Leveraging YouTube During a Pandemic

Type: Article
Topics: Communications & Public Relations, School Administrator Magazine, Technology & AI

April 01, 2021

Social Media

MONDAY, MARCH 23, 2020, is a day we’ll never forget. Here in Virginia, schools suddenly shifted to online learning when our governor announced the two-week closure of schools he had originally ordered would be extended through the remainder of the school year. Superintendents everywhere immediately felt the pressure as their stakeholders looked to them to provide answers and clear direction for a situation that no one could have seen coming.

Fast forward to 2021, and our school lives have changed dramatically. Meetings always held in person have shifted to virtual plat-forms for both safety and convenience, and communicating through real-time video may be here to stay. School districts that included YouTube as part of their communications strategy before the COVID-19 pandemic hold a clear advantage, but it’s not too late to join the party.

How can superintendents and their staffs leverage the YouTube platform during an extended crisis?

A few strategies based on our Virginia school district’s experiences could be considered.

 Build your audience. YouTube is an easy platform to work with, but it takes time to access its full potential. Savvy school systems across the country have earned the ability to livestream on the platform, a service that is reserved for accounts with more than 1,000 subscribers.

Livestreaming may not seem like a perk to be enjoyed, but when the pandemic prevents spectators from attending your most popular sporting events, musical concerts, theater productions and other programs, providing access to these events through a YouTube livestream is a no-cost way to win big points from your school community.

 Getting the information out there. Before the pandemic, our district’s central goal was to build a subscriber base through stories that shined a light on the success of our schools. Once the pandemic hit, however, informing our school community became top priority, and our superintendent, Jared Cotton, played a central role.

Recorded webinars in which he was involved and discussions with school and city officials became valuable pieces that our community could access on their own time. By hosting these videos on YouTube, sharing the information on other platforms was easy to do, and the accessibility features built into the platform left no doubt that we could connect with even our most difficult to reach audiences. (See our district’s Family Resources playlist here.)

 Redefining celebrations. Video offers an opportunity to highlight the achievements of our students and staff in a way that builds excitement and connection through digital means when face-to-face celebrations are off the table. And the process is pretty simple.

Record the big reveal of your districtwide Teacher of the Year honors or piece together individual graduation speeches and set your video to run as a YouTube Premiere. Once your date and time are locked in, share your watch page so your audience can participate in the experience by posting comments in real time. (See our online Virtual Graduation Ceremonies playlist.)

 Keep it real. During a pandemic, heartfelt stories that highlight our connections can feel a bit like propaganda if you aren’t in tune with your public. When times are tough, district leaders need to share the reality of the situation. That doesn’t mean you abandon your focus on your district’s successes.

Instead, take a pause. Start a playlist of interviews that focus on the people in the trenches, which allows them to talk about their experiences, the good and the bad. After all, this is history in the making. (See our Voices of 2020 playlist here, and our Teacher Voices playlist here.)

 Roll with it. Communicating through video can be intimidating for even the most experienced superintendents, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. Focus on your message and your mission, and don’t go it alone. Allow your school community to get a glimpse into the lives of your teachers, students and other key staff members to help remind our school community that we are all in this together.

ANGIE SMITH is chief of staff and clerk of the board with Chesapeake Public Schools in Chesapeake, Va.


Angie P. Smith

Chief of Staff and Clerk of the Board

Chesapeake Public Schools