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: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
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?