IF A TREE FALLS
in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? You have heard this question before or perhaps debated the concept with a student or your own children. It is a strange question with which to begin a column on social media.
But if you send a tweet, post a photo on Instagram or comment on Facebook and nobody sees it, was your effort worth it? Are your school district’s social media efforts getting a return on investment? How do you find the time to contribute? Is staff time being spent effectively? How is your district measuring whether there is value in time spent on social media efforts?
These are questions I hear from school leaders when the conversation turns to social media or public communication strategy. The answers depend on whether social media accounts are for personal use (but does that really exist?) or district use. Or do your accounts blur the lines of personal/district?
Regardless of the type of social media account, there are tools to analyze usage. Ones like Simply Measured or Quintly can be used across platforms, whereas the Wolfram Alpha Facebook Report is more specific.
For several years, I used ManageFlitter and other social media management tools to monitor the analytics on my personal Twitter account. The free version allows you to see who is not following you back, which accounts do not have a profile image and which accounts are inactive, as well as following ratios, influencers and accounts that tweet a lot or a little.
I used ManageFlitter to determine the spam accounts following me in order to block them. Sometimes I would unfollow a quiet account, but my general rule was to follow superintendents regardless of their inactivity. Every 30 days or so, I would run the analysis again and comb through it.
Over time, however, I stopped this practice. I use Twitter for news and information, and list functionality allows me to do that without worrying about who is quiet. I realized over time that analytics were more important with our district and school social media accounts to gauge whether our efforts there were being effective.
As superintendents, we use social media to tell our district’s story. Through photographs, stories and brief posts, we advocate on behalf of students, teachers, staff and programs. We want to know if the messages are being seen, if our staff time is effective and whether there is a benefit to our district.
In a former district, we tracked the number of people watching our social media outlets and reported the information to our “All-Hands Team” (essentially our administrative team) on a monthly basis.
The purpose was twofold. The first was ensuring the expectations we set were being met. This was helpful as we got started, but within a few months we were consistently exceeding the targets. The second was to determine effectiveness. The data were clear that our elementary parents were more engaged on Facebook than Twitter.
We also learned that posts with photos are seen by more people than those with words alone. Posts highlighting employees were very well-received. Timing also made a difference. The analytics suggested when to post to get the most views.
In Mehlville, we are using social media more systematically and purposefully than in the past. In addition, we are using more social media platforms. So far, we have seen significant growth in views, likes and follows. Our team sees the basic analytical data monthly, and we can adjust our strategy as needed. Our posts and videos with returning service members are the most popular. Anything showing the generosity of our families to those in need also is well-received.
Whether you are a social media novice or a seasoned user, the analytics available for social media can help you understand the impact of time and effort. Use it to build your own media empire of sorts. In real estate, it is location, location, location. So too it is in social media. Use the analytics to know where your audience is and tell your stories there — the story of public education.
, AASA president-elect, is superintendent of the Mehlville School District in St. Louis, Mo. Twitter: @paddlingsupt