This is a guest blog post by Greg Turchetta, Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement, Collier County Public Schools in Florida.
Even a business as established and innovative as NASCAR knows it needs to better engage its fiercely loyal fans on social media. NASCAR just accelerated into the future by signing a deal with Snapchat for live race coverage at 4 races.
“The traditional channels are very important and we’re never going to go away from that, but if we want to get younger and more diverse, we have to share this type of content and do it where they are,” said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president of marketing and industry services. “We can’t always expect the fans to find us. We have to push our content proactively out to them…” (USA TODAY, 2/14/16)
Ladies and gentlemen, start your social media engines! The race is on! Jill Gregory is absolutely correct about NASCAR, and more importantly, K-12 public education as well. We have never had to market our brand before, like we do today. Now with school choice and new charter school competition, school districts must “sell their own story” and use all available channels. It’s a big project. So where do you start? Here are my three steps to getting your school system up to speed on social media right now.
Step #1: Have a clear plan and articulate it
At Collier County Public Schools, our goal was to use social media to demonstrate the excellence and innovation in our schools each and every day. We started our school-based social media expansion efforts with Twitter. Twitter is a simple platform that isn’t tied to a personal page like Facebook. We saved Facebook for phase two of our effort.
Next, create a roll out plan. You need a realistic timeline and you must have buy-in from the top. I had our superintendent endorse the effort at our first school-based administrator meeting. She explained to principals and assistant principals that she expected them to be innovative in promoting their schools. I came behind that with a sizzle reel and PowerPoint presentation explaining the power of social media. My plan was aggressive and included rolling out Twitter to all 50 schools in just 90 days. It was voluntary, not a district requirement.
You have to be a politician on a campaign speech preaching the benefit of using positive social media posts for transparency and openness in front of every audience you can. If you do it right, you will become known as the communications guy/gal who always has new ideas to try! To get there, you have to train yourself well. Study about best practices and set up clear and concise procedures before you are standing in front of the firing line of questions.
And now for the hard part…
How will you steer clear of the two biggest obstacles that could crash your social media effort? How will you address 1) fear of staff not knowing how to use the technology and 2) student privacy concerns? This is by far the most important piece. You have to turn from social media champion to teacher of the teachers!
Step #2: Train, train, train
Once the principal is on board you have to get in front of the full teaching staff and explain the why and how of your social media effort. You must personally train at each and every school. I scheduled school based training sessions the week before school started, on professional development days, even before and after the school day.
Find the coalition of the willing for the launch and let the momentum spread. I had to go back to some schools 3 or 4 times. Every minute of training proved to be worth its weight in gold. The principals were comfortable with letting their leadership teams run the school accounts, and then having teachers create personal accounts. Think of the teachers as the journalists filing stories from each classroom, and the leadership team editing what goes on the school page. It is an extension of the structure in which they work every day.
You have to teach them the basic requirements of a good tweet. Every CCPS tweeter is trained to include the following in each tweet: @(their school) @collierschools and then #CCPSProud. I recommend you pick one hashtag for all schools to use. It reinforces your district’s brand. All schools will then pop up in one search. This worked great for the schools to see and learn from each other’s tweets.
I then pulled over many of the teacher and school tweets to the district account to showcase it to our much bigger audience and to reward their efforts. Multiple layers of approval were needed to retweet to the school and district and this alleviated some of the privacy and safety concerns. You need to make sure you have a strong media release waiver form and know which students are not to be pictured or filmed. To this date, I have not had one irate parent call from any of our 50 schools. Parents love positive news!
Step #3: Award participation and innovation
Who doesn’t like to be honored for a job well done? You have to celebrate the little victories and the big breakthroughs. Driven leaders also like to be challenged to produce results. This is why we present monthly awards to schools for Twitter growth and innovation, and teacher awards for excellence in social media. We present school awards at the monthly principal meetings. We bring the teacher awards to their classrooms and make a big deal out it with their students. The awards have no doubt driven social media engagement in our schools. Our district page has almost doubled our initial number of followers in just seven months. Our 50 schools are collectively adding close to 2,000 followers per month! We continue to push innovation at the district and school levels by using Facebook, Instagram, Periscope for live events, and breaking our own news first on social media. This effort has been so successful we stopped sending press releases in January. Our local media is now trained to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
This isn’t easy. It is a seven day-a-week effort. I am re-tweeting Friday night football updates, weekend academic events, fan videos, band videos, etc. The huge upside to this is no matter how small the Communications Department, this will greatly expand your reach to cover district news every day, and possibly change the tone of the education conversation in your city. We can all see the benefit in that.
Greg Turchetta is the Executive Director of Communications and Community Engagement for Collier County Public Schools. Greg and his team are responsible for district-wide communication with 45,000 students, parents, and 7,500 employees. He also uses his extensive media management background to counsel all Collier County schools on effective communications strategies, media management, and crisis management.