Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Collectively, these and other sites are part of Web 2.0, a new generation of e-tools that allow for more interactivity and information sharing.
“Web 2.0 isn’t so much a shift in technology as a shift in mindset and how we connect with others,” said Gene Broderson, NSBA’s director of National Affiliate Services and Technology Programs, which hosted a webinar recently on the emerging cyber world of social networking and how school systems and educators can become part of it.
“Sites like Twitter and Facebook are a great way for you to learn about your community and for your community learn about you,” Broderson said. “It improves community relations and gives people you represent an understanding of what’s going on but there are also some dangers.”
Helping Broderson lay out the landscape of this dynamic field were communication and marketing staff members from the Georgia, California, and New York state school boards associations, which are trailblazers in the social networking arena, launching Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Wiki pages in order to stay connected with their members.
One thing public relations and communications professionals strive for is increasing public engagement and for school boards, so it’s especially important to find more and more ways to communicate and engage the public, said Laura Reilly, director of communications for the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA).
At GSBA, one way they do that is by using Wikis, a mini website that allows users to collect, manage, and share information with various people.
It’s a lot simpler than an e-mail listserv, said Reilly, which allow questions to be posed and answered in a virtual group setting, but doesn’t make it easy to gather, sort, and disseminate that data.
“Wikis solve that by having a place to store those ideas and documents, than you can build a library for people to find that information,” Reilly said.
In addition, Wiki pages can be customized with your own artwork or logo, and various security settings allow administrators to monitor and invite select people to contribute or edit this virtual workspace.
“Wikis are a shared responsibility, no one person owns the wiki,” Reilly said. “And that’s sort of pervasive throughout all Web 2.0; you have to give up a little bit of control to have that collaboration.”
Reilly said a great resource on how to set up a Wiki can be found at www.pbworks.com.
California’s reputation as a bellwether state continues through its state board association, which not only has a Facebook page and Twitter account, but is on the verge of joining the blogosphere.
Blogging is easy to browse and search, enables you to build a more personal relationship because it allows two-way communication, and most importantly, it is affordable and easy to maintain, said Marci McFadden, CSBA’s marketing director.
“Another key benefit is it serves as a media and public relations tool, with the media more likely to follow and come to you for information and rely on you as the expert,” McFadden said. “But there are some cautions about blogging. It can take a lot of time, so you need to calculate that upfront.”
Identify content and individuals who would be responsible for providing the material and managing the blog, which McFadden suggested needed to be updated at least three times a week.
While blog postings should be informal and conversational in tone, districts need to always be cognizant that it is a public forum and that you don’t want to post content that is questionable, potentially offensive, or private.
Indeed, school boards and educators are advised to work with their district attorneys in drafting policies on privacy, internal and external use, and applicable state laws regarding open meetings and FOIA.
“We had a task force before we jumped into this,” said Barbara Bradley, the deputy director of communications and research at the New York State School Boards Association, which maintains a Facebook page. “I know this is a scary arena to get into for some, but take action, just be careful.”
In case you missed it, the entire webinar, complete with slideshows and links to helpful resources, is available here.