The Grant Advisors have been following developments in social media for quite some time because it’s instrumental in looking for and getting grants. A new wrinkle is how educators are using social media and the Education Department posted a new tip sheet offering a range of strategies to help school leaders and administrators better engage.
The tip sheet showcases ways some states are successfully engaging the education workforce in new and innovative ways, including using state chiefs to lead department social media efforts.
The Reform Support Network survey of state education agencies (SEAs) and local education agencies (LEAs) found more than 95% of the agencies use or plan on using Twitter or Facebook, 8 in 10 use or plan on using YouTube and more than half are either currently blogging or plan on blogging. But, it’s also important to get the social media exchange right, the tip sheet says.
Use the Boss
One interesting insight: When it comes to social media or communication innovation, people follow people — or more specifically they will emulate the boss. In Rhode Island, it is Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. Since taking over in Rhode Island four years ago, Gist has amassed an impressive 9,056 followers on Twitter. The number of people who are following Gist eclipses the numbers following many other SEA chiefs and entire state agencies on Twitter.
The state decided to utilize Gist as its primary social media voice because people are always more compelling to follow than a faceless institution, and Gist is a social media natural, the sheet says. She came to Rhode Island interested in using technology to help convey the state’s key messages and uses her smartphone and laptop incessantly to communicate, insisting on personally responding. One recent day, Gist tweeted 45 times. Many of the tweets were part of Ed Chat Rhode Island, during which Gist answered questions from fellow tweeters and quoted everyone from George Washington Carver to Mike Tyson.
Facebook and Twitter are now ubiquitous in the K-12 universe. The truth is that many agencies have a hard time keeping up with the demand required by these simple micro-blogging platforms. But there are other platforms and strategies. One fast-growing segment is Pinterest, which Edutopia reported receives a half-million posts about education topics daily among its 48 million users – many of whom are teachers. SEAs and LEAs know that they must reach teachers with key messages and on critical issues.
Social media allows agencies to connect more directly and use less formal formats to provide information on the topics that educators care most about. Georgia, among other States, is experimenting with posting materials for teachers on Pinterest to amplify communications already being delivered by superintendents, principals and advocacy groups. The Georgia Department of Education’s Pinterest page features 24 boards with different topic areas such as “GA’s Awesome Teachers,” and separate folders for Common Core Georgia Performance.
One of the best ways to engage key audiences on social media is by consistently posting interesting and relevant material, the tip sheet says. The easiest way to drive success on social media is by posting content that others will find so compelling and interesting they will share it with their followers. While sharing resources or other content will happen because some just want to spread the word, many will share or retweet something primarily because they agree with the statement or sentiment — a fact of social media that shouldn’t be lost on users.
Also, states are working to find ways to be compelling and even humorous (but still informative) on social media, realizing that social media attracts the most interest when it is compelling.
For example, the Minnesota Department of Education created a literacy mascot, a stuffed green frog named “Read-It,” who travels the state and promotes literacy efforts on social media.