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How can school administrators use Twitter to reach parents and the community?

November 14, 2009

I picked this up this week via my Twitter feed:

mrhundermark does anyone have any ideas about how administrators might use twitter to reach parents and community members?

I replied, but couldn’t begin to fit a full response within Twitter’s 140 character limit. But, I felt like Mr. Hundermark asked a really good question so I’m sharing my answer here.

The first thing you should do if you want to use Twitter to communicate with your audience is to start twittering. I know this sounds like overly simple, circular logic, but really it doesn’t get any more complex than that. A twitter account is free, and nobody has ever gotten in trouble for sending the wrong kind of tweet. Just jump in, get your feet wet, and learn by writing tweets and observing what other people are doing.

Next, you will want to grow your list of followers. This is pretty simple too. Start by following other twitterers in your field, and eventually as they begin to trust the information that you are twittering out they will return the favor. As you review your twitter stream, share information from people you follow by retweeting it to your followers. This will also help you attract followers to your twitter stream.

Okay, so now you have a twitter account and a few followers, but where do you go from here? Get into the habit of watching your twitterfeed, managing your list of followers, and retweeting information that you found helpful on a daily basis.

I know that Mr. Hundermark is already on Twitter, and suspect that he probably understands most of the basics of using Twitter. His questions actually has less to do with Twitter than it does with marketing and content strategy.

Ultimately, its about deciding what you should tweet, and what you shouldn’t.

The running joke about Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites is that there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what people will write about. And, while you could write about just about anything you wanted to on Twitter, its important to stay focussed on a set range of topics. Sit down and write a list of all of the topics you want your twitterfeed to cover, and then try to eliminate the ones that are the least valuable to your audience.

Most organizations or businesses already have content in the form of newsletters or a website which they can refer people to in their twitterfeed. Does this mean that every piece of information that’s printed in your newsletter needs to be repeated in your feed? Not necessarily. Upload your newsletter to the web and then send a link to it in a tweet, direct your followers to an update on your website, or tease a new product.

“Convergence” and “community” are key words these days when it comes to communication over the web. This means that its important to always look for ways to repurpose your content for the multiple channels that are available to an organization. You probably want to claim credit for the information that you provide by sharing it only over your own twitterfeed, but a better way is to think of yourself as a contributer to a much larger online community. This can be done in Twitter by using hashtags which allows your tweets to be picked up in multiple searches.

Think about how each message relates to your audience, and then include hashtags so it will be found by the right people. For example, say that your school is holding a bake sale. You might write the following:

Bake Sale at Springfield Elementary. 9a-10a Sat.

You could easily make this tweet more visible by including hashtags. Ask yourself who would benefit the most from the announcement? Who would be the most interested? Remember that the purpose of your Tweete should be twofold: Attract people to your event (of course), but also to get the word out to your followers so they can retweet your message to their audience. If the information is interesting enough, and they support your organization, chances are that they will share your message with their followers. Before you know it, your cake sale announcement could reach thousands of people.

So, let’s try to improve the reach of the same tweet:

Bake Sale at Springfield Elementary. 9a-10a Sat. #springfield #schools #fundraisers

I’ve added hashtags which should associate the message with the keywords that people most likely would search for. “Springfield” seemed like a good choice, since its probably the name of the community or town the school serves, “schools” in case someone is searching for school information, and “fundraisers” so the event would show up in a search for fundraisers. “Event” might also be another commonly used keyword phrase. The best thing we can do is try different hashtags until we find out which ones work the best.

Mr. Hundermark’s biggest challenge will be reaching the biggest percentage of his audience. Twitter helps him do that, but no matter how big or popular it gets there will never be a guarantee that every parent and community member in his school distrct will get a Twitter account. This is why it is better to think of Twitter as being one piece of a much larger web marketing strategy involving several different social media sites. Fortunately, it has gotten easier to spread your messages over multiple networks, so it is up to the individual to make best use of their resources.

So, while the answer to Mr. Hundermark’s question is long, it is actually pretty simple. Send tweets, grow followers, support the people you follow, and use hashtags to improve the visibility of your messages. And, cross-post your announcement to other social media services so you can reach as many people as possible.

Posted via web from Honked

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