My father is the public relations director for a school district in Kentucky, and he’s toying with the idea of introducing twitter as a communications tool between the administration, students, and parents. I think using twitter as a way to pass along important messages is an innovative idea that will ultimately encourage a closer community with students becoming more active and involved.
For those not familiar with twitter, I will do my best succinctly describe it. Twitter is a free service on the web that allows a person to send short status updates to multiple followers. Signing up for twitter is easy, and following someone’s tweets (twitter messages) is even easier. I just joined yesterday and twitter is so simplistic that I’m already dishing out advice. By the way, you can follow me by clicking on the link in the column to the right, though I’m skeptical that anyone would care to follow what I can only describe as the epitome of self indulgence.
I think twitter will eventually be a tool best served in a more professional environment. Imagine getting instant texts for traffic in the morning or a daily message from your mayor. Schools would greatly benefit from twitter, from sending an instant message about snow day closings to simultaneously updating parents about the gas leak at the elementary school.
The following are ideas for public schools to effectively use twitter as a communications tool. I encourage everyone to contribute with more ideas in the comments.
TOP TEN SUGGESTIONS FOR TWITTER IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
1. Keep it simple – No more than two tweets a day – unless there’s an emergency. Twitter should be used sparingly, patterned after the morning and afternoon announcements. Parents who sign up to follow the school system’s tweets don’t want to be bothered with unnecessary text messages.
2. Keep it smart – The tone of the tweets should be professional. Use of txtng shorthand should be avoided. Attempts at humor and casual folksiness should be avoided. Keep the messages short, simple, and direct.
3. Guide the parents – Plan on providing parents with an explanation of twitter and instructions on how to set it up and use it. Let them know what it is, how it works, why you are doing it, and how they can get started. Focus on the fact that it is free and simple.
4. Prioritize your data – Snow information, important news, and emergencies should take precedence. Then offer reminders about sports, clubs, and activities. Don’t saturate the flow of data with irrelevant nonsense.
5. Be useful and efficient – Administrators should be careful not to favor one sport or activity over another. Choose events of significance to tweet about, such as a reminder about the homecoming game or the soccer team’s regional championship. Don’t abuse twitter with random noise… nobody cares that the baseball team is playing an away game three counties away.
6. Protect your source – There are risks that the tweeting source will be compromised. Administration should be extremely cautious to restrict the tweet source to one person such as the school secretary or public relations director. The benefit of twitter is that the information tweeted to parents and students comes from one source, so as long as that source is careful not to lose his/her cell phone… all will be well. Try to keep your source confidential if possible.
7. Be timely – Try not to tweet during school hours unless it’s an emergency. It would be inappropriate to disrupt a class in the event that a student has neglected to turn off his cell phone. Save tweets for before or after school and resist the urge to send a tweet on weekends, holidays, or over the summer (except in the weeks before the 1st day of school).
8. Combine your tech – Use twitter as a way to link to the school blog and/or official web site. This allows parents and students to read more information if they are particularly interested in a specific tweet.
9. Use it as a resource for parents AND students – Invite the parents to allow students to register with twitter, so that messages can be received by students on their PC or cell phone. Reassure parents with a pledge to continue enforcing a ban on cell phones in the classroom. It might help to remind them that twitter can be used as a way for parents to keep tabs on their children and to communicate as a family. Be understanding when twitter is viewed with cynicism as just another tool to distract their kids with more gadgetry. The decision to follow tweets ultimately boils down to parenting style and is not the school’s concern since the service is optional.
10. Sell the concept to the community – Push the idea agressively in the local media. Parents need to feel confident in the technology, and they need to adjust to the idea. Twitter is not new to tech-savvy net surfers, but parents will probably be unfamiliar with the format and skeptical of it’s benefits. But once they try it, they will like it… you just have to get the message across that it is useful and easy.