Audience Feedback Needed to Plan E-Communication Efforts

Most parents ranked social media near the bottom of the list when it comes to school communication.

Yep, that was a big surprise to me, too, and probably should be challenged.

The results from NSPRA’s Communication Accountability Program (CAP) Survey tell us that social media (Facebook, Twitter, and blogs) came in next to the bottom of 17 communication vehicles available to most school communities. Our CAP leadership team was very surprised with this ranking even to the point of asking our corporate partner, K12 Insight, Inc., to go back and check those results. K12 did just that and confirmed the results.

These days, just about all the buzz in communication circles deals with the social networking. Every industry pub, e-newsletter, or blog by leading experts say that even though social networking is the wild west of communication where proven strategies and results are just now being defined, you MUST use social networking. It may even make you feel downright embarrassed if you are not now offering a Facebook page and Twitter account for your schools. (For the total results of the CAP survey and its background go to http://www.nspra.org/CounselorAug2011.)

As CAP leaders noted, it may be too early for some communities to rely on Facebook or Twitter for their school news. People may view these tools as more social than official and, therefore, do not count on them for their school information and news. And remember, these same parents ranked email and e-newsletters from the schools at the top of their lists. So, these parents are already using online tools, they just want their news delivered by other electronic vehicles including parent portals, notification systems, etc.

Recently, one school district even shut down its Facebook account because it was being deluged with less-than-appropriate political and personal banter that had little to do with making the school district a better place to learn, live, and grow.

With the millions of subscribers using these online tools, they are here to stay. And many NSPRA members are already successfully using these tools to their school district’s advantage — you can’t beat the speed and instant access they bring to members of your community.

But one of the first critical principles of great communication still prevails.

It is time to slap yourself in the face, avoid the bandwagon approach, and complete some research about your target audiences.

You can ask the same questions that we used in our CAP survey or those we use in completing our communication audits. What information do they want? When do they want it? And what’s the best methods to get them the information? Then toss in a question or two about credibility of the tools and messengers. Your results should point you to the best vehicles for your schools.

The real bottom line is to integrate social media into your communication plan for your district. But you must understand what it can do for you and what it can do to you. And then, based on your research, strategically chart your social media course for your schools.

Rich Bagin, APR

NSPRA Executive Director

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