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Module 18: Social Media

IN THIS MODULE, TRUSTEES WILL EXPLORE:
  • An overview of popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and how to use them
  • The opportunities and risks associated with participating in social media in a personal and professional capacity
  • How to craft a successful social media strategy
  • Professional guidelines for effective communication on social media

Introduction

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.

SOCIAL MEDIA PRIMER

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.

OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS FOR ELECTED OFFICIALS

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.

In Schools

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.

For Trustees

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?

  • A way to provide parents and constituents with board and school news using the same tools they are already using.
  • New friends and new connections. You’ll find great people with similar interests.
  • A way to build trust and two-way dialogues with key followers and influencers (even those you have not met in person, yet).
  • Great opportunities for unfiltered listening and discussion on any topic imaginable.
  • Direct access to potential positive media coverage – access to reporters and newsrooms. Most journalists use social media as a source of news and feature stories and up-to-the minute updates of events (live-tweeting), to report breaking news and track developing news.
  • Keeping up-to-date on the education trends in your ward’s schools, your board, and other school boards.
  • An opportunity to share unique content that you wouldn’t be able to post anywhere else.
  • A chance to position yourself as a thought leader in your community.
  • An opportunity to become a go-to information source during board events.
  • Strengthening democracy – community members can easily engage with, and receive information from trustees.
  • For those working on a tight budget, social media are generally free. Your only investment is time.

(*Be mindful of school board policies on student privacy and consent for release of photos.)

Social Media – done well.

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.

Risks for Elected Officials

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:

  • Beware of trolls – There are social media users out there who are merely seeking to sow discord. Learn to recognize a troll when you see one, and don’t respond. “Walk” away.
  • Journalists are watching – It might sometimes seem like you’re sending a message into the void, but reporters and bloggers are always watching for stories, both online and offline. Saying something inflammatory on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms is no different than posting it on your website or sending it out in a ward newsletter. Don’t post anything you wouldn’t say loudly in a crowded room.
  • Be informative, but do not impose your views on others. Welcome a range of viewpoints, and try to seek common ground. Social media must be democratic to be constructive.
  • Be aware of communications barriers, such as language proficiency, culture and the accessibility needs of your online communities.
  • Don’t be afraid to lose control of the message. Think about it like this – your community may already be talking about you. Why wouldn’t you want to know what they are saying so you can plan your communications strategy accordingly?
  • What if you are being harassed by a fellow social media user? Most applications have an option to block and report complaints about other accounts. On Twitter, for example, you can block users from seeing your tweets by clicking on their username and visiting their profile. Users can also be reported for disseminating spam and being abusive. Cyberbullying happens to people of all ages and backgrounds – if a user is taking their communications with you one step too far and you feel bullied or abused, consider contacting your local police service. The RCMP says, “it is important to notify your local police detachment or report it to CYBERTIP.CA. Based on the available information, police will decide if an investigation is warranted and whether charges may be laid.” (Source: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cycp-cpcj/bull-inti/index-eng.htm)
Social Media – done poorly

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)

CREATING YOUR OWN SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGY

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:

  • Solidifying your public image. You may wish to reinforce who you are, the work you do, who you represent and what you stand for. Perhaps you don’t have a high profile. Social media provides a platform for building your public image. Be sure to monitor social media platforms for mentions of yourself and your ward. Engage with reasonable critics and key influencers to address potential issues and correct factual inaccuracies.
  • Being accountable and transparent to the ward community. Plan to provide live coverage of school board events for those who can’t attend. With social media, you can provide a low-barrier method for constituent feedback and interaction.
  • Relationship Building. Plan to extend the reach of your strategic messaging by building relationships with relevant social media users including school board stakeholders, other trustees, journalists, bloggers and the wider education community.
  • Providing leadership and credibility in the education field. Define your areas of expertise and how your knowledge can help others. What can you share? Think about how you can offer your perspective and contribute to online conversations.
  • Accomplishing specific school board goals. Decide what you want to achieve with your communications during a specific time period, with an emphasis on one or two priorities. For example, do you want to drum up support for an issue? Obtain public feedback on a problem?

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:

  • Teachers and principals
  • Individual schools
  • School Boards
  • Education sector union and representatives
  • Fellow trustees and student trustees
  • The Ministry of Education’s official account and political staff
  • Students
  • Parents
  • Community groups
  • OISE and Education Researchers
  • Accredited media and bloggers

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:

  • Share relevant research, events, awards and news from elsewhere that can position you as a trusted source and a reliable filter of high quality, relevant information. This can work towards the goal of establishing yourself as a “thought leader” in your community.
  • Become a participant (not just an observer). Comment on a trending twitter hashtag or ask a question to others. Share information that will start a rich and engaging conversation.
  • Define your own key messages: the information you want to get across. Before each tweet or communication, ensure your post is in line with your overall key messages as an elected member of your board.
  • Stick to the following content principles. These are the qualities that will keep your content interesting:
    • Varied Content – Cover a broad base of content types – pictures, text, audio, video – and sources to keep your followers interested.
    • Lively Content – Don’t just regurgitate press release headlines. Your posts should be written in a conversational tone.
    • Timely Content – Posts should be about issues of immediate relevancy or upcoming events/opportunities.
    • Credible Content – Posts can occasionally have a funny hook but there should always be a connection back to your priorities and objectives. If possible, there should be hyperlinks to related content or a call to action.
    • Inclusive Content – In keeping with the knowledge-sharing culture of social media, you should often take the opportunity to link to relevant content from a diverse range of sources other than your own school board or personal website.

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:

  • Post a prominent link on your personal website, Facebook page or blog
  • Ask your friends, coworkers and other trusted connections to promote you proactively from their social media accounts
  • Add a link to your social media account in your email signature
  • Add the link to all newsletters, statements and news releases sent to your community and the media
  • Email or call key stakeholders in your ward letting them know you’re now on social media
  • Create a communications calendar and commit to posting on a regular basis.
  • Plan to check-in at least two to four times per week across all platforms. Many people post daily – this is a good strategy to maintain presence and visibility.
  • Free tools like Hootsuite stream content from various platforms to one screen – this simplifies checking in and posting.

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:

  • Number of followers, friends, likes, pins, views, etc.
  • The relevance to your work of your followers/friends
  • Number of web traffic clickthroughs from social media posts to your website
  • Feedback from followers/friends
  • Number of retweets, shares, etc.
  • Volume and quality of two-way communication

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.

GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE (and appropriate) COMMUNICATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA

To ensure your social media communications are effective, appropriate and maintain professionalism, please keep in mind the following general suggestions:

  • When posting content relevant to your work on a personal blog or social media site, it is recommended that you say the information is representative of your personal views and opinions and not necessarily the views and opinions of your board. It is best to use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent [insert board name’s] priorities, strategies or opinions.” However, a standard disclaimer does not by itself exempt you from the responsibility you hold as a trustee and public official when blogging, tweeting or publishing on any social media site.
  • The lines between public and private and personal and professional are blurred in the digital world. When you represent yourself as a school board trustee, you are now connected to colleagues, stakeholders and the public education community. Respect your audience. Don’t use slurs, discriminatory remarks, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any similar conduct that would not be appropriate or acceptable in your board or workplace.
  • Your board’s code of conduct must always be considered when determining whether an intended form of disclosure, particularly through social media, is appropriate. (Source: http://www.asba.ab.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/nt_social_media_legal.pdf)
  • Do not provide private, confidential or other proprietary information and never discuss sensitive matters or plans publicly.
  • A hyperlink to outside sources is recommended if possible. Be sure not to plagiarize and give credit where it is due. When using a hyperlink, check to see that the content is appropriate. Always respect copyright and fair use laws.
  • Be cautious and deliberate when setting up your profile, bio, avatar, etc.
  • When uploading digital pictures or avatars that represent you, select an appropriate image. Do not use copyright protected images and only use your board logo if you have the authority to do so.
  • Be aware that others can view the sites that you link to.
  • Be aware of words used to tag or describe hyperlinks.
  • Attempt to link directly to a page or resource if possible as there is no control over what appears on landing pages (home pages) in the future.

Conclusion

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.”