Blog: The Educated Reporter

Standing Out On Social Media

Today’s post features guest blogger Michelle Gininger, media relations and outreach manager at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who attended EWA’s National Seminar at Vanderbilt University in Nashville last month.

Are you ready to take your social-media initiatives to a new level? Do you want to get beyond the “press release” tweet and the “come to our event” Facebook post?

At the EWA’s Community Members Workshop: Using Social Media Effectively, my colleagues, Blair Mann of The Education Trust and Dakarai Aarons of Data Quality Campaign and board member of the Education Writers Association, and I noted that most organizations that do communications work well can easily do social-media work well.  Really. Here’s how.

Remember, your mission is your brand. This might seem elementary, but instead of following the “rules” of social media—such as engaging on every site or tweeting in a certain tone—your north star should be your organization’s mission, that is, who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish:

  • For the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, that’s reaching out to those in the education-reform movement, putting our research into the hands of people trying to change the system, and being “gadflies” by asking tough policy questions of our friends and critics alike. That means a tongue-and-cheek, challenging-the-status-quo, and (we hope) witty tone—most effective on Twitter.
  • For The Education Trust, that’s engaging with minority communities, reaching parents and teachers, and explaining the difference between equity and equality—most effective on Facebook and platforms that can share images.
  • For the Data Quality Campaign, that’s explaining to policymakers and leaders how data can be the next policy tool for improving student learning. When engaging, ask “Will this further our organization—or just fill space?

Let your staff be smart communicators. Like your brand, the staff of any organization should be furthering your mission. Their outreach on individual social-media accounts should contribute to that goal of explaining the difference between standards and curricula, for example. Who should be on social media? Those who are open to the idea. Organizations will only be successful at social media if the folks they tap to participate think it’s worth their time. It’s a tool with great possibilities, if folks are willing to put the time into learning and using it effectively. And those with smart judgment on what to say, what not to say, and when to engage.

Of course, creating a social-media policy is tough work with no easy answers, but a must for even well-seasoned communicators. The staff of an organization are the people who will achieve the mission, and social media is a great tool to further that goal and highlight the great people who work at furthering that goal. Allow their personalities to shine through their work.

Every organization can excel at social media and own its brand. There’s no one approach that makes sense for all organizations. A charter school can engage with students and parents, keep families up to date on weather cancellations, highlight their mission, teachers, and curricula, and more. A school-boards association can highlight their members and what it is that school boards do. Every organization can have a voice on social media because every organization has a mission and a communications strategy to get there. Social media is one more way to get there, albeit with some strange symbols and lingo.

Social media can and should fit in with your larger communications strategy. And from the rules, take what works for your organization and ignore the rest. Except for this rule: If you don’t want it on the front page of the New York Times or for your grandmother to know about it, you don’t share it on Twitter.


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