By Brad Hughes
KSBA Member Support Services Director
It was a jaw-dropping moment…for me, anyway…standing before 100-plus board members and superintendents, leading a seminar at the National School Boards Association conference in Boston a few weeks ago.
I had just asked how many of the attendees were on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or some other form of social media – for personal reasons. Nearly four of five people in the crowded room held up their hands. I was a bit surprised. Then I asked how many of them had professional social media pages related to their offices – and the overwhelming majority of the hands remained aloft.
Clearly, there’s no way to ascertain just how representative NSBA attendance is of the nation’s local school leadership. Based on anecdotal observations and conversations, I don’t perceive a similar level of social media sophistication in the Commonwealth’s board rooms and central offices.
Kentucky was the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Senate Bill 1 revived the cutting edge of the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990. Outsiders have traveled to Kentucky districts to study everything from four-day class weeks and year-round school to virtual schools and innovative uses of classroom technology. It’s not like Kentucky education leaders reject being bold.
It’s time for some serious board/superintendent discussions about reaching out, socially speaking.
Not a fad
Most educators want to act based on data, so examine some numbers for three of the largest social media options: Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
• Facebook, launched in 2004, took 10 months to reach 1 million users. The latest report shows more than 850 million people, groups, businesses, government agencies, schools and districts on Facebook – including 157 million in the U.S.
• Twitter began its 140-character-limited communications in 2006 and has amassed a half billion registered users in 2012, including more than 107 million in America. In February, there were more than 175 million “tweets” posted per day.
• The first video was posted to YouTube in 2005. Today, more than 2 billion (with a “B”) YouTube views happen daily. It’s estimated that one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube every second of every day – including those smart phone clips captured by your students of not-so-precious moments of a day in the life of education.
And while I can’t verify this last stat, I don’t doubt it for a second: Every day, 75 million more people are playing Farmville than there are real farmers on the planet. Trust me, these folks are everywhere!
In KSBA’s three years using social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), we’ve done our best to reach out to board members, superintendents and other public school advocates who also have delved into social communications. We posted our 6,000th Twitter “tweet” this spring. Our Facebook page was viewed more than 14,000 times in the past year, with a daily average topping 150. We used our YouTube page to upload a popular video of an annual conference panel talking about college and career readiness skills of high school graduates entering the job market.
KSBA on Facebook has around 350 fans. By comparison, the California School Boards Association had 742 fans this spring, followed by New Jersey (716), Texas (504), Michigan (576) and Kentucky. But education Facebook sites are miniscule compared to the current big kahuna: Texas HoldEm Poker – 44 million fans at last count.
Not a state ‘no-no’
One apparent hold-up – according to a significant number of districts’ communications staff members – is a persistent myth that the Kentucky Department of Education prohibits, or at least strongly discourages, schools and districts from having Facebook pages, using Twitter or other social media outlets as outreach tools.
That’s baloney, bunk and bull. And that’s confirmed with KDE staff right up to and including Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. Ask those who want to claim a KDE bar on social media why the department and the commissioner both have active Facebook and Twitter pages.
What KDE – and KSBA – strongly advocate is for the use of social media to follow the district’s “acceptable use” technology policy. Clearly, there should be guidelines for who can post information, who should have prior review, who can delete, etc.
District and school leaders also should make an early decision on whether to create a social media tool that is one-way (you post with no option to view commentary) or two-way (for example, a Facebook posting may be “liked” by someone who agrees, or may be commented upon – sometimes by an individual who agrees, but just as likely by a person of a different viewpoint. The two-way social media tool means someone has to be the cyber hall monitor so no inappropriate or just plain false stuff is put on your page. KSBA opted for the one-way, informational tool, but there are points to be made about using a social media outlet as a way to get public feedback – if you are willing to take the occasional heated message and have a posting police officer who keeps tabs on visitor activities.
The Last Word
When KSBA chose to, as I like to call it, “dip our toes into the social media pool,” there was a fair amount of apprehension – especially by yours truly, the post master general. But the benefits to our members and others interested in public schools and education issues have far outstripped the few drawbacks. And like the Internet itself, this is a communications tool school leaders ignore at their peril.
And that’s a message worth getting out.