The Blustery Day I Became a Facebook Live Believer
October 01, 2022
Appears in October 2022: School Administrator.
True confession: I’m not the biggest fan of Facebook
Not too long ago, as our school district tried four times to pass a bond for a much-needed high school, our community descended into verbal warfare on social media. Each election cycle, as we inched closer to reaching the required 66.7 percent super-majority vote, the diatribe on Facebook became increasingly vindictive and personal. Neighbors turned against neighbors; one-time friends turned foes. When the bond finally passed, I was ready to be done with Facebook forever.
But that changed for me on a gusty winter morning in 2019. A dangerous blizzard had forced us to close schools for two days. I knew our phones would be lit up all morning with calls from upset parents.
Four years before, Phil Campbell had joined our district after working as a television news reporter. As the public relations director, he believed that video would be the most important element of a successful communications strategy.
When Facebook Live launched in 2015, he was one of the earliest adopters, creating a D93 News brand with co-anchor Samantha Williams. This soon became our primary channel to share great things happening in our schools.
A Road Test
On that winter morning, we decided to do a Facebook Live broadcast while driving the backroads of our district to show just how dangerous road conditions were. We couldn’t match the heart-pounding intensity of “Twister,” but the live stream of blowing snow and drifting roads was compelling.
... they got to see me as an actual person and not just as a faceless signature line on an e-mail.
Then, in a moment of inspiration, Campbell rolled down his window to get a better shot. At that exact moment, we broke through a huge snowdrift, sending a blast of snow through the open window, plastering both his face and his camera. This unplanned moment of hilarity brought a needed touch of comedy to a tense situation.
Within a few hours, the video had thousands of shares, but did it really do any good?
Absolutely. First, our viewers got to see firsthand the danger the blizzard conditions posed for school buses and teenage drivers. Second, they watched their superintendent actively engage in making a difficult decision as we discussed the challenges of school closures and our concern for students. Finally, they got to see me as an actual person and not just as a faceless signature line on an e-mail. They learned I’m a neighbor in the community, a parent whose own children attend our schools and someone who genuinely cares about their kids.
That experience proved to be provident when just a few weeks later, we faced the unprecedented crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools across Idaho began to close, many of our parents, staff and students were overcome with anxiety and fear. While we weren’t ready to cope with a global pandemic, we at least had an effective communications strategy in place.
Our D93 News brand and Facebook Live channel became our most important communication tool. We began live streaming to not only share our decisions, but even more importantly, to listen to our parents and employees. Facebook Live let us follow the Stephen Covey principle “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This two-way channel provided both a broader and a more detailed perspective of the situation, which in turn, helped us to make better decisions.
Since then, Facebook Live has remained among our most important communication tools. We use this channel to share our weekly D93 News broadcast and to stream live the great happenings in schools. Each month, we hold a “D93 Live with the Superintendent” where I listen to questions and concerns posed by parents and community members. This approach to open and transparent communication has been the key to building relationships of trust with our community.
In Schools Cannot Do It Alone, author Jamie Vollmer argues that schools must build community understanding and trust in order to gain their permission and support. This is what using Facebook Live has done for our district — and it can for yours, too.
Scott Woolstenhulme is superintendent of Bonneville Joint School District 93 in Idaho Falls, Idaho.