IN THIS MODULE, TRUSTEES WILL EXPLORE:
- A video overview of popular social media platforms 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
Before reviewing the video, please note:
- The video provides an overview of popular social media applications dating back to 2015 (such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.).
- If you are already familiar with these platforms, please move along to the next section.
- Countless social media platforms have launched since 2015. Many applications remain relevant and are excellent communication tools for trustees.
- Twitter now allows 280 characters per tweet. The former limit was 140.
- The Vine app was discontinued in 2017.
Social media platforms are potentially powerful tools for engaging school board staff, fellow trustees, parents, media and the community.
Having a positive social media presence provides trustees with the opportunity to build a reputation as 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 experience and/or comfort with social media, this module will provide the tools and strategies to confidently begin a successful social media journey.
OPPORTUNITIES AND RISKS FOR SCHOOL BOARD TRUSTEES
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, social media 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 board trustees to connect with the key stakeholders in their communities.
Social media channels are being used for school communication. Many schools, parent councils and classroom teachers use social media 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. Social media shouldn’t serve as the only ways a school connects with its community, but they can certainly be effective tools, depending on the intended audience.
Many teachers are using social media to share homework, post videos, give links to handouts, and communicate important information about tests, assignments and events. Many apps (such as Remind and Seesaw) have been designed specifically as tools to communicate with parents. Classroom Twitter feeds, Facebook pages or YouTube accounts can also give parents a window into their child’s school life and help build a culture of collaboration through shared discussion.
Opportunities for Trustees
Would you like to share photos*, videos*, news and links to relevant information for your ward community? Social media 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, constituents and communities with board and school news using the same tools these audiences are likely 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 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 and videos.)
Risks for Trustees
Social media may provide many opportunities, but it also comes with risks. It’s important not to be deterred because risks can be mitigated with 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 social media 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.
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. 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
- Community groups
- Faculties of Education 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 “thoughtful leader” in your community.
- Become a participant (not just an observer). Comment on a trending twitter hashtag related to education 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 social media platforms. 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 links to your social media accounts in your email signature.
- Add links 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.
- Third party management tools that stream content from various platforms to one screen can help by automating the tracking of clickthroughs, retweets and shares.
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
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. Growth of a social media audience 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
Be sure to understand social media tags. For example, a hashtag “#” can be used before a topic of conversation or keywords to help facilitate search results for what you are posting about. The “@” symbol signifies that you are talking to an individual or a group, bringing a post to their attention or suggesting that you would like a response.
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, 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. Unless you are the Chair or designate on a particular issue, you must remember you are not the board spokesperson. It is best to use a disclaimer such as this: “The postings on this platform 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.
- As an elected school board trustee, use your real name as part of your handle on social media accounts, if possible.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.