Families & the Community

Social Media Is Always Changing. Here’s How Districts Can Best Communicate With Families

By Caitlynn Peetz — July 20, 2023 4 min read
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For years, schools, districts, and educators have relied on Twitter to connect with each other, families, and students.

But with recent changes to how users are verified and limits on the number of posts users can see at a time, some school districts are looking elsewhere to share their messages, particularly those that are urgent or time-sensitive.

Meanwhile, Twitter alternatives like Meta’s Threads have emerged.

“We are unclear about the future of Twitter, but I would say we’re unclear about the future of all platforms, really,” said Jerry Gallagher, a partner at the Donovan Group, a school district communications and public relations firm based in Wisconsin. “For schools, it’s important to be flexible and understand what’s here today could be gone tomorrow, so it’s more important to have a good communications plan in place so you know what you’re going to communicate. Then I think the ‘how’ and ‘where’ follows after that.”

In April, Twitter began rolling back its “legacy verification program,” in which people and organizations went through a process to prove they were legitimate, and their profiles were then noted as such with a blue checkmark.

The rollback has made prominent organizations, including schools, and well known people vulnerable to being spoofed, and some have left the platform altogether to get ahead of potential problems.

Then, in early July, Twitter put a limit on the number of tweets users could view each day. While intended to “address extreme levels of data scraping and system manipulation,” according to Reuters, some public safety agencies have criticized the move, saying it could hinder officials’ ability to broadly share urgent or time-sensitive information, including critical messages about public safety emergencies or natural disasters.

In Northfield, Minn., district leaders haven’t ditched Twitter, but they have learned in recent years that it is the least trafficked of the district’s social media pages in general.

Instead, most parents there gravitate toward Facebook, and the students have more fully embraced Instagram, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said.

Still, the district mostly uses its social media pages to share highlights and fun facts, rather than to disseminate important school or district updates, Hillmann said.

As districts navigate the everchanging landscape of social media, Hillmann and Gallagher offered some advice for leaders to keep in mind to best communicate with families and the community at large.

See Also

This photo, taken in New York on July 6, 2023, shows Meta's new app Threads. Meta unveiled the app to rival Twitter, targeting users looking for an alternative to the social media platform owned — and frequently changed — by Elon Musk.
Meta's Threads is the newest competitor to Twitter, which some educators say has been on a “down slope” in recent months.
Richard Drew/AP

Pick your platforms and be consistent

Both Hillmann and Gallagher said it is of paramount importance that districts learn where their community members most often turn for information about schools, because people’s preferences will vary depending on the community.

Gallagher recommended districts do a routine survey of the community to get that feedback, preferably every few years. Then, once schools get an idea of what the community wants to see, they should pick a handful of platforms and tools to use, then be consistent about how and when they’re used.

It won’t be possible to accommodate everyone, Hillmann said, but it’s more beneficial to concentrate communication efforts to a few key programs and platforms.

“I think over the years, in an effort to communicate with lots of people, we have all splintered and amassed a number of different softwares and platforms that include some kind of communication tool,” Hillmann said. “So, now I think we’re at a point where we have to do some hard looking at what are the ones that we need to give up.”

It’s important, Gallagher added, that schools put their official social media handles for all platforms in a place that’s easily accessible to the public, like the district website. That’s one way of directing people to the proper social media accounts, rather than accounts created by spoofers.

Think about what time you’re posting and sharing

Whenever possible, districts should avoid posting or sending information out on Friday afternoons, Gallagher said. Odds are, people are tuned out by then for the weekend and the effort is going to waste.

The best times to share updates on any social media platform are early in the morning as people are waking up, during the lunch hour, around the time school lets out for the day, and later in the evening after dinnertime, Gallagher said.

“Something to consider is scheduling posts for those times on whatever platforms it is you choose to use,” he said. “Your audience is very habitual and you can use that to your advantage.”

Consider more direct communication

The Northfield district has invested more in its direct communication with families.

It now uses TalkingPoints, a two-way communication platform that allows staff to send text messages to family members, kind of like sending out a mass email, Hillmann said.

The software automatically translates the message from English—or whatever language the original message was written in—to the language families have chosen as their home language. If the translation isn’t quite right or doesn’t make sense, the person who received the message can push a button to ask for a live translator to step in, Hillmann said. This could be used to announce snow days or other cancellations.

“Social media has a wide reach, but if we’re really trying to get messages to our parents, anything that we can do to ping them on their phone, we know that that’s the most effective way to get their attention,” Hillmann said. “... Your social media is a much more public scenario where you are reaching potential families and community members who may not be enrolled but have some kind of interest in the work you’re doing, so it has its place, too.”

There are similar platforms that can send emergency alerts to school community members’ phones in the event of a crisis, like a school shooting, which can be an effective way to quickly and broadly share critical information, Hillmann said.

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