The secret to effective communication is to go where your audience is. Social media is just another medium that you can use to reach out and engage with parents in your school community. I’m going to take you through a few examples and point out how each can be used in different ways.
Are your parents on Facebook? A previous article in this series has already discussed how you can use Facebook to engage students (http://bit.ly/10Xp3jT), but have you thought about how you can use it to better engage with parents?
With Facebook, you have two choices over how to connect your organisation with any audience – Pages and Groups. With a Page, you can share publicly your news updates and milestones, and with a Group you have the option for more closed, private discussions within your school community.
When deciding which will work best for you, ask yourself the following:
Is this a space where you want to showcase your school community?
Would you like school alumni and potential future parents to have access to the information?
Is this communication an extension of the information that you share on your website?
If the answers to the above are “yes”, then you will be better served with a Page. With a Page, your current teachers, parents and students can use it as a way to communicate with the school more conveniently.
The majority of Facebook users access the site via their mobile device and as such will get updates on the move and can easily post questions from anywhere.
You could have a generic school Page or filter off specific conversations to a bespoke page, for your PTA group for example. Making your Page specific may mean you attract a smaller audience, but they are also more likely to engage with you as the content you’re sharing will be particularly relevant to them.
The other benefit of a Page is that you can share all kinds of resources and create separate sections to showcase videos, photo albums and even tailored application forms to collect data. They are designed with businesses in mind but there are plenty of ways you can use a Facebook Page to attract, retain and engage both current and new audiences.
If you answered “no” to the questions above and would prefer to have a more closed conversation and share pictures and files privately, you may be better off with a Group.
You have three options with a Group: Open, Private and Secret. Groups give you more limited customisation as they essentially act as a mini-newsfeed but give you much more control over access and sharing.
Using Facebook Groups, you can see a list of exactly which members have seen each post. This is helpful because you can use it to test whether your Group is really the best way to communicate with your chosen audience. If you are not getting the “seen by” blue tick at the bottom of a post, people aren’t seeing your updates – are they interested?
In short, the main differences are privacy and functionality. Which you pick will depend on who you are trying to reach within your school community and how open or closed you want the discussion to be.
Like Facebook Groups, you have the choice on Twitter of having a closed or open feed. Either is fine, again it depends on how you want to use Twitter to engage your community. If you want to use it with pupils to share updates that their parents have access to then private is probably the way to go. However, if you would like to engage with a wider community which includes potential new families and alumni, I would go with a public profile.
Twitter is a great way to engage with journalists online. However, I would recommend that you have a different feed for that type of interaction as you are unlikely to get any media followers for your Sports Day and Exam Prep updates. For parents and students though, these updates are much more compelling.
The advantage to Twitter is that any updates are short and easily shared. School closed down for the snow – quick tweet and it is shared with a wide audience and can be “reshared” easily by parents and teachers. Comments are easily responded to and are kept short and succinct by design.
If you would like to encourage more detailed conversations and share longer, more in-depth accounts of your school activities, perhaps consider a blog. By getting teachers and pupils to use the blog to share news of extra-curricular activities as well as classroom antics, you are letting parents see behind the school walls in a more meaningful way. You then have the choice of whether to open up the comments to let parents contribute publicly or keep them closed, depending on the nature of each post.
If you are feeling super techy, you could start looking at the possibilities of Google Plus. With Google Plus Hangouts you can have up to 10 users on a video call and share screens, all for free. Why not livestream a Q&A with the headteacher once a term to YouTube using this tool and put your head in the hotseat!
The most important thing is to decide where your audience is and go to them. Next, you need to vary the type of content you share and see what works best. The great thing about using social media is that you have the option to easily share photos, videos, documents and simple text updates in real time. Not only that, parents can access these updates quickly and easily.
Further informationThis is the fourth in a series of articles on how schools can make effective use of digital tools and social media. You can see all Jennifer’s articles for SecEd at www.sec-ed.co.uk/article-search/author/128
Jennifer Begg is a digital obsessive, trainer and campaigner. She is also the founder of JaniesSchool.org and is passionate about girls’ education and its impact on equality and development. Visit http://livefreerange.com