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Keeping Control of Your Message in the Digital Age

Keeping control of your district's communications to parents, students, faculty and community leaders in the age of email, blogs and social media is more challenging than ever. Our panelists in this Web seminar discussed ways that K12 leaders can use new technology to make district communications more timely, targeted and effective.

This is a digest of a District Administration Web Seminar. Participants were Terry Abbott, founder of Drive West Communications; Michael Ebner, collaboration solutions specialist for Insight; and Michael Kuhrt, superintendent of the Giddings (Texas) ISD.


<i>Founder, Drive West Communications</i>

I am a big fan of social media, and I have been telling school districts all over the country for some time now to use social media. However, we are not at the point yet with social media where we are going to change the world. What we do with traditional media still matters very much.

Consider Washoe County Nevada, where the superintendent is doing a good job with Twitter—214 followers. But there are 8,500 school district employees there. The local newspaper has a 68,000 circulation. And the local TV audience is at least twice that. So you could imagine that if they were focusing all of their efforts only on social media, they wouldn't be hitting the audience they need to.

So let's not allow the ease of social networking to stop us from driving important messages through the traditional media every day. Virtually every school district has access to some kind of traditional media. And we need to remember that television and local newspapers still reach far more people. We have to develop and push out our own stories to the community; act as our own newsroom. It is critically important.

The shaping of the message starts at the campus level. Your staff and your faculty members, they are community members, too. And your parents and PTO members, they are in the schools all the time for sports and other events. So we have to do a good job of communicating with those folks right there at the school level.

To drive your external message strategy, you have to put together real stories and get them out there. This is what I call the permanent campaign. You need to be creating all this good news. Be proactive and not reactive. Way too many school districts sit back and wait for the media to come to them with something, and they aren't driving the message.

Remember that you are your own media. In addition to news releases, you have your email broadcasting, your websites and your webcasts. Automated phone calls are very important. All your newsletters and e-newsletters that you put out. Digital signage at schools now can be an important way to convey messages. And many school districts have their own television stations as well.

You need to generate lots of good news and information through the media, but through all sorts of other ways, too. All this is about winning the hearts and minds of the community for public support of your schools.


<i>Collaboration Solutions Specialist, Insight</i>

I think it's really interesting when you think about who the students are today. These are very tech savvy, PC savvy individuals. These young people are very astute when it comes to leveraging social media and digital media and video technologies within their lives. As they interact with their friends and their families, they are used to communicating with them with these new tools. I think there is a compelling opportunity for educators to reach young people on their own terms, with digital media.

One of the key technologies we are seeing is digital signage. Digital signage is basically taking the flat-panel displays and dispersing them within your school—perhaps in the actual classroom, but certainly in the cafeteria, the hallways, or in areas where students congregate—and then providing them with targeted and customized messaging.

From an educational perspective, you really have several different applications of this technology. Number one, if you think about how schools carry out morning announcements it is typically done over audio. One way you can make the message more interactive, more personal, is for the principal to provide those announcements over video.

Some of the other things you can do with this technology is augment traditional external video sources with your own custom programming. That might be student-created content, or other video that can augment the curriculum.

Another critical initiative that we see for school districts and campus environments, in particular, is leveraging digital signage to create customized messaging on an everyday basis, but then overriding that messaging instantly, if need be, in certain crisis scenarios, such as announcements about severe weather.

You can have on- demand access to a library of videos, perhaps to supplement your classroom curriculum, as well as live video which could be used in different ways, such as broadcasting guest speakers or assemblies from the auditorium.

Think of this like creating a school district YouTube site. You're creating an online web portal that's really a video library. You can capture class lectures or lessons and broadcast them live or on-demand, so absent students can see the lessons they've missed. You can see there are many ways to use these digital media technologies to increase the effectiveness of your communication to your students, your faculty and parents.


<i>Superintendent, Giddings ISD, Texas </i>

There's a large audience in our community that wants to know what we're doing, and we definitely like to keep them involved. Internally, we try to do the best we can to communicate with our staff and with our students with digital media. Our primary message is celebrating students' success. Recently our girls basketball team made it to the state semi-finals. So throughout the building we have these displays where we were able to highlight their accomplishments both through still pictures and with video.

The displays throughout our building also have the capability of running morning announcements. Primarily, we use that for scholarship activities, deadlines related to SAT and ACT registration testing dates, and other matters. Additionally, if a teacher has a specific announcement for students, they're able to go onto the system and push that message out in about seven to 10 places throughout the building.

Another way that we have been using our digital media is by simulcasting events. Our gym, which is located around the corner from our cafetorium, has cameras in it, and we have the capability of streaming a live feed from our gym into our cafetorium.

This May when we have graduation, which is going to take place in our gym, we're going to video everything taking place in there and simulcast it into the cafetorium for our overflow crowd. Also through our web portal, we're going to offer it as a live stream to our community, for parents who are unable to make it to our event in person.

And so our school is now a community center, with the help of our digital media. We want our public to know that this building is their building. After all, they're the ones paying the taxes to keep it and maintain it. So getting that message out to them about all the various events that we happen to have throughout our district is essential to maintaining that public support and making sure that they feel their tax dollars are being used effectively.

This Web seminar was sponsored by Insight. To view the Web seminar in its entirety, please go to