A Twitter guide for schools

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The use of Twitter by schools, teachers and within education continues to grow rapidly. For those thinking about getting involved, Lindsay Plumpton offers a start-up guide for making the most of Twitter.

Tweeting, Blogging, Linking in, Facebooking (not to mention Tumblr, Pinterest, Google+) – it’s all the rage and whether you like it or not, social media has become unescapable.

Looking at Twitter in particular, it currently has around a billion registered users, with a phenomenal 100 million users who are active on a daily basis.

Essentially, Twitter is a micro-blogging platform that allows you to share short messages online and engage in conversation with other users. You have got 140 characters to succinctly express yourself. This basic idea has revolutionised the way millions of people discuss and market themselves.

Why should we be involved?

It can sometimes seem hard enough to keep on top of your emails, without giving yourself extra workload. But the great thing is that as well as being a free resource to use, it really won’t take up much of your time and can yield great results for your school. 

If it is used effectively, Twitter can help to move your school forward, become part of the larger community, and give it an official voice in the education sector. Twitter is a quick and easy communications tool to let the entire school community know what’s going on with you and your students. 

How would a school use it?

Any reticence you have is understandable – Twitter is certainly something which divides opinion. Is Twitter not just the inane ramblings of celebrities? What’s so fascinating about people documenting every aspect of their daily lives? Who really cares what Joe Bloggs had for breakfast? Well, you’ll be glad to hear that it can be used for a lot more than that.

With Twitter, you can share information (including weblinks, images or video clips as appropriate) about your school or classes as you see fit. It can be used effectively to engage parents who are often working, on the move, and busy. For example, it is an easy way for them to keep up with school news or residential trips. It is also good for engaging with your students (some schools are even setting homework via Twitter) and with others in the education industry. 

Through updating Twitter you can:

  • Celebrate your activities and successes as well as highlight students’ work.

  • Share photographs of students doing collaborative work, showcasing best practice or answer questions that arise during lessons.

  • Update parents about school trips or other school news and advertise school events.

  • Provide your school’s thoughts on matters of policy or education news, as well as receive feedback from and interact with followers.

  • Create an online debate – are you considering whether or not to scrap a particular subject? Or do you want to know what other people think of Michael Gove’s latest proposal? A quick tweet is the perfect way to take a quick reading of public opinion.

You can share your Twitter messages via computer, tablet device or mobile at any time that’s convenient to you. What’s more, you can embed Twitter into the school’s website or blog. Therefore, the immediacy of being able to share information via Twitter (particularly via a mobile device) can be combined with the main school online presence, the website.

Getting started

Before you jump into the Twittersphere, there’s obviously a few things that you need to consider.

  • What do you want to do with this account? What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want to communicate? 

  • The account will need to be looked after as social networking is an immediate thing which can demand an immediate response. Will there be just one person who will post or will you have multiple people who post? Remember to keep it simple to start with.

  • Who do you want to follow? Parents? Students? Community members? Political figures? It’s important to follow people in order to facilitate interaction, so set some ground rules based around what you want to achieve.

  • How will you respond to questions directed at you? Twitter should be a two-way conversation and to be a good conversationalist, you need to listen as well as talk! Participate, lead the way and make your voice heard.

Practicalities 

When setting up your account, you need to think of a name. You’ll also need an email address that is not already associated with a Twitter account (maybe just your generic school email address).

The email address is used to confirm the account and is sent any notifications of direct messages, new followers etc. As far as your name’s concerned, you should pick something that’s short, easy to remember and in keeping with your school’s brand as this defines your identity on Twitter.

It is also good to add your full school name, location, description, link to your website and picture (maybe your school logo or symbol). 

If you are going to be using Twitter on your mobile, you might want to look into an app that makes this easier. Furthermore, using something like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck on your computer allows you to use the more advanced features of Twitter and follow multiple feeds at any one time. You can also use this to manage multiple accounts within the school.

Hashtagging? Trending? 

For many, some of the terms used when discussing social media can be intimidating. However, it is much more simple than it sounds.

Using a hash symbol (#) before a relevant keyword or phrase (known as a hashtag) categorises those tweets and helps them show more easily in Twitter searches. Clicking on a “hashtagged” word in any message shows you all other tweets featuring that keyword. Don’t over-tag a single tweet though (two is probably the maximum).

Trends on Twitter refer to a hashtag-driven topic that is immediately popular at a particular time.

Meanwhile, mentioning an organisation or person using their Twitter name (@joebloggs) will help to bring your tweet to that organisation or individual’s attention. 

Some final tips 

  • Remember to keep it informative, varied and visual (everyone loves a photo). If you are including links, you can shorten the links to fit into your tweet using link shortening websites, such as Bit.ly. 

  • Promote your account – put it on your website, in your newsletters and elsewhere.

  • Try to keep it up-to-date so that everyone knows it is a fresh account and worth following.

  • Have a sense of humour with it – it is a social network and does not have to be formal in style. Bring out your school’s personality and make it fun as well as functional.

  • Lindsay Plumpton is PR and social media officer at NCFE.

NCFE
NCFE is a national awarding organisation and educational charity which offers a range of general and vocational qualifications. You can follow @ncfe for discussions on hot topics affecting schools, their latest qualifications, and news. Visit www.ncfe.org.uk
 
Further information
Getting started: who should you follow?


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