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