The 21st century has already brought enormous changes to the ways in which we gather, process and exchange information. Social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, are capable of organizing the limitless data of the information age, while we all now use “smart” devices to interact with each other and the world around us every minute of the day.

Social media’s role in our lives has become so widespread that it has grown into a tool of politicians and corporations to directly communicate with the public at-large. Many observers have given credit to social media for reforming the dialogue between Americans and their elected representatives and community organizations.

While these changes are taking root in world around us, some school districts have been slow to embrace the trends. For some educators, the new technology brings challenges. Some think of social media as a tool for the “younger generation” and more work than it’s worth. Others are familiar with social media as a distraction from the classroom. Still early-adopters of modern technology view social media as a welcome advance in their interactions with the government or with businesses, but are skeptical of its application to the education system.

The reality, however, is no 21st century industry — especially one as fundamental as education — can ignore the advantages of social media. For one, social media may have gained its initial popularity among youths, but its acceptance and usage has become widespread by Americans of all ages. According to the latest Pew polling data, 83% of 18- to 29-year-olds, 77% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 52% of 50- to 64-year-olds, and an nearly 1 in 3 (32%) of Americans over 65 years old regularly use social media. This represents a major opportunity to communicate within a diverse range of school districts.

There are numerous examples of grass-roots organizations and movements that have used social media for messaging and action. These should show what schools and school districts are capable of. The potential for direct contact and engagement between community members to bring about social change has been proved and can be used for campaigns in school districts.

The communications revolution brings a glaring need for school districts to audit their communications and build a communications plan to make sure they fit the times. Luckily, some school districts have already begun this important process before they are pushed into the 21st century, kicking-and-screaming by parents, students and community members of younger generations. As school districts and education professionals embrace these new tools, they will need to be proactive about developing a comprehensive communications plan, combining the traditional methods with modern channels like social media.

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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