Here is a sneak peek at my new book co-authored by Bill Ferriter and Jason Ramsden. The book is entitled Communicating & Connecting With Social Media: Essentials for Principals and will be available from Solution Tree on May 19, 2011
Using Twitter to Build Your School’s Brand
The good news is that open-communication practices in a social media world don’t have to be intimidating. For principals, experiments in open communication typically begin with Twitter (www.twitter.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com). These two services have been broadly embraced across all social and technical profiles and make it possible to reach large audiences in the blink of an eye. More importantly, they enable the kinds of two-way interactions that made Comcast a social media success story—and a characteristic of the communication practices that consumers have grown to expect from businesses and schools (National School Boards Association, 2007).
Twitter and Facebook provide principals with real-time tools that are far superior to traditional forms of communication. Social media services paired with high rates of Internet connectivity allow multiple forms of information—web links, videos, audio files, images, text messages, and documents—to be delivered and consumed in multiple ways. With almost no effort, principals can share compelling, detailed messages that are readily accessible from mobile devices, tablets, and computers connected to the Internet with their school communities.
Implementing Twitter as a Communication Tool
The most approachable and least-intimidating tool for principals interested in using social media to connect with their communities is Twitter. One of the most popular microblogging platforms, Twitter allows users to post short, 140-character text-based messages called tweets to a designated page on the Internet. Tweets often point viewers to other web-based resources, providing principals with the means to deliver real-time school information in a matter of seconds.
Since each tweet is limited to 140 characters—the average length of one well-written sentence—messages are easy to generate for busy administrators. More importantly, updates to a school’s Twitter website—commonly called a Twitter stream—can be made from any device that has access to the Internet, enabling on-the-go communication. (See figure 1.1 for a visual.) Principals using Twitter can always craft messages from traditional locations like their offices, but with cell phones, PDAs, or Internet-connected mobile devices, they can also begin messaging from the sidelines of the homecoming game, the back row of the band’s first concert, or the table with the winning entry in the school’s science fair.
Imagine using Twitter to immediately communicate the following to stakeholders.
- Calendar reminders: The school year is full of important dates. Twitter can be used to remind parents and students of athletic and performance schedules, standardized testing dates, end of marking periods, upcoming holidays, and school closings.
- Celebrations: The school year is also full of accomplishments. Sadly, publicly celebrating the successes of students and teachers can be hard to do in a timely fashion. Twitter allows immediate announcements of great achievements to the entire community.
- Helpful resources: Most parents would be happy to extend learning beyond the school day if they had the knowledge and skills needed to support their children. With Twitter, it’s easy to share links to valuable web-based resources on parenting, teaching, or the content being studied in your classrooms.
- Decisions and details: Schools and the organizations that support them are constantly making decisions with far-reaching implications. Boards of education pass new grading or promotion standards, parent-teacher organizations sponsor after-school programs or grade-level field trips, and booster clubs and educational foundations fund scholarships for struggling students. Using Twitter to share these decisions spreads information quickly and makes the inner workings of your organization transparent to everyone.
- Emergency updates: While principals never want to imagine scenarios for dealing with school-based emergencies, planning communication patterns before natural disasters or human tragedies strike is a responsible practice. Because Twitter updates can be posted from mobile devices, they can become a part of a comprehensive plan for easing community fears and getting messages out to parents and support professionals in emergency situations.
Getting Started With Twitter
For coauthor Eric Sheninger, using Twitter began by taking about five minutes to create a free account that communicated a bit of general information about his school. Knowing that he first needed a username that would be easy for parents and students to remember, he chose NewMilfordHS. The NewMilfordHS Twitter account follows a clear naming structure that parents could probably guess even if they weren’t sure of the school’s Twitter name. The direct address for New Milford’s Twitter stream, www.twitter.com/newmilfordhs, is posted on the school’s website and shared in as many parent messages as possible.
The second step to making any school-based Twitter stream easy to find is filling out the simple bio information that Twitter publicly displays about each user. Eric included a short sentence explaining that NewMilfordHS is a Twitter stream for New Milford High School in Bergen County, New Jersey, so that the parents and students could be certain that they had landed in the right place when checking Twitter for updates. To make the page stand out and to establish a brand presence, he used the school’s colors, mascot, and logo; he also provided a direct link to the school’s website.
Once a school’s Twitter account has been created, updates can be added at any time. In fact, Eric started posting messages immediately, trying to see just what he had gotten himself into. Within minutes, he shared details about an upcoming parent night, a celebration of students on his school’s honor roll, and a link on parenting teenagers he thought his community might find interesting. He explains, “To get that information on our traditional website would have taken a week’s worth of emails and action by two or three different staff members” (Sheninger, 2010c).
Principals using Twitter to reach out to the communities they serve, however, may discover that initial efforts to use Twitter as a tool for school-based communication are met with raised eyebrows. While most of the adults in any community are likely to have heard of Twitter—recent studies estimate that 87 percent of Americans are aware of the service—only 7 percent of Americans actively use it (Webster, 2010). Parents and other important stakeholders may see such efforts as fads until they are shown what communication in social media spaces looks like in action. Without convincing your community that your school’s Twitter stream is a valuable source of information, your work in Twitter will quickly become obsolete.