Like all public entities, public schools are under attack from a skeptical public. The talking point that resonates: The district needs to rein in costs and make do with what it has. All the while, a need for communication is increasing at an exponential rate. This means communicating with the public in ways that it wants to receive information immediately, in real time.

Enter social media.

Social media are a must for all organizations. However, the last question a superintendent wants to hear: “Why are my tax dollars paying $50,000 per year plus benefits to an employee who is Facebooking all day?” The short response: Because that’s where people are and where we need to be to reach them. They are on Facebook, Twitter and a multitude of other vehicles.

However, most superintendents prefer not to go down the road of having their district engage in social media. Resources are stretched; they do not have the capacity; and it’s one more thing to take care of or monitor. Districts that do have a communication person find that the person has concerns about making sure the district’s social media stay manageable and that the person has not quite figured out how to maximize or make social media work best for the district.

Social media are a platform in which public schools must engage. There are real benefits to using social media, and the pitfall above can be avoided, with a little planning. A few suggestions to get you started:

  • Bring a clear message to social media. Be clear about what you are communicating, and align it with what your district is about. It should not be a platform for this or that. Postings should be planned out and demonstrate clear, professional thinking.
  • Have a clear policy. Social media are another extension of your credibility. Make sure you protect your school system and those who post. Every state school association has boilerplate do’s and don’ts of social media. These policies are easy for your district to adopt.
  • Do not be on every platform. Pick one or two platforms, and work to gain acceptance by your community. Advertise and use them.
  • Be ready with a response. If you see benefit in using social media, be ready to explain the reason: “We want to respond to taxpayer concerns in real time like the private sector does,” or “Instead of costing the taxpayer thousands in printing and mailing costs, we are switching to social media.”

Social media can help school districts build bridges to the community that are desperately needed, given the political atmosphere. Being on social media with a clear strategy, defined policies and firm goals is a smart move for school districts. Without these things, social media are a waste of time and taxpayer money.

Joel Gagne of Allerton Hill Consulting works with school districts, nonprofits and others to strengthen community engagement. He offers a range of experience in politics and has been involved in political campaigns at every level for more than 25 years, including serving as a member of the school board in his hometown of Hull, Mass.

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