Featured Journal Article

Leaping into social media

Sycamore Community City makes the plunge, reaps benefits

Social media is a fundamental change in how people communicate. It’s not a fad. It’s not going away. It’s here to stay, and if you want to be an effective communicator, you better start using it.

— Shane Haggerty, Great Heights Integrated
Marketing and Communication

Those are the words Erika Daggett, chief information officer at Sycamore Community City Schools, heard during an Ohio School Public Relations Association conference in the spring of 2011.

Read the electronic version of the Journal magazine


Daggett and her superintendent, Dr. Adrienne C. James, had been discussing social media integration in the district’s communication plan since 2010. However, there were many concerns and misunderstandings throughout the district that stalled progress, such as “how do we protect our students?” and “we may not reach our audience because social media is mostly used among teens.”

But, with communication being a district priority, Daggett and James were determined.

“We knew we had to find a way to start utilizing the power of social media,” Daggett said. “We knew that, if nothing else, eventually Sycamore would be a part of social media through other people’s conversations. We wanted to ensure the district was a part of those conversations. So, we knew we needed to look at it more closely.”

That closer look started with a survey conducted by the district’s Planning Commission on other school districts’ social media use. The survey showed more and more schools across the nation were using different forms of social media, whether it was Twitter, Facebook, blogs or other platforms. That was a turning point for the district.

Following that survey, James charged Daggett with identifying new and additional ways to communicate with a variety of stakeholders. Daggett then teamed up with Haggerty, the speaker she heard at the conference, and got to work.

The first step was conducting a communitywide survey to obtain specific information on how residents used various social media platforms and to gauge what their feelings were toward the district using social media.

Nearly 700 people responded to the survey. Seventy-one percent stated that they had a personal Facebook page and 68% said they wanted the district to use social media for district communication. Forty percent also said they watched YouTube videos several times per month.

The district then conducted a focus group with parents, students and staff members to further explore community members’ social media habits.

“The focus group was incredibly valuable, as it gave us more than statistical information,” Daggett said. “It showed us behaviors and areas we needed to address. For example, the focus group showed us that adults were nervous about the district being involved in social media. We saw the need to help staff and parents understand how to control their privacy and feel more comfortable with these communication tools so that we could effectively use them. The project was going to be much more than simply creating a Facebook page or a Twitter feed; it included an educational component, a safety component and much more.”

So, with Haggerty’s help, Daggett designed an internal and external launch plan for the district’s Facebook page to ensure proper usage, create an understanding of why the district was using social media and promote the new source for district information.

The first two items were addressed through presentations for school board members, administrators, parents, staff members and students. Presenters shared why the district needed to use social media and how it would be used, all while keeping student safety and the district’s reputation in mind. The workshops also included the rollout of the district’s social media guidelines and sessions on how individuals could activate Facebook privacy controls to protect themselves and their students.

Promoting these presentations allowed Sycamore to communicate that a district Facebook page, as well as a YouTube channel and Flickr account, was coming and that social media was being integrated in a safe and thoughtful way. The workshops also provided a venue to distribute marketing materials, such as “29 reasons you should ‘like’ us on Facebook on February 29” and “This Leap Year, we are leaping into social media.” Postcards also were handed out to students during lunch and distributed to community members at local businesses and events.

Media representatives were invited, and attended, social media trainings, which were strategically held on Feb. 28 and 29 so that community members who saw the news stories would be able to immediately access the Facebook page, YouTube channel and Flickr account. Not only was the district leaping into social media, but it also received positive press coverage in Cincinnati during the launch.

And then, on Feb. 29, Sycamore Community Schools “leapt” into social media.

“It was an incredibly exciting day,” Daggett said. “When I started the project, I knew we had to do it, but I was aware of the possibility of unintended consequences. But we did everything we could to prevent those things from occurring. We researched social media policies from colleges, the Ohio Department of Education and government entities. We looked at what other districts were doing. We activated and embellished security filters and created a terms of use agreement. We created guidelines and trained staff on those guidelines. We met with parents and showed them how to protect their children.

“So, on launch day, I was excited and I spent a good amount of the day celebrating every ‘like’ we got on Facebook.”

Those initial “likes” have added up to nearly 600 in less than three months. In April, an average of 3,126 people saw stories about Sycamore on Facebook each week and nearly 100 different people engaged and interacted on the page weekly.

And while Daggett still celebrates every “like,” she feels Sycamore’s social media integration was successful for other reasons.

“I feel we were able to launch social media in a way that made all members of the Sycamore community — from parents to students to teachers to residents to business leaders — feel included, comfortable and excited about the project,” she said. “Our Facebook page provided more than another avenue for communication. It has allowed people to have a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the district and has connected people in new ways.”

Those new ways have given parents, community members, students and alumni the ability to “like,” comment and share the exclusive content the district posts, as well as reminisce, ask questions, respond to surveys and be engaged with Sycamore schools.

“It was very exciting to work with Sycamore Community schools on this project,” Haggerty said. “The district took a very thoughtful approach before they launched into any specific social platform, and that foresight and planning is crucial for school districts when it comes to social media integration. It cannot happen successfully without strategic planning.”

For more information, contact Daggett at daggette@sycamoreschools.org or Haggerty at shane@greatheightspr.com.

Visit Sycamore’s social media channels at:

- www.facebook.com/sycamoreschools

- www.flickr.com/sycamorecommunityschools

- www.youtube.com/scstv2012