Practical PR: 4 beginning steps to share your district's story on Twitter
By Alex Mayster
Alex Mayster is Communications Coordinator for Evergreen Park ESD 124, also known as @PSD124, and he is happy to answer your Twitter questions at email@example.com .
The world of Twitter — or the "Twitterverse" as some like to call it — can be a scary place to those who are unfamiliar; especially for the people responsible for running school districts.
Many people had just gotten their heads around the fact the Facebook has value outside of keeping track of family members or staying in touch with friends from high school, when this little blue bird came along, and it was time to learn something new.
No one is suggesting you shut down your Facebook account, as that platform still has many useful characteristics. But if you're not on Twitter yet, it is time to expand your horizons.
Twitter gives school districts the ability to improve their communications both internally and externally, while continuing to control their own messages. If done correctly, school districts can communicate on Twitter quickly and efficiently — to a wide variety of audiences — with the click of a button. As Twitter becomes ingrained within a school community, a team of regular Tweeters will begin to tell your district's story on a daily basis, making it easier for districts without a defined "communications person" to get their messages out there.
So how does a school district get up-and-running on Twitter? There is no right or wrong way to do it, but following these steps could go a long way toward improving communication with your community.
Step 1: Create a district Twitter account
We will learn later on that getting as many people as possible involved with your district's Twitter campaign is key, but before you can create an army you have to start with one person. If you do not have an account already, log on to Twitter.com or download the app to create one for your district. The handle should be something simple and easy-to-recall, something that people can quickly find when searching for your school district. Be sure to upload a profile and header photo that people will identify with, and get ready to send your first Tweet. This district Twitter account is where you will release all of your information, from fun photos of classroom activities to news about PARCC scores and details on emergency school closings.
Step 2: Create a #hashtag
Do you know what a hashtag is? No, it's not the same as a "pound" button on your phone, it's an important element of social media that allows people or organizations to group together a series of messages or Tweets. For example, if you do a search for #pets on Twitter, you'll be treated to a wide variety of animal pictures from people across the globe. If you establish a hashtag for your school district — such as #D124Inspire or #engage109 — then audiences will be able to search for those hashtags to see the variety of great things happening in schools throughout your district. These hashtags will group messages together in a way that makes them accessible to your audiences, who are likely already on Twitter every day.
Step 3: Build your Twitter team
Yes, you could use Twitter simply as a one-way method to deliver communication to your constituents — in the same way many of you probably are already using Facebook. There's nothing wrong with that. To take your use of Twitter to the next level, however, you will want to involve as many people as possible. Once you get teachers, administrators, school board members, etc., Tweeting regularly using the school district's hashtag, then community members following along will begin to get a real inside look at the outstanding things happening in the district. This means parents can see what their children are doing in school, rather than prodding them at the dinner table, and taxpayers will see that their dollars are being put to good use.
Having more people on board also expands the potential reach of each message being delivered. Users have the ability to re-Tweet content to their own group of "followers," giving school districts the ability to reach hundreds of people who may never have been accessible through their own district accounts.
Step 4: Use it!
The idea of sharing stories and photos from your school district sounds great, but you have to make the time to do it. The best timesaving tip is to download the Twitter app on a phone or tablet that you are using throughout the day. That way, you can snap a quick photo and pen a message in a matter of seconds, and it will not delay your day enough to discourage your use of Twitter in the future. The second hurdle that often arises is an abrupt absence from using Twitter at the most critical times. Remember, Twitter is not just for those fun photos, it is a platform that allows you to spread the news. So when your district is in crisis mode, it's not time to shut down. This is perhaps the most important time to use Twitter. When your constituents are searching for information, your Tweets should be there to provide them with answers.