How PR2.0 and social media can help your efforts be successful

Note: this is the sixth in a 10-part series on topics related to communication and successful school operating or bond referendum efforts that originally appeared on the Minnesota Association of School Administrators website. These posts are not meant to be an all-inclusive guide for school district leadership, but rather offer suggestions and guidance on school district referendum communication-related issues. All opinions expressed are my own.)

I find the tools and channels of PR2.0 exciting, extremely useful and full of potential. However, based on the feedback I get from most superintendents and many school communication professionals, I may be alone in those feelings!

I do understand why. The way we communicate with our stakeholders is changing, and change can be hard. Especially when the change removes a communication wall or buffer that has been in place for years. But before you write off using PR2.0 tools to support your referendum communications efforts, consider the following tips:

  1. If you do not already have a presence on Twitter, Facebook or You Tube/Vimeo, you may want to wait until after November 8 to launch one.
  2. If you do have a presence, consider setting up a separate account for your referendum-related communications. This is especially useful for Facebook accounts as it allows any heated commentary to be contained in one spot.
  3. Do not remove negative comments unless they violate your policies. Instead, use the social space to correct misinformation or to acknowledge differences in opinion. If comments are no longer productive, it is acceptable to inform readers and fans that you are closing comments on that subject. The same rule applies to comments on your district blogs.
  4. Set up a listening dashboard or Google alert so you are aware of online conversations regarding your referendum efforts. This can help you identify upcoming issues and determine which Frequently Asked Questions to include on your website or Facebook page.
  5. Don’t bother commenting or responding to comments found on other external blog posts. It’s kind of like picking a fight with a newspaper: you’ll never get the last word. Instead, monitor what is being said and address any meaningful issues (or correct misinformation) in your blog or on your Facebook page.
  6. Consider recording a weekly video log (Vlog) or recording a Podcast about the good things happening in your district. Speak naturally and without a formal script, but be sure that you get your point across. Also, include interviews with students, staff or community members with their comments about the effort. Remember however, that you are always informing and not advocating. Post videos to YouTube or Vimeo (disable comment feature). Post Podcasts to iTunes podcast library. Share video and podcast links on your Facebook referendum page and website. (Note: many laptops now include a built-in camera for easy recording. A Flip video camera is another inexpensive option.)
  7. Don’t just post a news release or article to your website AND Facebook AND Tweet a link to it. Think about how you might use the same information in three to four different ways. Can you revise or adjust the headline and tweak the text by adding some new information?
  8. Use SlideShare to share PowerPoint presentations, especially those that are too large to send via email (SlideShare accounts are free).
  9. Make it easy for community members to contact you with any questions they may have. Set up a email specifically for referendum questions, and respond within 24 hours. Be sure to respond to comments left on Facebook as soon as possible
  10. Be prepared for negativity and criticism but remember, every interaction is an opportunity to get your message out!

 

Next week: Three weeks to E-Day. How’s your plan doing?

Tweaking Your Plan and Handling opposition: using the referendum to make deposits in the bank of “goodwill”

Note: this is the seventh in a 10-part series on topics related to communication and successful school operating or bond referendum efforts that originally appeared on the Minnesota Association of School Administrators website. These posts are not meant to be an all-inclusive guide for school district leadership, but rather offer suggestions and guidance on school district referendum communication-related issues. All opinions expressed are my own.)

The Tweak’s the Thing

With Election Day less than three weeks away, it’s time to check in on your communications plan. Here are a few questions to help you determine what plan components may need to be changed or reworked:

Are your messages clear?

Do community members seem to understand what you are asking for – and why you are asking for it? Do they understand the need and rationale behind the ballot question? How you plan to allocate the revenue? If not, go back and review your messages. Are they clear? Do they answer the “who, what, where and why questions”? If not, refine your key messages and talking points and use those for the final few weeks.

Are your messages consistent?

Although you may need different secondary messages for different audiences (think seniors versus parents of preschoolers), your overarching messages should always be consistent and should be included in all your referendum materials.

It’s also very easy to get sidetracked and knocked “off message” by opponents. A tactic often used by opposition is to try and get the conversation moved away from schools and students to something that is much more controversial – like tax rates or wasteful government spending. While it is all right to acknowledge these issues, don’t be drawn into a discussion that will take you away from your core message.

Are your messages reaching your community?

One of the most frustrating things in running a referendum campaign is thinking your are getting your message out to all corners of your district – and then finding out you are not. (Note: when I was a tri-chair of the Robbinsdale Area Schools Vote Yes committee, I remember speaking with a parent in the district a few days before the election who was unaware of our referendum effort, even through we had saturated the district with mailings, rallies, neighborhood coffees, yard signs and more. When I asked where she got her news, she said she “really didn’t pay attention to news.”)

The best way to determine reach is to ask. Go to a local community center, coffee shop or community event and ask people what they know about the referendum. Are community members aware of the upcoming vote? Is their information accurate?

Dealing with Opposition

Here’s the thing: you’re never going to have 100 % support for your levy effort. Somewhere in your community, there are people who will always oppose additional funding. They may feel that too much money is already being poured into public education or that education should be privatized. Even some strong supporters of public education may vote no to increased taxes.

Whether the “Vote No” groups’ efforts are well organized and well funded or consist of a single but vocal disgruntled community member, how you deal with them can actually help you build trust and respect, even among those who disagree with you. A few guidelines to consider:

  • Monitor their efforts. Rather than pretend that they don’t exist, monitor you’re your opposition is saying. Any kernels of truth in their message should be noted and – if appropriate – addressed in a FAQ sheet, blog post or other communication. This is especially important if the message resonates with voters and is picking up steam.
  • Don’t get caught up in the details. Rather than argue or refute a seemingly small issue detail-by-detail, stick with your main message and offer community members a place (web page, article, report, etc.) where they can find all the information they need.
  • Take the high road. Sometimes opponents just want to engage district leaders in a verbal brawl. They’ll use every trick in the book to get you to lose your temper or publically dismiss them as nuts. Don’t take the bait. As difficult as it may be, taking the high road will always pay off in the end. (And, if a brawler if truly needed, find a supportive community member willing to take on that role.)
  • Admit when you’re stumped. As hard as it may be to acknowledge, there are some things that you may not know about the district— and that’s ok (you are only human, after all). Rather than give an evasive or inaccurate answer, it is perfectly acceptable to say you don’t know, but that you’ll find out and get back to whomever you’re speaking with. Of course, you then need to do just that.
  • If all else fails, agree to disagree, smile and move on.

 

Next week: Get Out the Vote Efforts.