Thursday, December 9, 2010

School Boards, Twitter, and the media machine

Just when you thought it was safe to have your school board members on Twitter...

Ok maybe it was never really "safe" to have elected officials on Twitter, but then again as citizens, it's really up to them to decide. That being said, officials need to be reminded that once they decide to share content via Twittter or other public site, social network, etc. they open themselves up to additional scrutiny and potential for pitfalls.

The tweet above was from a Houston Chronicle education reporter who covers the Houston ISD. She was apparently live-tweeting at least some of the meeting and became suspicious that the board started the meeting in closed session which seemed out of character. So she apparently knows that an undetermined number of HISD board members are on Twitter and was hoping to get a scoop.

I'm not picking on the reporter here, she's just doing her job framed by a J-school taught suspicious mentality on behalf of the fourth estate. What I am concerned about are school board members who might use Twitter as a way to inappropriately share information that could put themselves and/or their school district in a compromising situation.

(Please note: A board only needs to have the agenda posted publicly 72 hours prior to a public meeting. Specific items on the agenda, such as Closed Session, can be moved around as needed during the meeting.)

PR people
School district public relations and communications professionals need to have a handle on these types of chatter for potential issues. This could serve as an early-warning device for impending problems or revelations. I'm pretty sure you don't want this kind of surprise.

Elected officials
I'd also encourage current or future school board members to be very careful with their online communication. Much is yet to be decided upon (and written about) concerning open government and transparency. The media will (and should) look into inconsistencies and problems plus give context through news items. You need to be vigilant to stay on the viewing side of the gallows. I'm pretty sure you don't need to give them the rope.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Applying for a PR position? Be smart and be #HAPPO.

Our Communications Department at the school district just went through the fantastically challenging process of hiring for a new Public Relations Specialist position.

It was fantastic insomuch that it meant that our department was finally able to add another set of hands to help out in a growing district. This was a challenging endeavor due to the fact that there is a lot of amazing communications/PR/journalist talent out there looking to land a good gig. In the end, we are pleased to have who we believe will be a tremendous asset to our team.

The hiring process also gave me the chance to assess a rather large pool of résumés, cover letters, and correspondence from potential candidates and discover some areas that might help others seeking employment in public relations.

  1. Know your audience - I was surprised at the number of applicants who had zero qualifications that matched our needs. This could be because of the still recovering job market and people applying just to apply, but it doesn't make sense to waste your time trying to get in front of someone when there's obviously not a relevant connection.
  2. Read the job description very carefully - When evaluating applications, we were looking for specific set of skills, demonstrated ability and experience for our department needs. Look for words in the job description (like writing, reporting, media spokesperson, special events, web, etc.) that give context clues to help you determine what they are looking for in an ideal candidate.
  3. Match your skill set with your experience - Look for ways to draw comparisons with your work experience (paid, internship and volunteer) to as many of the skills sought as possible. Don't have any related work experience? This is when your writing skills will come in handy as you'll need to frame your education around the needs of the position. Either way, you need to be able show your prowess for their specific open position.
  4. Cover letters get read. (Hopefully.) - Thinking about writing skills, the cover letter is an area for the job seeker should pay attention to. The cover letter probably shouldn't be a narrative rehashing your résumé. Instead, let the cover letter be a written example of your personality. Keep it professional, but it's ok to be a human.
  5. Details, details, details - Pay close attention to what you send to potential employer. Let's all say it together, "Pay close attention to what you send to potential employer." Sadly, people make bonehead mistakes when applying for jobs. Like leaving all of the edits turned on in the Microsoft Word .doc cover letter so 1/2 of the page is red and/or crossed-through. Don't be that guy. Send a PDF.(And yes, that really happened.) Other mistakes with your résumé such as misspellings or misleading bullet points, etc. cause unnecessary confusion. Also, follow all of the directions in the application process, to whom do  you send documents, whether or not to complete an online or offline application, etc. These things really make a difference and when fouled up, make you appear to not be very detail-oriented which is pretty important in PR.
  6. Apply like you're pitching a story - You'll get better traction when seeking employment if you approach each potential employer they way they want to be approached. We know that blasting out the same generic press releases to a bunch of media contacts and hoping one of them bites is a waste of everyone's time. Tailor your résumé to each prospect like you would tailor your pitch to a specific reporter and outlet. It takes more time, but you stand a greater chance of getting your foot in the door if you can be relevant to them.
  7. For the journalists - We had a high number of current and former journalists apply for our position. And I know of many media friends making the jump to the dark side (or into the light depending on how you look at it) of PR. I believe you bring an exciting potential to any communications team because of the inside knowledge of the media you bring to the table. Lean on your writing, ethical, and newsworthy standards and I believe you can be a valuable addition to public relations teams.
What do you think? What tips or suggestions can you add for PR job candidates? The comments are yours.
And for your moment of HAPPO-ness...
HAPPO (Help a PR Pro Out) is an online community started by Arik Hanson and Valerie Simon. It’s members strive to help PR pros who are looking for jobs connect with organizations looking to hire in order to identify potential opportunities for both sides. I am the HAPPO regional champion for Dallas/Ft.Worth. The next HAPPO online event is Dec. 8. Follow the #HAPPO hashtag on Twitter for more details and to get involved. If you are in DFW, follow the #HAPPODFW hashtag on Twitter for local information.

[Photo by zervas via Flickr Creative Commons]
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Monday, November 22, 2010

Getting in the flow (chart) of social media

"But what if someone posts something bad about us?"

Sound familiar? If you've had those internal discussions about social media, it should have come up a few times in your organization. Here's the thing, it's often up to you, the intrepid PR pro to navigate, write, plan, respond, and ultimately stick your neck out when things go screwy or even when things go well.

So, how do you get in the flow? Hopefully, you've thought about a plan for appropriate organizational responses and reactions. Maybe you've considered putting those down on paper or perhaps even a full-blown step-by-step plan for situations. Whatever your status, you should at least have some kind of mechanism to guide you in your listening and responding through social media.

I came across a couple of interesting examples of flowcharts that illustrate processes for managing scenarios.

The Balcom Agency's Social Media Response Flowchart (thanks Chip Hanna) which is simply an outline that they can use to build on deeper for clients depending on specific needs:

Another more complex version is from concept illustration guru, David Armano, who shared a Community Management Scenario Map through a recent post:

(Photo: David Armano via Flickr)

Both of these flowcharts have three very important things in common:
  1. They require someone who can anticipate issues.
  2. They require situational awareness.
  3. They reveal that sometimes one's best approach is to leave it alone.
PR professionals must constantly delve, discover, and determine next steps if we're to deliver on the promise of effective communication for organizational guidance which, if not explicitly in our job descriptions, is certainly in the subtext.

Are you a PR pro with a plan? How do you decide organizational/client responses? Are you in the flow?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Leading and Influencing: Takeaways from @FortWorthPRSA October 2010

LeadershipImage by pedrosimoes7 via FlickrFrom the good grief, was this post ever going to get written? files, I'm finally getting to the write-up from the October Ft. Worth PRSA luncheon presentation.

The luncheon was part of a morning and lunch time workshop entitled "Leadership: How to Get a Seat at the C-suite Table," led by Dan Novak from TCU's Tandy Center on Executive Leadership. Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the lunch portion. (Judging by the interactive discussion and topics from the morning, it was pretty solid.)

As for the lunch, the leadership-oriented session was to learn how to have an authentic voice and a strong organizational/business culture that stands strong in the face of disaster or attack.

The best takeaways on leading and influencing (according to my scribbled notes):
  1. Be better at what you do.
  2. Success: You need to want to be a part of it.
  3. Client/Organization interaction via social media - You don't own your reputation.
  4. We need to have a voice that matters.
  5. Breakthrough organizations are more likely to anticipate and determine root causes of problems and not just reacting.
  6. Social network analysis can make networks visible thus make it actionable.
  7. The Org Chart is not the way organizations really function.
  8. We need to have the awareness within the org to understand the person(s) with knowledge and skills right for specific times of communication need.
  9. Successful organizations practice constant self-reflection and has a willingness to improve and learn.
  10. If I can think differently, I may be able to add more value and diagnose problems.
That last point about problem diagnosis came with a fascinating diagram that I've attempted to recreate

The reason I thought this concept diagram was so compelling was because it illustrated how we often deal with the symptomatic issues (i.e. perceived break-downs in communication) and not ever go back to check the causes to adapt and change.

There were a few other gems worth noting:

  1. "Closed" approach is no longer sustainable.
  2. Information flows in and out...with or without you.
  3. Establishing your voice.
  4. Listen to your employees
    - They have a voice
    - They want to be heard to tell their story
    - They want action/results
  5. Lead by collaborative influence across functional, social, demographic, and organizational boundaries [silos].
Leaders influence change through one of three ways: Power, Reason, or Re-education of beliefs, values, attitudes. As leaders in our organizations, PR people need to develop a different language and think in terms what truly matters to internal and external audiences. This will help our focus in being reputation defenders.

Everything you do [or not] sends a message. What gets your attention? Are you anticipating or reacting? As always, the comments are yours.
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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

KDFW Channel-4 Pokes Fun of Social Media

Our local FOX affiliate station, KDFW, took a brilliant tongue-firmly-in-cheek swipe at social media in a fun video that was posted to their Facebook page with the title: Social Media Bit - Lone Star Emmys

This is a fantastic example of allowing yourself (even you media outlets) to have a personality. Let your community know you're human and that at times you don't have to take yourself too seriously. Thanks FOX 4 for the fun reminder. Well done.

Remnants to revitalized PR; chatting with Brian Solis

Image representing Brian Solis as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBaseEarlier this evening I had the opportunity to participate in a conference call conversation with Brian Solis along with a handful of other DFW bloggers. We were invited to ask some questions of Brian who will be the lunch keynote speaker at the Dallas PRSA Communications Summit this Friday, October 22. 

As a professional communicator, I was thrilled to have a chance to learn from such a respected thought leader of new media and prolific author.

Below are the topics our little cadre of questioners narrowed down along with summary responses from Brian Solis:

What are the key differences between PR 1.0 and 2.0, and how can someone educate themselves?
The depth of knowledge, experience, and passion for peer-to-peer need to be in the I-have-to-learn-category for professionals. It's beyond pitching and placing; it's about moving individuals. It means realizing that we need to connect with humans that shape markets. This dynamic understanding of digital influence is what he believes will bring PR back to life.

(I recently ran across a video Brian Solis did with Chris Beck and 26 Dot Two about branded content called  The great advertising disconnect. "The last mile") What are some things PR people need to focus on today to reach that "last mile" of engagement?
Brian smartly pointed us to his blog post, The Last Mile: The Socialization of Business along with his series The Hybrid Theory Manifesto: The Future of Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (Parts One, Two, and Three) to give us a framework on his vision. He has provided his call to action or at least attention the fact that there is a gap that isn't being filled by PR. Advertising firms are bringing PR into the fold because they recognize the necessity and wisdom reaching and activating the influential individuals. (As an aside, this portion of the call intrigued me the most and warrants further research.)

Can you tell us a little about the premise of your book, Engage? What is the importance in it for PR/social media folks?
Brian responded that basically where he is now in his professional life is entrenched in the realm of organizational restructuring. He said his new book, Engage, is written with the executive suite in mind. "There are so many champions, we need more leaders," said Solis. There's an important lesson for PR people here: we need to be leaders.

How do you measure the value of engagement and report that back to your brand?
In measurement and reporting, you must start with the end in mind. Every aspect of social media is not created equally, nor are friends, fans, communities, etc. When you know who you are talking to, you can segment the story. Ultimately, we measure engagement based on the predefined objectives we want to accomplish. (In other words it's the seeing, clicking, doing that tells us we're winning.)

Brian Solis left us with some additional thoughts as he noticed one of our bloggers was doing a bit of live-tweeting during the call. The real-time updates triggered some final words of wisdom from our call:
  • Consumers have become empowered. 
  • There are audiences within audiences. 
  • The balance of power has shifted. 
  • IF you can inspired others to follow and share, you are on the right track.
If you are in the DFW area on Friday, October 22, consider joining the Dallas chapter of PRSA for their annual Communications Summit: "Engage. Educate. Elevate." In addition to Solis, they have another great line-up for PR pros.
I look forward to reading what the other bloggers zeroed in on from the call. Be sure to check out posts from Alyssa Gardina, Elysa Rice, and Eddy Badrina. (Also, special thanks and hat tip to Kai Stansberry, Lauren Fernandez and Chad Sour for the invitation and getting this call organized.)
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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Matte Releases: PR Branded Content for the Newbie

LA TimesImage via WikipediaHave you ever heard of matte releases? I'll be honest, I've been in school public relations for nearly ten years and that particular phrase never came up. So when it came up in an e-mail and subsequent conversation I was intrigued.

The matte (or mat) release is a consumer or community-related article that newspaper editors can run when they want additional content for their publication. This branded content from an organization is generated specifically for distribution through a syndicated service in the hopes of reaching multiple news outlets and thus a wider audience.

This caught my attention because I've seen articles that fit this description written by the PR person at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center (MMMC) show up in the Mansfield News-Mirror (a weekly newspaper owned by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram).

After reading one such article a while back, I contacted Angel Biasatti, Director of Marketing, Community Relations and Public Affairs at MMMC, and asked her some questions hoping she'd share how she uses matte releases:
How useful are the matte releases to you and your communication strategies? They are very helpful and assist Methodist Mansfield Medical Center in reaching individuals in our community and beyond to provide helpful health information.
Have you had success with using this type of branded content? Absolutely. Many of the community newspaper and magazine editors use our matte releases monthly to supplement staff-written stories to provide helpful health information to the public. With newspaper staffs being cut and spread thin, the content Methodist Mansfield provides is becoming an essential editorial tool.
How do you define success when using a matte release? We measure success in a number of ways – from formal methods such as community perception surveys to informal measures such as positive comments and feedback from community members.
What about items that do not get published, are those re-purposed online? Absolutely. All of our articles are posted on our website along with links to our health library at We also distribute them to other online sources we feel might use them.
I figured it might also be helpful to know what an editor thinks about matte releases. I reached out to Amanda Rogers, editor of the Mansfield News-Mirror, and asked if she thought this type of branded content could be beneficial. Her response:
It is useful, especially for large community entities like the hospital, city and school district. It would give you another outlet and the paper another way to connect with the community.
Expanding reach with the evolved matte release
It is certainly easy to see the value in getting this type of branded content in the hands of consumers and your community through the media. It is also something that companies can help you accomplish with more efficiency and reach that you could possibly do on your own. One such service is ARAcontent. In her post, The Evolution of PR Branded Content, Deirdre Breakenridge shares some thoughts on this service:
ARAcontent entered the fray in 1996 and “automated” the matte release process by creating a system for electronic selection of articles by editors at newspapers and web sites. ARAcontent specialized in professional content creation to highlight a company’s products and services that is distributed and placed in top media outlets. In 2010, ARAcontent is further digitizing the release of feature articles through an increased focus on media web sites and backlinks to client sites.  Content is search engine optimized and the company also helps to generate real engagement with consumers via social media.
These SEO benefits and backlinks along with the top-tier placement through ARAcontent could be an answer for a company or organization from a tactical perspective.

An ARAcontent spokesperson showed me how a national home décor company created a matte release using the company’s tools in order to increase search engine visibility for keyword phrases around a line of children’s bedroom décor offerings. Among the results were 291 recognized backlinks, 514 online placements in one month period with an online ad value of nearly $240,000 to go with some great Google-juice for tracked phrases giving them the left they were seeking in keyword rankings.

(Of course, there are others that provide similar services and comparable paid placement reach such as PR Newswire, North American Precis Syndicate and News Force Network among others.)

On your own or through a service, the matte release could be worth your time and careful research if you haven't already. Dust off those writing skills and prepare something that will resonate with your consumers or community. Figure out if this little-known (or often ignored) PR tool is worth your time.
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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Crisis communication and the saving speed of info

It has been a week since a gunman took his own life at the University of Texas and vaulted the campus community into a panic albeit relatively briefly all things considered. I watched, as did many, as an outside observer hoping this was in a fact isolated to a single random actor who for whatever reason made some tragic choices that day.

As with anything that happens in today's hyper-connected world, we watched as the events (campus evacuation, lockdown, search and press conferences) unfolded in the media as well as through individuals using social media channels.
Photo: APD evacuating students from UT-Austin campus building.  on Twitpic

Communicators should stop being surprised at seeing as-it-happens information or images being shared from the scene like the one shared at right from KUT Radio or the photo gallery that the Austin-American Statesman was updating as the day progressed. It wasn't even surprising to listen to live call-in interviews with students being held inside a locked-down building. These are all part of the new reality for crisis response and communication. 

All of those things are secondary to a well-trained crisis response team.

What was gratifying was hearing students mention receiving text messages from UT on the situation. Also the fact that emergency e-mails and voice mails were distributed from UT made its way to the media outlets almost as fast as the news of the type of weapon being used by the shooter.

So let's give credit where it's due: through the coordinated efforts of University of Texas and the Austin Police Department. As pointed out last week in the TSPRA blog,
"UT officials were able to activate warning sirens on-campus, send text messages to students and faculty and distribute emails instructing those on-campus to lock down and those off-campus to stay away, within roughly 15 minutes of the first calls to police. "
During his first press conference during the active investigation for additional shooters, Austin Police Chief, Art Acevedo commended the "UT campus, UT police, and communication system to get information to students, secure the campus, and mobilize quickly. Students did their part; they cleared the streets, cleared the hats’ off to them all."

Being able to share information quickly is what saved the situation at UT last week. How quickly are you prepared to share? When was the last time you dusted off that crisis communication binder? What are some lessons learned? As always, the comments are yours.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

PR pros, don't be digital media drop-outs

P EducationImage via Wikipedia
I really appreciate how our media friends have embraced the conversation on ways to improve education. From special reports on CNN to NBC's Education Nation, bringing education to the forefront of the dialogue is encouraging.

Perhaps the new conversation is tinged with typical politics for the election season and nothing new will come of it. On the other hand, having education in the public discourse through media like Oprah and even as the central theme in an upcoming documentary film, tells me it might be something more.

The stats are grim when taken as a whole. Bottom-line, we can all do better. School systems should operate like works-in-progress just as the students they teach and attempt to reach.

There is also a lesson for PR pros: Don't be a digital media drop-out. Don't be satisfied with where you are in your professional learning. I chose digital media specifically because that seems to be the area in our profession that is currently getting the bulk of the conversation. Social media integration concepts will continue to spread. It is my hope that PR pros won't take the easy road and, like a high school drop-out, just barely scratch the surface of usefulness of education for themselves.

Being a life-long learner would be a great example to set for students today and I believe that's a lesson worth sharing.
Special thanks to Shane Haggerty for bringing up this issue for other school PR people and framing the dialogue to advance and highlight local school district programs for communities.

Also, if you haven't seen it, I'd encourage you to check out the trailer for the documentary mentioned earlier:

Friday, September 24, 2010

Social Media in Government - Schools at manor.govfresh #manorgf

Earlier this week, I ventured south to the small town of Manor, TX. The city, specifically the school district in Manor, was was the unlikely host of manor.govfresh conference. The conference brought together "government and industry innovators to share and learn about emerging, cost-effective technologies for state and local government."

I say unlikely host because at first glance this small city looks like any other. However, looks can be deceiving. Manor's innovative use of technology has been featured by government agencies and media, including the White House, Inc. Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Austin American Statesman, and others according to the conference press room. And the district is on par with technology innovation and student digital literacy instruction.

So what does this have to do with school communications or public relations?

I was asked to participate as a panelist for a session entitled Social Media in Government. Coordinating the panel was Andrew Krzmarzick, the GovLoop Community Manager. And rounding out the panel was Sandra Fernandez, Manager of Public Relations for the Houston Public Library, and Jacqueline Lambiase, Ph.D., public relations professor from TCU.

It was our job to convey strategic and tactical uses of social media in government in hopes of aspiring other local governments to look into ways to partner with each other, their school systems, libraries to better engage citizens and make educated decisions about social media tools.

Below are the slides from my portion of the session on school districts:Schools and Social Media -- Manor GovFresh
This was a significant step in a positive direction for open government in Texas and around the country.

Seeing the continued interest and conversations around government 2.0 is something that school district communicators need to be paying attention to and learning as shifts in community expectations lead us to further government transparency.

This shift puts greater emphasis and access to what is happening inside local government. I think this is a good thing.

I also like how Andy put it in a recent tweet about the manor.govfresh conference.
Here's the article by Alex Howard (@digiphile) "Harnessing the Civic Surplus for Open Government."

This is an area worth exploring deeper for school PR. What do you think? What are seeing or hearing in communities in the way of open government? The comments are yours.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book Review: Putting the Public Back in Public Relations

Photo: Frank Gruber via Flickr Creative Commons
I've been devouring a professional book for a while. I just finished reading Putting the Public Back in Public Relations: How Social Media is Reinventing the Aging Business of PR by Brian Solis and Deirdre Breakenridge.

This book should be required reading for PR students as well as for those PR professionals willing to pursue and learn what's now and what's next in our profession.

After laying the foundation what New PR is, it's value, and what it looks like through relationships, the authors guide readers through some tactical ways to facilitate an organizations' conversations.

Breakenridge and Solis guide the reader beyond the surface-level of social media tools into deeper waters of conversation curation techniques.

Here are some of the more intriguing ideas and passages the struck me to share:
In a section called Don't Fear Change, the authors write
"Social Media is forcing changes that should have happened a long time ago in everything related to business...Whether or not you jump on board, these changes will continue to occur. And, to be honest, not every current PR professional will survive the transition: The fittest and those most willing and able to adapt will be the survivors...The PR professionals of tomorrow should all be engaged in meaningful conversations using the Social and New Media applications that enable forward-moving dialogue. In fact, every department of every business will soon find itself embracing social strategies."
I believe this sums up quite well the current trend in PR. What will be telling is whether or not communication professionals will embrace the conversations with, for, and by people as opposed to focusing just on the tools themselves. To ignore the people making the rants and raves is to ignore some of the very voices that make up a community. As Breakenridge and Solis point out [in a section on Micromedia], "When enough individual voices pool together, the whisper becomes a roar -- transforming micromedia into macro influence."

Later in the book, the authors move into PR 2.0: A Promising Future explaining new roles for professional communicators, the socialization of communication, customer service and breaking news in online communities.
"...[Y]ou must humanize your intent and story, and learn how, where, and why to participate. By doing so, you reset the dynamic for engagement from top-down to one-on-one's critical that you understand that PR is no longer rooted in broadcast methodologies and the single-focused, general messages that drive them. PR needs to follow the authoritative dialogue, where it takes place. Without you, who will answer questions, clarify confusion, defend the brand, or develop relationships for the long term?"
The authors weave theoretical with the tactical in such a way that the reader cannot help but learn of useful tools along the way. The section called A New Guide to Metrics alone is almost worth the price of the book itself.

The final section of Convergence puts it all together in a PR 2.0 + PR 1.0 formula with defining new public relations roles, the future of PR, and the conversation prism. I am very hopeful in their vision for the future of the PR profession.
"Next-generation PR professionals will exemplify a hybrid of several critical roles...PR will relearn the art of communications, listening, and interchange, and, in the process, become well versed in not only the new rules of PR, but also the following:
  • Web marketing and analytics
  • Viral marketing
  • Customer service and relationship management
  • Social tools
  • Focus groups and market audits
  • Market analysts"
Deirdre Breakenridge and Brian Solis paint an amazing picture of what could be for the PR profession while providing a roadmap and instructions on how to get there.

Don't ignore this book.

[Note: You can check out a preview of this book on Google books and see for yourself, but I still highly recommend getting your own copy if you get an opportunity.]

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Facebook for School Districts: The Set Up Guide

Facebook logoImage via WikipediaThanks to the continuing wave of school district communicators and administrators seeking ways to reach their communities, a common question gets asked: How do you set up a Facebook page for a school district?

This post is for my school PR colleagues as well as those school district administrators seeking a step-by-step guide to set up a Facebook page in an educational setting plus some considerations and lessons learned from being a school district Facebook page administrator.

Step 1 - Create the Page
There are a few ways to do this. Visit the 'Create a Page' page:
or click the 'Create a Page for My Business' link from any random Facebook page.

Whatever you chose to do, you need to get to the screen that looks like this:

On this page completely ignore the Create Community Page. (That's a whole other headache.) You want to concentrate on the section for "Official Page." Using the radio buttons, pick "Local business" then scroll down the drop-down menu to "Education."

Next is the"Page name" text box. This is an important step that should not be taken lightly.

The name of the page will be how your community will find your district while searching within the social network. Additionally, since pages are public your district Facebook page will likely get traffic from popular search engines. I suggest naming the page how it is most commonly used in the community. In the example above, Blank Slate School District is the name I've chosen for my fictitious page. But this could have been any number of standard district names like 'Public Schools,' or 'Independent School District.' (Note: If you have Independent School District in your official name, I recommend shortening it down to ISD, so the example above would be 'Blank Slate ISD.' This is common enough to stand alone, plus it will shorten some of the postings.)

After you've given your page its name, click that "Create Official Page" button and you're ready to roll.

Step 2 - Adjust the Settings
When you create that page, the new default is to have the page in the "Published" setting. This means it's open for business. If you want some time to finish creating the page thus making it suitable for visitors, I suggest you Click the "Edit Page" directly under the big gray question mark where you district logo will soon be placed.

Your first stop will be "Settings." Click Edit then choose Unpublished (visible to no one but admins), then click Save Changes. You've just bought yourself some time to finishing tidying up your page to make it worthy of public consumption. (In Settings you also have a couple of other options for Country and Age Restrictions. Facebook has good explanation for these if you wish to adjust these for any reasons.)

After you've unpublished your new page. You can go back to the page by clicking the "View Page" link near the top of the edit page screen. (Hint: You can toggle back and forth between Page view and Edit view to see how your updates look.) Facebook has made things really easy these days with the new look for page creation. They've given their own step-by-step guide:

Step 3 - Add your logo
Next up is your school district logo or image you wish to use on the official page. You can maximize the real estate of this image by using up to 200 pixels wide by 600 pixels high for your graphic element to represent your district. Most examples that I've seen just use the district's logo. In some cases you may wish to use a different image in the event you are in a specific campaign or initiative. (Note: Your image will be reduced down to a 50 x 50 pixel image on your wall and centered so it may not look exactly how you imagined it to look. Try different versions to get the best look.)

To add your image you can hover over the big question mark in the upper left and use the "Change Picture" option or click the "Upload an Image" link in the Get Started section. Once you've added your image, you should see something like this:
(And of course the "BS" was done on purpose.)

Step 4 - Edit your page 
Continue to go down the line to edit your page with Basic Info, including Location, Phone, Hours of Operation, Website, and Parking. This is the easy one. The next part is the Wall Settings. You are going to need to make some decisions here. You need to decide who gets to write or post things to your District's Facebook page Wall. I recommend the default view set to All Posts since this is for the District's community and they should see that their posts have value to the district. Set the Default Landing Tab to "Wall" instead of Info, Photos, or Discussions. Having the Wall as the default lets those visiting your page see that you are providing an opportunity to share. Permissions and Posting Ability is another chance to think things through. I like the top option that allows people who like the Page to write or post content on the wall. However, you may consider leaving the other sub-posting abilities unchecked unless you are sure you are comfortable with people posting their own photos, videos, and links to your District wall. (Hint: Even with "links" unchecked, people connected to your page can still post links as wall postings/comments and those will be active links. The links just won't be the dynamic links with optional pictures the other way.)

Going mobile? Under Wall Settings in the Edit screen is Mobile that let's you "Publish status updates, photos and videos to your Facebook Page on the go." Once you click "Edit" you'll see your page's unique e-mail address that let's you upload photos and video via a smart phone and e-mail. This could be really handy if you wanted to update the Page while at a District event or something else where you might be pulled away from typical page management. Protect this e-mail address.

Step 5 - Set your Facebook Page Rules
I know there are some other interesting things going on in the Edit screen under the Applications heading, but for now, I suggest you concentrate on another section. You need to set up your School District's Facebook page posting guidelines. These are the rules to which posts and comments from your community will need to adhere in order to stay up for public consumption.
! If you need an example, feel free to use and/or improve on these Facebook Page Rules of Engagement for School Districts
Once you've drafted your District's Facebook page rules, they can be added to your page in the "Notes" section. Notes can be found on the Edit screen under Applications. Write your new Note and drop in your page's rules. Call them whatever you like, just make sure they get across the message that this is a monitored page and all posting of comments on the page are at the discretion of the page administrators.

Step 6 - Additional Page Considerations
Once you've set up your page's guidelines for the community you can go back and do some clean-up.
Under your page's logo/image, there is a box that will prompt you to write something about your district. (Hint: you only have enough room to fit 250 characters including spaces, so be judicious with this text.) This text box can be updated as often or as little as you want depending on what you'd like share here.

Now back in the Edit Page screen and let's look at the options under Applications:
  • Discussion Boards - This is a great opportunity to open up discussion threads on topics for your school district community. You may get some negative feedback here depending on the nature of the discussion, but with Facebook their are fewer opportunities for anonymity since typically people will post as themselves. Your district could gain some valuable insight using Discussion Boards if you are willing to open them up for use.
  • Events - The options for "Create an Event" are much easier now in Facebook. Basically it walks you through the process of an Event and lets you update the people who've liked your Page as well as allows them to share with their network of friends. This is another valuable feature of a Facebook page for school districts since you can use Events to gauge early interest for an event and let your network help spread the word on it.
  • Links - Depending on how you set up your Wall options back in Step 4, you shouldn't have to mess with this one. Plus, it's pretty self-explanatory.
  • Photos and Video - I lump these two together since they are similar. Peoples faces are compelling. Images and/or video of students, employees, a superintendent, community members, etc. doing something interesting can be great ways to help you tell the story of your district.
  • ! Posting updates as The Page -When you add items to the district's Wall, you will post as The Page and not as you the Admin. What this means is if you've set up the page using your personal Facebook profile, when you administer the page, you are adding items as The Page and not as yourself. So for our example page, even though I set up the Blank Slate School District page using my profile, updates appear to come from the BSSD Page and not as me:
That's it. If you've made it this far, congratulations and good luck with your school district's page. I hope you find this guide useful. If you know of others needing assistance with their district's page set up, feel free to pass this post along to them.

For even deeper cuts on Facebook page set up and management, be sure to check out these other resources:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How you look determines PR success

This post is not about what you look like. It's about how you look...

How do you look at problems, opportunities, celebrations, etc.? How do you view situations and progress for your organization or client?

This is a photo of my son back in July in Yellowstone National Park. And yes, that's Old Faithful in the background. (Cute, huh?)
Public relations professionals have to look at things like our communities see them. We must see what they see. As individuals and as a group. Our views need to include those of our audience in order to have any hope of reaching them. We need to be able to step back and take it all in. A PR person's ability to have that wide-angle lens view of things is one of his/her greatest assets.

We may not always be able to be advocates 100% of the time for stakeholders since our roles require our allegiance to the communication and business objectives of our organizations. However, we do ourselves (and our organizational leadership) a huge disservice if we ignore how things look from the outside. We can doom ourselves to fail by choosing to only concern ourselves with one-way organizational messaging.

How wide of a view do you have? What do you do to gain that crucial perspective?
How do you look?
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Friday, August 6, 2010

Blog writing ideas and tips for school districts

Once you've moved passed your initial fears of blogging for your school district, it's time to think about the type of content you wish to provide for the community. Let the goals be your guide for what to write.

You could have an informal, community-centered blog that has a broad approach and covers a wide range of topics, a superintendent (leadership) blog, a news release and announcement blog, department and/or curriculum-related blog, internal blog featuring staff stories, or any combination of these.
(Image: avrdreamer)

Of course, the above is by no means an exhaustive list, rather just some ideas that might help get you going.

When deciding what to write in a school district's blog remember:

  • Write what you know - Blogs are at there best when they are written from the perspective of someone who has relevant knowledge and information to share.
  • Be interesting - A school district community is a collective of individual parents, students, staff, and public. You have to figure out what are the compelling needs and topics to match their interests.
  • Be Honest - This is a big one. If you have access to information AND are authorized to share, you can use these behind-the-scenes topics as relevant posts. The caveat is just like when dealing with the media, you must be honest or you could set yourself up for failure. Dishonesty and failure in a blog can take on a mini-to-major PR storm if you are not careful.
  • Be Yourself - You school district blog can have an informal tone. Use the language that you would use in conversation and avoid the eduspeak as much as possible. Or think of it like author/blogger David Meerman Scott said in a recent keynote speech, "speak to your buyers in their language, not yours."
  • It's a two-way street - Commenting is a must in my opinion. School districts can get the most out of their blogs if they have a commenting system in place for readers. Being able to get feedback is a great listening tool and should not be overlooked. Arik Hanson, sums it up quite well I think:
"...the best part of many blogs isn’t the posts. It’s the comments. Why? Because the comments represent the real discussion board. People with varying viewpoints adding valuable content. Folks starting productive conversation threads that go in a different direction from the original post. And people leaving tips and tools that are beneficial to us all. That’s the real gold of blog posts."

Your school district blog can provide a place where parents, students, staff and the public can read some of the latest news, thoughts, and information from school district leadership and engage in respectful dialogue. It's up to you to cultivate an atmosphere of sharing with the community and develop the strategies the best fit the needs of your school district. What would you add? If you blog for a school district, what issues have come up for you?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sacred cows and School PR - NSPRA 2010

In addition to the sessions at the NSPRA conference, I also enjoyed having some great conversations with school PR colleagues from across the country. One such professional was Shane Haggerty, from Ohio Hi-Point Career Center. We were talking about the slaying of sacred cows and he had some interesting insights:

Be sure to also check out Shane's blog, A recent post covers some quick steps to getting your school district started in social media marketing and communications.
Have sacred cows been an issue for you in your organization? How have you handled the "but we've always done it this way" issues that come up? Have you successfully looked outside your field for inspiration on how to do things in better ways?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

School PR and the News Media - Ken Haseley, NSPRA 2010

Protest Rally Against Mainstream News Media   ...Image by asterix611 via Flickr
Note: This is cross-posted over on Shane Haggerty's blog, Social Learning Lab.
Last week I attended the National School Public Relations Association 2010 Seminar. In addition to speaking during my brief stay I also took away some great insights from some respected communicators. One such speaker was Ken Haseley from The Ammerman Experience. Haseley gave a session entitled The News Media Today: Ally or Adversary?

In his session, Haseley touched on the shift from the news media being a public service to being more about profit and entertainment. He even pointed out that to a degree the news today is delivered as theater with reporters/anchors as the stars (think high graphics, dramatic music, and celebrity journalists on location, like Anderson Cooper from CNN.) He spoke about creating allies and how to handle the adversarial relationship school PR professionals tend to have with the media. I have attended Ken's sessions before on a variety of topics so I knew his would be one not to miss.

Important take-aways from The News Media Today: Ally or Adversary?

Today's news media:
  • Expect to have more contact with junior-level journalists. 
  • Expect more errors or inconsistencies
  • Communication pros need to do more hand-holding and listen more closely. (Example: During a phone interview, listen to how the reporter sums up your quotes and especially if there's anything that seems to still be confusing at the end.)
  • While the newsrooms may be shrinking, the news landscape is still expanding. Journalists have even greater levels of expectations today in reporting and content production.
Creating Allies:
  • Recognize the PR and media symbiotic relationship.
  • Think in terms of marketing and build relationships.
  • Remember business etiquette. (Example: It's so important for call backs. It's highly frustrating for a journalist to have to wait on you to get back with them. Call back even if you don't have the answer at the time.)
  • You will gain greater confidence (and competence) with media training.
Handling Adversaries:
  • Don't pick a fight with the media. (The old adage is still true, Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel)
  • Learn how to just say no. (Sometimes it's ok to decline an interview request. This works when the story is not about your organization or it's a round-up piece that doesn't rely on your involvement. Say, "thank you, we've decided to pass on this one. Don't forget about us in the future." You still need to call them back.)
  • Have a straight-forward approach. Don't waste a reporter's time. They'll remember you for that too.
  • To fix errors in reporting you can either ignore it or take action. If you take action, Haseley suggests
    1.) Call the reporter to point out the error.
    2.) Ask for a correction.
    3.) Call the editor or news director
    4.) Strategically use letters to the editor or even paid advertising if necessary.
  • Mend fences. You never know when those adversarial reporters are going to wind up as communications and PR colleagues in the future.
In addition to his presentation, Haseley was gracious enough to spend a couple of minutes to share some thoughts for a brief video:

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Media Shmedia: Be Your Own Newsroom - #NSPRA

The following is my presentation deck from the 57th Annual Seminar of the National School Public Relations Association:

Additionally, some attendees were asking about some guidelines they could use. Here's our school district's blogging policy for comments and Facbook Page Rules of Engagement for a School District.

Feel free to use and improve on anything where you can.

Now it's your turn: What is your school district using to engage your communities? What communication channels do you find most strategic for your efforts? The comments are yours.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Vacation ends as #NSPRA professional development begins

Hello from NSPRA 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

I'm back after a much-needed break in the gorgeous state of Montana where I recharged the batteries for a week. I've been quietly off the blogging-grid for nearly three weeks. In my absence, my blog turned two (apparently July 11 is the Next Communication blogiversary).

This is not a result of being weary of blogging. On the contrary, I have plenty of public relations and communication professional post ideas swirling around just waiting to be put down on screen.

Let's just call it being distracted with scenery like this below. (From our campsite on Flathead Lake in Montana):

The above view has been replaced by a rather pleasant view from the 13th floor of my hotel at the National School Public Relations Association 2010 Seminar in downtown Charlotte:
Granted, it's no mountain view, but it lets me know it's time to get back to work. Let the the school public relations professional development and networking continue. This is already turning out to be a very solid conference. (Btw, next year's NSPRA seminar is in San Antonio so I hope to see more Texas school PR friends attending.)

I'll be back very soon with a post or two from the NSPRA conference. If you are one of my school PR colleagues at the conference, drop me a quick comment, come see me at my presentation on Tuesday afternoon, or just hit me up over on Twitter.

Until then, a couple of questions for you: How do you decompress from work realities and responsibilities? How do you know when you're batteries are charged and ready to go? As always, the comments are yours.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Recap: Building a Corporate Social Responsibility Program

This is cross-posted from the Ft. Worth PRSA blog since I thought it was relevant for my readers as well.
The following is a summary of lessons learned and take-aways from the Ft. Worth PRSA June 2010 program, Building a Corporate Social Responsibility Program, with Laura K. Moore, Vice President - Global Communications, Kimberly-Clark Corporation:

What is strategic Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?
  • Aligning your corporate strategy with your business strategy
  • Defining the positive impact you aim to make based on what your company is good at
  • An understanding that doing good can be good for business
Why is CSR important?
  • Growing environmental concerns
  • Companies moving from seeing CSR as less of an obligation to more of a business opportunity
  • Internet enables people to scrutinize corporate behavior
  • Increased expectations of companies to contribute
  • Corporate reputations bruised post-recession
  • Millennial expectations (the connected generation)
CSR goes beyond philanthropy, this is about corporate citizenship.

How the company treats:
  • Community
  • Suppliers
  • Government
  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Environment
Your CSR strategy has to be lived from the inside out.
  • Be it. Do it. Say it.
A cohesive CSR strategy ensures all key elements of the organization work together.
  • Employee contributions + Brand Cause Marketing + Corporate Giving = Greater Impact, More Recognition
Corporate trust is a key driver of choice and is currently seriously challenged.

* When people trust a company they:
  • Will pay more
  • Will recommend it to others
Engagement increases when an employee is satisfied with the company's CSR initiatives. Employees need to be asking themselves, "What do we stand for?"

Laura Moore pulled the curtain back a little bit on Kimberly-Clark's CSR strategy and plans to move forward. She stated that Kimberly-Clark's Corporate Goal is to Be responsible stewards of the environment and positive contributors to our community.

Kimberly-Clark has the global assets and framework, however Moore explained that she doesn't have the Ta-Da example from the corporation yet since it is still a work in progress.
(Photo: Kimberly-Clark Sustainability Report)

A CSR Enterprise Signature Project needs to:
  • be based in research;
  • have a defined focus to be successful;
  • leverage brands for focus in relevant areas and expertise from with organization; and
  • be supported and endorsed by whole organization.
What would you add? What do you see as necessary components, objectives, or concepts for a successful CSR program? The comments are yours.

Special thanks to Corey Lark, AE at Open Channels Group for providing feedback and notes on the June program for the chapter.

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

7 PR lessons from watching 'Chopped'

I'm a fan of the Food Network show, Chopped. My wife and I have come to enjoy the high-energy and passion for the culinary arts that contestants display.

The show's premise is pretty simple: "four up-and-coming chefs take a selection of everyday ingredients into an extraordinary three-course meal. After each course, a contestant gets 'chopped' until the last man or woman left standing claims victory. Each week, a rotating panel of culinary elite judges...decide whose dishes shine the brightest and award the winner $10,000."
(Photo source:

After watching the show for a while, I realized that hidden among the mystery ingredients are important lessons for public relations professionals:
  1. You never know what's in the basket. One of the cool things about the show is the mystery baskets. On a recent episode the ingredients that contests had to create with included papadum, bitter melon, turbot, satsuma mikan, purple cauliflower, and wasabi peas among the other things that I could actually identify. In PR, daily surprises come in many forms such as changes in leadership, customer service issues, crisis, internal strife, leadership indecisiveness, etc. you should be ready to adapt and change.
  2. You need prior knowledge and preparation to win. The contestants give bio information and talk about their culinary expertise. The PR pros that win are the ones that are experts in the field. We should be the go to professionals for organizational strategic communication counsel. We should continue to hone our skills with professional development. If we're not, we're doing it wrong.
  3. Don't underestimate your competition. I'm amused by Chopped contestants that (for show purposes I'm sure) appear to discount the other competitors because they believe their dishes are superior or because they believe the others are inferior chefs. Think about your competition in terms of what you can learn from them. You may be able to borrow ideas that can be tweaked just enough to help your communication needs. Granted, this may not always work, but it's just silly to discount the work of others as not being useful to you.
  4. There's a difference between confidence and arrogance. I can't stand the contestants that walk in with an arrogant flair. I root against them. It's subtle, but you can have confidence with your work, campaign, release, counsel, etc. and not cross the line into the area of arrogance. I think this is more of an internal relations and office well-being lesson, but still noteworthy. Of course, how you carry yourself among your PR peers is also at play here.
  5. Know the rules and judges. This one cracks me up. Sometimes I'm not sure the Chopped contestants every watch the show they are on. If they did, they'd now which judge doesn't like raw onions (it's Scott Conant) or the fact that you can't really talk your way out of missing an ingredient from the basket in your dish. PR people need to understand the rules of road for communication success. What are the issues that matter to the people in charge of your organization? Do you know the people in your community that have the influence? What are the parameters and expectations for your work?
  6. It's the simple things that make the difference. Contestants are judged on their dishes presentation, taste, and creativity. Often times it's the subtle nuances in how you attack a PR problem that make the outcomes more favorable. Don't overlook the little things that make a huge difference.
  7. Smile and appreciate the win. In the end when a contestant is the last one standing and their dish hasn't been among those that were ousted, they'll smile and thank the judges and talk about how they'll spend the $10k. It's ok for PR people to take those moments to stop and appreciate the wins (keeping in mind lesson number four above).
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