Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tools for Social Media

My presentation to the MSBA Social Media Conference as a pdf is here:

If you have any ideas, questions or suggestions please send me a message or leave a comment. I would love to hear your feedback!

-Jas N
@jasnsmith on Twitter

Monday, October 6, 2014

Social Media Tips for Schools

In my district I've used social media on a daily basis for years. I compiled a list of the best tips I've learned and advice I've been given so maybe others will be able to get up to speed much faster than I did.  
Pick a short username. Seems obvious now, but when I was first starting I wanted to use all sorts of stuff. You want a username that won’t use up a lot of characters (Twitter only gives 140). If it’s over 13 characters, then pick a new one.
Customize your look. Taking a few extra minutes to upload a cover image and avatar can lend you heaps of credibility. Also your background and cover photos are great ways to share content! You can include mentions of upcoming events, dates, contact info, etc. There's highly valuable real estate located at the top of your profile!
Mix it up! Don’t only tweet or post about your school! Engage with users, congratulate them on successes, comment on local events and activities.
Connect! Be a part of the community. Follow, retweet, share, mention, thank, and converse with followers and users in your local community.
Be a follower. Keep up with what is going on in education and with schools in your area, around the state and the country. It will help you understand what is happening in the field and how you can help your community/district adapt and grow.
Post regularly. Multiple times per week, daily is better, multiple per day is great. Make sure you include original content often. Don't just retweet and NEVER auto-retweet!! Auto-retweeting makes their mistake YOUR mistake.
Respond. When people ask a question or make a comment on Facebook this may be their first actual interaction with your district! So respond and answer. If you need to look something up or refer them to another person, say so, but let them know you heard them and you appreciate their input. You will quickly turn folks into fans!
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” – Bill Gates
Tag photos. Post a funny or interesting photo and invite users to tag their friends in it. Maybe a photo of some students at field day or giggling at recess with the caption “Remember swing set races? Tag a friend who raced with you.” Or maybe a photo of the cheerleaders on gameday with “Tag a friend who’s ready to cheer for the Tigers!” This invites conversation and connects you with fun memories and emotions in their minds. Plus, it helps spread your photo organically through Facebook feeds! Also, posts (and tweets) with a photo are much more likely to be shared and read!
Be relatable. Pull back the curtain a little and show things that go on in the day-to-day. Let people see what your district does to educate students, especially the people who are not in the classroom!
Use Hashtags. And not just on Twitter. Instagram and Facebook both recognize hashtags now. It won’t be long before all social platforms do. It’s an easy way to highlight your content and connect with followers.
Avoid heated debate. Discussion is good for an on-line community, but when things get really heated it’s best to take it to another forum. An easy way to transition is to email the person and say something like “I see that you have a lot of concerns or questions about this topic. This may be a better way for us to communicate so that I can get you the information that you really need.”
 No politics or religion! Just stay out of it. You are acting as a spokesperson for your district, whether you like it or not. There’s no way you can accurately speak for everyone in your organization when it is a highly controversial topic. Don’t alienate your parents, community or employees by spouting off.
Reread your tweets and posts before you send them. And then read them one more time. You can’t take them back. Don't tweet/post anything you wouldn't say on camera. Twitter and Facebook are an open microphone 24/7. Also, probably best not to make it too easy to post from your phone or device. Make yourself have to log in before you post, so you don’t accidentally tweet something you only meant to text your spouse or co-worker.
Watch typos! Misspelling hurts your credibility (especially in education)! Shortening and abbreviating are ok, but watch which words you shorten. Removing just the right/wrong letter can COMPLETELY change your meaning.

Did I miss any? Are there ones that you've learned that you want to share? Let me know.
- Jas N
@jasnsmith on Twitter

Sunday, June 8, 2014

7 Ways to Get the Most From a Conference

After attending the NSPRA national seminar for about a decade now and speaking at state, regional and national conferences and conventions, I feel like I have a good idea of some of the most important things to do to get the most out of my time at a conference.

NSPRA has a great conference every year with speakers and panels on current and emerging trends in the school PR world. I’ve gone many times and each time I learn so much new stuff and come home with so many new ideas! Even if you aren’t in school PR, there are conferences and conventions for your field that would definitely benefit you. Never stop learning and honing your craft, whatever that craft may be!

So, now I give you my favorite ways to maximize my conference time:

1. Start your days early! Don’t sleep in, even though it’s tempting. Get some coffee and get going. Show up early at the conference floor and offer to pitch in. You never know who you’ll meet.

2. Pick out at least 2 sessions for each break-out. That way if the first one is full, you already know where you want to head. If it’s a good conference (such as NSPRA) there will be multiple sessions that you absolutely MUST attend, so planning ahead will make sure you get in as many as possible.

3. Talk to your fellow attendees! I’ve often gotten more useful information and ideas through small-talk waiting for a session than in some of the actual sessions themselves. Everyone there is interested in the same things as you, it’s the perfect icebreaker! All you need to strike up a conversation is a simple “So, where are you from/where do you work?” and you’re off!! Try it! Really! Face-to-face conversations with actual people can be intimidating for social media fanatics (like me), but once you start, you’ll find it’s just like joining a Twitter Chat (#smalltalk). Talk to the people in line with you, talk to the people sitting next to you in the sessions, talk to the people in the elevator with conference nametags…you get the idea.

4. Don’t cut out early. It can seem like a long stretch, but some of the later sessions and the sessions on the last day are often less crowded and offer some really great opportunities for discussion and networking.

5. Business cards are a must. Take more than you think you will need. There are drawings and sign-ups beyond the normal networking. Also, when you get a card from someone, jot a quick note on the back to remember the context and if you promised to send them something.

6. Keep a master list of things you want to put into practice once you get back. I like to keep the list as a checklist on the outside of a large envelope and put supporting documents and more information inside it.

7. Use conference hashtags to share interesting info, photos and tidbits on Twitter and social media. Hashtags can also make it easier to find and share key quotes or ideas from session speakers. Don’t be surprised to see unexpected reTweets, shares and follows on your feed.

Finally, start planning now so that when you get there you hit the ground running! I’ve included a link to NSPRA’s National Seminar resource page for all the latest updates and information about their 2014 seminar and schedules. I’m looking forward to it and hope to see you there! Be sure and say “Hi” if you see me!

So I hope you find these helpful. Did I mention your favorite convention tips? What are things that you do to get the most out of your conference? Comment and let me know what you think! Thanks for reading.

- Jas N
@jasnsmith on Twitter

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

5 Must Do Items for School PR in the Summer

I originally wrote this post with schools in mind, but the information actually applies to any area of PR. Summer is a great time for taking stock in the effectiveness and success of your program and yourself!

In my role as a PR Director for a school district, Summer isnt the vacation that many other school employees enjoy. I work a 12-month schedule, but that doesnt mean my workload is the same year-round.

When school is in session there are activities happening daily at schools, sports are in season, competitions are taking place, district policies are being implemented, parents are volunteering, etc. I have an abundance of items to promote, coordinate and cover. There are always letters, memos and press releases to write and send. But in Summer, theres a different buzz.

Once the students have gone home and teachers have packed up their classrooms, I am working away planning and preparing for next year. Ive come to think of Summer as a countdown to the first day of the next year. Now, there are folks who will tell you Slow down and take a break. If you are looking for that, you are reading the wrong blog post. Im telling you to seize the Summer and make every minute count!


1. EVALUATE. Take the first few days and look back over the previous years events.  I always think its a best to review events right after completion; do a debrief while the events are still fresh. However a year-end review is also important. What stands out as successful? Which pieces got good feedback? Did anything get unexpectedly good media coverage? What didnt work?

If you dont have a good single source of documentation, use your social media accounts. Its not a perfect measure, but itll work in a pinch. Social media platforms often have some very good metrics already in place which you can use to analyze your past year. Which items got reTweeted? Which posts got the most likes and shares on Facebook? Which pins or Instagram posts got the most attention? These can give you an idea of what the community responded to or what things they would like to see.

2. RESEARCH. Create a simple survey for your community or staff. Google has simple, free survey tools that you can use to generate multiple question surveys. There are also a number of other services that have little or no cost such as SurveyMonkey, Zoomerang, and tons of others.  The data is easily collected and formatted as a spreadsheet that can be shared and archived.

Ask questions about the programs and events from the past year and always leave a blank for open-ended answers. You might not always agree with or like what you read, but its good to know what people think about what you do.  And just because someone says something, doesnt mean you have to do it. You are collecting feedback, not taking orders.

3. DECIDE. Looking at what worked and what didnt, and considering the feedback you have collected, decide which things you are going to do again and which you arent. Its ok to not do something again that didnt work, or to retool the event or program in a way that will improve it.

The worst thing we can do is to have the same drab program year after year because weve always done it. I am combing some end of year events for next year. It will hopefully make the event better for the honorees, and it will let us focus more attention on making the event even more memorable.  

Maybe you feel like you have too many things and need to focus on a select group to have the greatest impact. Maybe you find there is a need in your community for a specific event or program. Or maybe you have an idea that you would just like to try out because you think it would help your students, schools or community. So create a list and do them!

4. SCHEDULE. An event or a program is so much more than a single date on a calendar. In order for an event to be effective and successful, you have to plan and build to it. The best way I have found to do this is to schedule my specific date for the event, implementation, kick-off or whatever and then work backwards.

Our Retirement event is in May, so a week before that I need the programs completed, two weeks before I need all of the announcements posted, three weeks prior I make sure all the local media are notified, a month before I send invitations to community members, partners and district administrators, six weeks before I make sure each retiree is invited and try to get an RSVP list. You get the idea. Schedule all the support pieces, so that when the actual date arrives, all the PR work has already built the buzz and excitement.  

5. DEVELOP. Always make a point to take advantage of at least one Professional Development opportunity over the summer. I generally attend the NSPRA national conference in July and one or two state or regional conferences over the summer. During the year I am in the midst of deadlines and projects across my district, but during the summer I can make room for extended focus on learning about new trends and strategies from colleagues across the country. Here are my 7 Tips to Maximize Your Conference Experience.

Even if you cant travel to a large seminar, there are development resources you can access online. NSPRA has a wealth of info and resources for School PR pros on their website. PRSA has a number of webinars and teleconferences available online. Your state or regional chapters and educational organizations will have conferences, often with sessions specifically for PR pros.

So take your Summer and use it to Evaluate, Research, Decide, Schedule and Develop! Did I mention your Summer must-do? Are there things you feel I missed? Let me know! and have a great Summer!

- Jas N
@jasnsmith on Twitter

Monday, May 12, 2014

Top 5 Reasons Schools Avoid Social Media ...and why they're wrong

Schools and districts are often slow to adopt social media. For every district that jumps in fully and leads the way with integration and innovation, there are dozens who are happy sitting on the sidelines. The reasons might be different from admin-to-admin or district-to-district, but I have listed what I have found to be the 5 most common and why they are wrong.

Let me say that I think it is wise to be cautious when looking at new technology. The responsible thing to do as a district is to test the waters, get feedback from other districts and even possibly give enough time for the major issues to be figured out. Well, that time has passed. It’s time to get your district connected via social media.

So let’s talk about the major reasons your district isn’t on social media:

1: Change is scary. 
The status quo is a powerful force in schools. We often times like to leave well enough alone. Your website is getting information out on the web, why do you need social media?

Well, like it or not your parents are already going there. Even if they don’t have a computer they are on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, etc. And if they are there, at some point they are likely talking about school. So reach out! You have to take the information to them.

2: People will bash us.
Another idea is that parents and the community are just waiting to pounce on your school or district when you create a presence on social media. Guess what? People who want to bash you aren’t waiting for you to join social media. But if you create a social media presence, you are able to tell your story and have it go out directly to your community.

You will have the opportunity to address criticism, but you will find that there is not nearly as much negativity as you might expect. People are a lot more discerning about what they say when their name and picture are posted right next to their comment. That’s not to say they won’t make them, but you are likely severely over-estimating the tidal wave that will be unleashed.

3: We can't control it.
That is true; you’re not going to be able to control every aspect of social media as it relates to your school. But the trick is that you don’t have to control it. Social media is intended to be interactive. You don’t want to control both sides of the conversation…because then you are just talking to yourself.

You can however guide the conversation. And the conversation is likely going on whether you are participating or not. It’s up to you to join the discussion that is already taking place. Get involved and be a part of the ongoing conversation, not just about your district, but your community. Share events that are of interest to your parents or information about fundraisers for organizations that partner with you. Use social media to reach out to your community and strengthen your relationships with partners and parents.

Sometimes well-intentioned people or groups start their own problem by not thinking through what they are doing: (#MyNYPD). But if you take the time to use social media and understand how to use it effectively then you can avoid these kinds of pitfalls. Start slowly if you must, but start now!

4: Staff will use it inappropriately.
Teachers or staff using social media inappropriately is an honest concern, but avoiding social media altogether is the wrong response. I think that an active social media presence will actually increase the likelihood of staff using the platform for legitimate educational purposes.

Social media itself is not going to entice otherwise upstanding people to behave in ways that would get them in trouble. If a teacher or staff member is going to do something inappropriate, then social media is only one of a number of ways they could engage in misconduct. They could also use email, cellphones, texting, apps, etc. We need to let staff know of the expectations we have for them and then trust them to act accordingly. If a problem arises then we can deal with that individual, not ban the entire platform because of the potential for misuse.  

5: We need a whole new policy.
No, you really don’t. Your school or district should already have a policy in place for general Internet usage and professional conduct. Any situation that could arise from the use of social media should already be covered under these policies. It is not practical to create policy based on specific platforms, as these will change and become outdated rather rapidly.

The best policies lay out the expectation of using the Internet and for professional conduct of staff. If contact between a student and a teacher on social media crosses the line of appropriate behavior, that should be considered a violation of the expectation regardless of where the contact occurs. You don’t have to change your policy beyond possibly mentioning that it extends to cover social media. That’s it, really.

BONUS: It’s overwhelming.
Between Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, Vine, LinkedIn, etc. it can be hard to know where to even begin. As, they say about eating an elephant, one bite at a time. But you have to start somewhere. A good first step would be to determine which platform is going to be the best fit for you to use and go for it!

Maybe you want to start with just event updates and general announcements, then sounds like Twitter is for you. Want to post long stories or lots of pictures from different programs or guests, then you might start with Facebook. Want to post single pictures and short videos, then get on Instagram! Whatever you want to do, there is a social media platform to help you.

So get out there, find your platform and join the conversation! Social media can help you tell your story to a whole new audience!

Did I mention the reason you are dealing with? Do you agree? No? Let me know!

- Jas N
@jasnsmith on Twitter