Increasingly, I have found that if you want to get news quickly, Twitter is the best source. I don’t know if Twitter is faster than an earthquake as the video below suggests, but I do know that if you follow a hashtag on twitter you can get news about just about anything, as it is happening.
Schools often need to communicate information to students and parents, including sudden changes to schedules such as rained out sports fixtures and so on, and Twitter is an obvious tool which can be used to get word out to parents quickly.
It is also an obvious tool for marketing purposes. I suspect schools are only just beginning to think in terms of using social media for their marketing. The question is not really whether your school is on twitter yet or not. It is! The school may not be tweeting, but the students are. Students are tweeting about their schools and other schools all the time, and not all of it is flattering! It is therefore very important for a school to claim this space for itself.
My school has just set up an official twitter account, amidst a great deal of uncertainty about exactly how it should be used and who would take ownership of the project. The PR people were the natural choice for running the account: indeed it could not be an official account without their blessing, but everyone was looking to the IT Department for guidance. What is this twitter, and how can we use it? The IT Department was reluctant to take ownership of it without buy-in from the school administration. An official account without any official involvement would be silly!
My own take is that ownership of the school account should not lie in one place. It shouldn’t be a PR programme, or belong to the IT Department or even the school administration. It should belong to the whole school. Just about everybody in a school has a message they want to convey at some point or another. While our school runs Communicator software which pushes information onto parent desktops, the process of getting a message out via the Communicator is somewhat cumbersome. Certain teachers are tasked with maintaining certain sections, and the delivery is thus somewhat patchy and uneven. Not all parents receive the Communicator. While the same can be argued for twitter as a communication tool, it would certainly fill in some gaps in the Communicator, and is also much more spontaneous.
Anyone who needs to get a message out can easily email that message to one of the people who administrate the twitter account, in the reasonable expectation that the message will be conveyed fairly quickly. While most schools probably look to bulk sms systems to do this job, it is important not to view twitter as a replacement for the Communicator or bulk sms systems. Twitter performs another role entirely. Anyone following the account will see tweets on the timeline, but they quickly disappear. Nevertheless, engagement is high. Anyone who is using twitter to garner news will be able to do so. Twitter feeds using particular hashtags could be used on the school intranet platform to get news out to students extremely quickly.
With twitter numbers rising exponentially it is an important platform for promoting one’s image within the wider community. As a parent considering choice of school, I would certainly search the school name in twitter and follow the feed to get a feel for the school – much like employers might Google a potential employee to see what comes up. When I did this a year ago for my school, all I got was comments from other school students about the reputation of our students and the occasional do you remember from alumni. I did a search yesterday and saw that there was a Bridge match with another school, that students were wishing each other well for the exams, and read about a swimming gala and learned the nickname of one of my colleagues! It was a huge improvement because the tenor was overwhelmingly positive, and had a real sense of community about it.
The introduction of an official school account was not solely responsible for this change, although the introduction of an official presence does a great deal to give a sense of confidence in the medium. The change was largely, I suspect, due to the increased adoption of the platform by the students themselves. While there will, no doubt, continue to be tweets slagging a school off, these are now drowned out by the large number of chatty, happy, friendly student tweets, punctuated by official announcements which convey a sense of the range of activities going on in the school. As a parent this would get my attention. Tweets about sports results, students achievements and Clubs and Societies all help bring a sense of the life of the school to the outside world, and will play an immeasurable role in securing legacy endowments from alumni or sponsorship for projects.
Finally, the school twitter account should also be used to teach netiquette and social media skills generally. If one takes the view that the school account belongs to everyone, one can start discussing with students, and staff how the account conveys the ethos and reputation of the school, and how individuals and corporations can use the digital media to promote themselves and what they are doing.