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Social Media Success

Harness the power of social to boost communications and demonstrate your district's leadership in the world of education.

Social media has significantly changed the way we communicate on a daily basis. In this online, real-time, mobile environment of blogs, hashtags, followers, likes, pins and ‘grams – how can school district leaders effectively harness the power of social media messaging to enhance district communication and increase engagement?
As a leader in the K-12 community, you know the importance of staying on top of industry trends and best practices. According to the Pew Research Center, 74% of online adults use social networking sites. Pew's additional research shows that, for most platforms, the percentage of users is only trending upward.

The education community seems to be in pretty good shape overall. This article from THE Journal includes statistics from the Digital School Districts Survey, in which 74% (that number again) of respondents reported that their district maintains a presence on at least one social network. So what are you waiting for? This is one bandwagon you’ll be glad you joined.

To help you take the reins, we’ve created a brief glossary of some of the most common social media platforms and tools used by districts today.

So Many Ways to Get Started

If you haven’t already joined the social media realm, there’s no time like the present to jump in. Consider asking a friend, coworker or even a student about how he or she uses a particular platform. Schedule a time to sit down with a tech buddy who can show you the ropes of Facebook or LinkedIn. You can also consider becoming a member of a service like to learn even more about the basics of social media platforms, best practices, and advanced messaging techniques.
To help you take the reins, we’ve created a brief glossary of some of the most common social media platforms and tools used by districts today: Looking to share bite-size material? Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that is arguably the most flexible of the social media platforms. Administrators can share links to articles and videos or distribute short updates, district news and related information. Twitter accounts can be created for the district itself and schools within the district to provide relevant information.

Twitter chats offer scheduled, peer-to-peer conversations and professional development opportunities. Superintendents have #suptchat, principals have #cpchat, librarians have #libchat, and more! Many learning approaches and initiatives even have their own hashtags and chats, so you can jump right in to the conversations you're most passionate about. Educators make up one of Twitter's largest and most engaged user bases, and it's great to see so much collaboration and leadership in one place. 


With 71% of online adults using Facebook, a social media best practice for all districts is to have a Facebook page. A district Facebook page can encompass longer announcements and more “timeless” information that may include videos, photos and links from schools and administrators within the district community. Consolidating all district information into one Facebook page makes it easier to manage and control the information posted.
Say hello to your 21st century district newsletter and goodbye to printing and mailing out monthly letters to parents, staff and community stakeholders. Going paperless with your newsletter by creating a blog is a key way to reach a broader audience in your district more efficiently.
Not just a place for jobseekers - LinkedIn can also be a great opportunity to share district and schoolwide information with a large audience. Company and showcase pages give you the opportunity to manage as many schools as you want from a central location, while LinkedIn groups are a great place to collaborate in closed groups (or open the dialogue up to everyone). Research findings indicate that the share of Internet users with a college education using LinkedIn reached 50% in 2014.
This site is commonly used by educators to record classroom lessons for students to view at home, and by district support staff to record professional development tutorials. More and more often, we're seeing district-branded YouTube channels dedicated to putting out student-driven content, including inspirational videos, projects, and digital mission statements. The great thing about YouTube is the ability to cross-pollinate its content through all of your other social media channels.
With all of these platforms and accounts to keep track of, you’re probably wondering: How am I going to manage social media on top of everything else? Enter social media management systems. Services such as Hootsuite and Buffer allow users to schedule posts and distribute additional content across various social media platforms. A free account can help busy administrators manage their professional profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn, or can assist a communications specialist with keeping tabs on the district accounts.
Now more than ever, social media representation is crucial for districts looking to stay competitive for students and high-performing staff in the ever-changing K-12 environment.

Social is Good

One of the best reasons to connect and engage your district community through social media messaging is that it creates an opportunity for two-way communication and conversation, unlike most traditional models of messaging. Authentic, two-way communication is increasingly important in today’s education environment. Parents, students, and teachers want to make their voices heard and become a part of the education conversation. When used effectively, social media provides a forum for that kind of collaboration.

By expanding communication lines, your district can form stronger partnerships with stakeholders and the surrounding community. This communication can be critical for engaging the public, students and parents in district initiatives such as passing a referendum, building a new field house, adding more advanced academic courses, or beginning a campaign against cyber-bullying. Social media as an avenue for conversation will become increasingly valuable for districts in the future.
Another key benefit of an active social media presence is that it’s real-time communication. This is crucial in emergency or crisis situations, or when you need to announce a school closing due to inclement weather. The viral nature of social media makes it nearly ideal for distributing emergency or similar communications; however, its viral nature also means it is that much more critical for the information being distributed to be as correct, so misinformation is not spread. Social media should supplement the district's emergency notification system, not replace it.

As social media continues to become more ubiquitous, some districts (especially larger ones) have assigned a public relations officer, communications specialist, or designated administrator to be “on call” in the event of an emergency or crisis situation. This individual should work closely with the district superintendent to ensure all communications are accurate and reflect well on the district, especially during such events.   
Finally, an engaging social media presence serves as an extension of your district’s public face. Now more than ever, social media representation is crucial for districts looking to stay competitive for students and high-performing staff in the ever-changing K-12 environment. Social media plays a key role in your district’s brand recognition and credibility. The same holds true for the individual leaders of the district, who have a whole new way to increase their professional credibility as education thought leaders through social media platforms – all of which, in turn, reflects well on the districts they represent and communities they serve. To learn more about how effective public relations and social media use can improve your district’s relationships, read this Education World article on the subject.


Three Quick Tips

Now that you have some background in the whats and whys of social media, it's time for the "how." These three recommendations should help you get started.

1. Find out how your audience wants to hear from you before you begin. Different social media platforms will reach different target audiences. Consider taking a survey at the beginning of the year to find out how parents would like to receive the district newsletter. A little research on your audience can make all the difference in increasing engagement.
2. Remember McLuhan’s famous phrase: The medium is the message. Curating your communication specifically for the medium by which it will be distributed can help your messages to be received more positively. Also keep in mind that the different platforms your district utilizes may have slightly differing audiences. Do your best to ensure the message aligns with the platform used to deliver it and reaches your intended audience. To learn more about this best practice and to see examples of the differences between Facebook and Twitter, check out this blog post from Buffer.
3. Keep your posts positive. Not only is positive messaging good PR, it’s also more inviting to your audience. If you want to continually engage parents, students and the community through social media, distribute messaging in a positive tone and avoid negative language.
Although posts can be deleted, screenshots, forwards and shares can happen in an instant. Nothing in the digital world can ever be erased entirely.

A Word to the Wise

The relative permanency of social media means it is not a place to throw caution to the wind. When it comes to messaging and the content that you may want to distribute, decide carefully. If something appears questionable – a seemingly witty remark, image or video – always go with your first instinct. If you question the integrity of a post for even a second, don’t publish it. You’re better off being safe now than sorry later. Although posts can be deleted, screenshots, forwards and shares can happen in an instant. Nothing in the digital world can ever be erased entirely.

In addition, be sure to keep personal and professional posts separate. If you haven’t done so already, consider creating social media guidelines for employees and the district community. Then, post the document or add a webpage on your district website, after it’s been reviewed by your district’s attorney and school board.

Being transparent with the public and holding your district accountable sets a positive example for the community. This Edutopia document is an awesome resource for information and suggestions on creating a district-wide policy.  

The question “Should we be using social media?” is no longer part of the decision-making process for most districts. An active presence across key social media platforms can be incredibly valuable for administrators and districts looking to enhance communication, distribute information during a crisis, offer professional development and increase goodwill. Join the ranks of districts just like yours, and achieve success by embracing social media today.

We like nothing more than to shine a spotlight on the social media efforts of the Skyward community. Follow us on Twitter so we can see the great things you're doing and help you reach your goals.


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