay. Thanks to social media, we now have the opportunity to connect with others in fast and meaningful ways that were not possible just a few years ago. School board trustees across Canada are turning to social media to connect more effectively with school board partners and stakeholders. Social media platforms such as YouTube, Pinterest and Vine are powerful tools for engaging school board staff, fellow trustees, parents, media and the community.
Having a strong social media presence also provides trustees with the opportunity to build a reputation as thought leaders within the community and as elected officials who are committed to two-way communication and open dialogue with their constituents.
Many trustees have already launched into the world of social media. For those trustees, this module can serve as an opportunity to review and refine their social media strategies. For trustees who do not have a high level of comfort with social media, this module will assist in a basic education on social media and provide the tools and strategies to confidently begin a successful social media journey.
There are countless social media platforms on the web. In the companion video to this module, we showcase some of the most effective platforms trustees can use: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and Vine. If you would like a brief overview of the platforms discussed in this module, please view the Social Media video at modules.ontarioschooltrustees.org/en/resources/. If you are already familiar with these platforms, please move along to the next section.
Social media have changed the way modern society communicates. Community members, taxpayers and citizens now have a direct communication channel with government. In some instances, Twitter, Facebook and other applications are opening up elected officials to public scrutiny like never before. However, social media can also be used to create unparalleled opportunities for school trustees to connect one-on-one with the key stakeholders in their communities.
Social media are being used for school communication. Many schools, parent councils and classroom teachers use Twitter and Facebook to collaborate and communicate with students and parents on everything from fundraisers to basketball games to homework.
Social media give teachers and school administration a low-barrier, cost-effective and timely way to get school news directly to parents and students. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other applications shouldn’t serve as the only ways a school connects with its community, but they can certainly be effective tactics, depending on the intended audience.
Teachers are using social media to share homework, give links to handouts, communicate important information about tests, assignments and events and motivate students with curriculum extensions. A classroom Twitter feed, much like a trustee’s twitter timeline, can give parents a window into their child’s school life and help build a culture of collaboration through shared discussion.
Would you like to share photos*, videos, school news and links to relevant information for your ward community? Social media like Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest can offer the perfect venue for doing just that and more. What other opportunities do social media give school board trustees?
(*Be mindful of school board policies on student privacy and consent for release of photos.)
The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) and Ottawa Catholic School Board’s Response to the Crisis at Parliament Hill. Ottawa’s English school boards responded swiftly and efficiently to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s assault on Parliament Hill and the National War Memorial, using Facebook, Twitter and email to keep parents across the boards updated on the situation. The OCDSB sent more than three dozen Facebook and Twitter posts throughout the day advising parents that schools were in Shelter in Place mode. The Ottawa Catholic board responded to every question posted on their Facebook page and used Twitter to communicate safety information to parents and the media. This helped reduce the heavy call volume to schools and alleviated many parental concerns as a large number of parents were in “lockdown” at their own workplaces and social media was their only available means of communication. According to Ottawa sports radio host Ian Mendes, the experience gave parents “a sense of reassurance that there is a clear and organized system in place for the school boards to communicate with parents during a time of crisis.” (Source: http://www.todaysparent.com/blogs/the-good-sport/ottawa-school-board-handled-shooting/)
Peel District School Board’s Stand Up for Mental Health Video. As part of the PDSB’s Stand Up student mental health campaign, an inspiring video was created (http://ow.ly/HDkD1) and posted on YouTube. The objective was to encourage staff, students and the community to take on the role of being an influencer in shaping student well-being. The YouTube was then shared on Twitter, Facebook and the board’s website, receiving more than 20,000 views.
Live-Tweeting to promote an event at the Halton Catholic District School Board. As part of Catholic Education Week in 2014, the Walk with Jesus event provided an opportunity for students and staff from 54 schools to exhibit a sense of community, social justice and solidarity as they walked from Bronte Park in Oakville to Corpus Christi Catholic Secondary School. A hashtag (#HCWWJ) was created for students, staff, participants, and the broader HCDSB community to spread the good news on Twitter and to encourage those unable to attend to join the conversation. As a result of the live-tweeting, the #HCWWJ hashtag received an overall 5,741 user reach on Twitter. Highlights of the event were communicated in real-time on Twitter and Facebook, followed by a recap of the day in a video (http://bit.ly/1MUcLBP) posted on YouTube. In 2015, students and staff who joined the conversation at school shared what it meant to them to ‘Walk With Jesus’ and were able to follow an interactive wall of #HCWWJ Tweets throughout the day using Tweetbeam (www.tweetbeam.com).
Sharing accomplishments with Twitter. French-language Catholic School Boards frequently use Twitter to feature the accomplishments of students. Boards have tweeted and attached engaging student photos on topics ranging from We Day to innovative FDK programs to Trades Skills competitions to artistic celebrations of franco-ontarian heritage and Aboriginal awareness. Twitter offers an effective way to showcase the diversity and creativity of students.
US President Barack Obama’s Social Media Strategy. Any discussion of elected officials using social media as part of their communications strategy should include a mention of Barack Obama. Social media were used as a large part of his winning campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as a way of generating the grassroots support necessary to win the American presidential election. Tweets like this one - https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/367301180910624768 - continue to show the lighter side of the presidency and routinely receive tens of thousands of retweets. For an overview of President Obama’s social media use, please see this module’s Further Reading Resource.
Live-tweeting at the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). In January 2013, OPSBA President Michael Barrett (@mbarrett1959) was joined by Lisa Mastrobuono of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (@etfocb) and Shawn Jeffords of the Toronto Sun (@Shawn_Jeffords) in live-tweeting an OLRB hearing to determine whether a planned one-day protest was legal. President Barrett gained dozens of followers as he continued to tweet from the 13-hour hearing as it stretched into the wee hours of Jan. 11, 2013. In the process, his reputation as a trusted commentator on education issues was strengthened.
The Toronto District School Board Library’s Pinterest Board. The TDSB Library’s Pinterest page (http://www.pinterest.com/tdsblibrary/) supports more than 600 teacher-librarians, serving as a learning commons and a place to share and suggest relevant books, media, databases and web 2.0 links for TDSB students and parents. With hundreds of links, the pinboard suggests books for a variety of learning levels and subjects, from Early Years to Intermediate, from French to Young Adult.
Social media may provide many opportunities, but they also come with risks. It’s important not to be deterred because risks can be mitigated with some proper planning and discipline. Some good advice for new social media users includes:
The New York Police Department’s #MYNYPD hashtag. In April 2014, the NYPD Twitter account asked followers to tweet photos of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. It didn’t work out so well. Photos of police using what appeared to be excessive aggression flooded the hashtag, leaving an overall impression of a negative police presence. So if you’re thinking of launching a social media campaign, always do an issues and climate analysis first. Try to figure out how the public will respond to your messaging, or it may end up like this: http://www.theverge.com/2014/4/22/5641266/nypd-twitter-photo-contest-backfires.
Cooking website Epicurious exploits Boston bombing. Following the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013, Epicurious decided it would be a good idea to tweet messages out like this: “Boston, our hearts are with you. Here’s a bowl of breakfast energy we could all use to start today.” The messages were then followed by links to the company’s website. Later that day, @epicurious apologized for its “insensitive” tweets, but not before its brand was hurt and a lesson learned – don’t try to spin a tragedy into promotional public relations for yourself. Source: http://www.mediabistro.com/prnewser/pr-fail-food-website-exploits-boston-tragedy_b63010)
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre gets into a spat with the Canadiens. Former Liberal MP Denis Coderre was elected as Montreal’s mayor in November 2013. It didn’t take him too long to get into a public war of words with members of the city’s beloved Canadiens hockey team. During a game on November 10, 2013, Coderre tweeted about a player, saying, “Hello? Can we get a one-way ticket to Hamilton for David Desharnais please…” Coming from an average hockey fan, a comment asking for a player to be sent down to the minor leagues wouldn’t make much of an impact. However, because Coderre was an elected official, players and coaches called it out as “inappropriate” in coming days. What’s the lesson here? As trustees, your words carry weight and represent your school board. Social media is public, so always be careful about what you post. (Source: http://montreal.ctvnews.ca/denis-coderre-angers-habs-by-tweeting-about-desharnais–1.1537944)
School board trustees will get the most out of their social media efforts by creating a personalized social media strategy. Trustees who use social media with personality, purpose and a strategic plan will have a greater communications impact, advancing their work and building support for issues affecting students, school boards and communities in the process.
1. Define Your Objectives
Before launching into social media, trustees should document their objectives, which may include:
2. Target Your Audience
Decide on the groups, organizations or specific individuals you would like to communicate with in order to achieve your objectives. Link with, follow and become friends with those who inspire you, who you admire, and who you can learn from. Remember – your name will be associated with who you follow across social media platforms, unless you choose to remain anonymous. Who you follow or befriend is just as important as who follows you. Here are some suggestions for online audiences to connect with:
3. Decide What to Share
Often, the hardest part of maintaining social media accounts is creating great content. It is quite likely that you already stumble on plenty of interesting and educational pieces to link to in your everyday life. These can include: news releases, official school board letters and statements, new board campaigns and initiatives, great videos you’ve come across, or sharing of your followers’ content and live-tweeting at events. Here are some helpful tips for deciding what to share online:
4. Promote Your Social Media Presence
Once you’ve decided what your objectives are, who and how you’d like to engage, and what you’re going to be posting, a final piece in your social media planning process should be promotion. Your constituents need to know you’re on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or Pinterest. Here are some ways to grow your audience:
5. Evaluate Your Success
Like with any good strategy, evaluation and follow up are key to gauging the impact of your efforts. To measure the effectiveness of your social media initiatives, track the following:
Third party management tools – such as Hootsuite and Crowdbooster – can help by automating the tracking of clickthroughs, retweets and shares.
It is important to review your plan periodically and evaluate the effectiveness of your strategies. Ask fellow trustees and your community whether they feel that appropriate information sharing is taking place. Use this information to strengthen your plan going forward. Also be sure to act on some of the feedback you receive. Keep a log of good suggestions and take action. If you feel your online presence needs refinement, look to the approaches that are being successfully used by other individuals or groups.
Finally, don’t worry if your audience doesn’t grow as quickly as you thought it would. Social media audience growth takes time. It’s an organic process that builds as you earn the trust of those in your field. Remember – your followers should be judged by quality, not quantity. Having 25 local leaders reading your tweets every day can be far more effective than having 2,000 random followers spread out across the globe, the majority of whom you will never meet or engage with professionally.
To ensure your social media communications are effective, appropriate and maintain professionalism, please keep in mind the following general suggestions:
Social media present unprecedented opportunities for school board trustees to create a direct link to the communities they serve. Using social media effectively can help trustees advance their profiles and the work of their school boards. It is hoped this module provides the tools that allow you to step confidently into the world of social media.
For additional resources, including a glossary of popular social media terms, please see the “Module 18 Resource Page.”