10 Reasons You Should Pay Attention to Social Media

By Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes

PorterfieldBookJune2008.jpgAASA Executive Consultants Porterfield and Carnes are the authors of the AASA book Why School Communication Matters: Strategies from PR Professionals.

At first glance, building a social network — with tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — may not seem like a wise investment for your district. But look again. social media can be far more useful to schools than it might appear.

  1. It’s a new way to build relationships. By now, it should no longer be a surprise that the key to good leadership is strong relationships. (See Fullan, Kotter, Sparks, et al.) Creating relationships is an on-going job. Social media is a new—and very efficient—tool to help build stakeholder ties. It should be in your tool box.
  2. It’s no longer about you anyway. It’s about your customers. Your parents and employees are growing younger by the day. They live their lives by a different set of rules than their parents did. (See Harnessing the Power of the Millennial Generation for details.) They want to work in teams, be part of the solution, and hear you tell them they’ve done a good job with their kids. They will not be shut out of the education process.
  3. People are already talking about you. Join the community bulletin board. Google yourself. Create a weekly Google-Alert search for your school system. Read the newspaper comment boards. You will quickly find out what the neighbors are saying. Social media is our present-day equivalent of the front-porch, back-yard fence, and playground bench conversation. Listen in.
  4. Your reputation is at stake. In the end, you are the one charged with maintaining your school or school district’s good name. The buck stops on your desk. If you only listen to your department heads and your PTA leadership, you will never hear the real concerns of parents and tax-payers division-wide. Social media is like managing a dozen focus groups that you didn’t have to create. 
  5. The response most likely will be positive. School systems that have taken a proactive step to establish social connections like a blog, a Twitter feed, and YouTube postings get high marks from their communities. The districts that feel the brunt of viral venom are those that don’t have digital avenues of conversation already open when a news story goes bad. When there is a way to hold a conversation, it softens the blow. It’s considered transparency.
  6. You don’t have to do it all at once. Maybe all you do is start a Twitter account (free), which just gives you the opportunity to flash (your) headlines in 140 characters or less to your stakeholders’ phones and PDAs real time. On most days, it will be postings like “Three More National Merit Scholars Named Today. www.ourschooldivision.edu/honors” But think of the possibilities for “11AM Severe storm expected. Trailers evacuated. Students secure. www.ourschooldivision.edu/emergencyplan.” Sure, there is some upfront investment of time and resources, but the ROI (return on investment) will be well worth the effort. (Forget the what-I-had-for-breakfast stuff. That’s an old joke.)
  7. Social media gives you the chance to stay ahead of the curve. Like putting your ear to the train tracks, you can hear the rumble of the approaching train. Social media gives you the opportunity to respond quickly to rumors and dissention, without the filters of the media. It takes a lot less time than writing and publishing a press release. And it can be much more far-reaching.
  8. It’s not going away. The forms of social media will keep changing as new technologies emerge. (That’s the hardest part for the over-50 crowd. “Just when I learned to text….”) But the pace will only quicken and the focus will only sharpen. Part of the job is staying in the race. People use social media partly because they can—it’s here, it’s new, it’s cool. But social media also helps to fill a deep need in our communities to feel connected, to be in touch. If it didn’t, it would have already gone the way of the 8-track tape and the LP.
  9. Social media helps you build community and a sense of ownership among your stakeholders. People only invest in what they care about. In today’s world, you cannot assume that anyone cares about or respects public institutions. People care when they feel cared for. A social media presence speaks to inclusion. It is an invitation to be part of the action.
  10. It takes the whole village. We know that kids learn best when parents and the community are invested in what goes on in our classrooms. Social media is part of what it takes today to win that investment. It’s a small price.

For more information on this topic, check out Why School Communication Matters: Strategies from PR Professionals. AASA members save 20% on this book using promotion code AASA20.

See previous AASA articles on social media: