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.