0613 Get Your Message Out

0613 Get Your Message Out

Kentucky schools growing social media outreach to keep communities engaged

By Brad Hughes
KSBA Member Support/Communications Services  Director

As of March, Facebook reported 1.6 billion (yes…with a B) unique users per month worldwide, up from 750 million in March a year ago.

Despite its self-designed limit of 144 characters per post, Twitter had 500 million active users in March, a 100 percent increase from a year ago.

Similar March reports found Google+ had 343 million users and LinkedIn had 200 million. Both doubled over 2012 figures. And in the U.S., the relatively new social media outlet Pinterest (a photo-sharing and organizing site) is coming up fast on Twitter.

In short, the social media sphere is a hopping place. But, who’s doing the hopping?

Well, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, plenty of folks:
• 67 percent of online Americans use Facebook, while 16 percent use Twitter, 15 percent are on Pinterest and 13 percent use Instagram (another popular photo-sharing resource).

• 83 percent of Americans ages 18-29 are on Facebook; 77 percent of those ages 30-39 and 52 percent of those from 50-64 are Facebookers, while just 32 percent of online Americans over age 65 use it.

• 70 percent of online Americans who live in urban settings use one or more social media forums, not much different from  67 percent in suburban communities and 61 percent in rural locations.

There are few comparable Kentucky statistics, but InternetWorldStats.com estimated in 2011 that 69 percent of households in the Commonwealth were online and 37 percent were on Facebook. You can bet those percentages are up now.

Kentucky schools need to be ready with information to keep those people engaged. Fortunately, there are plenty of districts already using social media to reach out to parents, staff, students and others.

Unlimited opportunities
Social media use by Kentucky schools has no limitation as to district size and resources. Sure, Jefferson County, Fayette County, Boone County and the state’s other large districts have active social media entries. But a quick search found all sorts of ways smaller Kentucky districts are using social media to share information – and all in less than the previous month:

FACEBOOK
• Henry County announced the hours of its high school greenhouse and a Project Graduation meeting.

• Corbin Independent invited more than 500 people to dedication ceremonies of a new school through an e-invite.

• Montgomery County shared its parent e-newsletter and alerted how allergies were impacting student attendance.

• Simpson County posted photos of fourth-graders on an enrichment trip and tips for parents to prepare students for upcoming K-PREP testing.

• Metcalfe County offered parents instructions on how to monitor students’ lunch accounts and announced access to free breakfast for all students.

• Clay County kept the community abreast of schools’ status due to flooded roadways and the schedule for preschool registration.

TWITTER
• Carroll County delivered a link to an online photo gallery of students at prom and called off a ballgame due to bad weather.

• Pikeville Independent posted academic team results and detailed school council elections.

• Hardin County recruited volunteers and explained a mock auto accident at one of its schools.

• McCracken County saluted students in a pair of science competitions and explained a partnership designed to improve student exercise and diet.

• Bowling Green Independent linked followers to several YouTube (another social medium) videos by Superintendent Joe Tinius.

• LaRue County Schools Superintendent Sam Sanders congratulated students at a National Honors Society event and even asked anyone in the know to share results of a tennis tournament.

Without question, this is just scratching the surface. The quick search found three board of education members with Facebook or Twitter pages, and dozens for individual schools across the state.

The Last Word
Of course, there probably still are some school officials who believe they are prohibited by the Kentucky Department of Education from using resources like Facebook and Twitter. And for those who are tied to that bunkum, please go to the KDE website, scroll down to the bottom of the home page and click on – surprise! – the department’s own Facebook and Twitter sites.

That Pew Research Center noted above had another study – this one on where Americans get their information. It found a solid 67 percent of us who are online still depend primarily on local mainstream media outlets, especially the local newspaper, for news and information about our home communities. And schools/education is among the top five topics these folks keep up with via their local media. So we can’t forget to maintain working relations with local reporters and editors.

The Internet in general was the fastest growing source of information a decade ago. Today it’s what’s available via the Web that is drawing more attention from those who use and pay for our schools.

And that’s a message worth getting out.
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