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“What we got here is a failure to communicate“
Prison Warden in Cool Hand Luke
Organizations should use extreme caution in employing anyone over forty-five for handling public image and public relations. I fall into that bracket and I’ve been studying social media since 2007, but I only know enough to understand that most ‘professionals’ of the traditional media don’t have a clue when it comes to communicating information to people in this century.
Traditional media professionals reminisce about the glory days when the game was to be on good terms with the editor of the local newspapers, have drinks with the news directors of the local television stations, and talk shop with the other local public relations (PR) directors at the bigger companies. Those were the days when a phone call could land a big story for the local news that would launch a new product or service. Top management would pat the PR guy on the back (or on the butt if the person was female) and tell him or her what a great job they did.
Those days are over.
The Internet, Facebook, customer reviews, Twitter, Yelp, and a thousand other media channels severely wounded traditional media and the old ways are never coming back. Yet, talk to an old PR person and say that nothing has really changed. It’s all about who you know. Old PR people don’t have a clue at how silly they sound.
I was at a school board meeting for a public charter school last week where a self-professed ‘expert’ in public relations announced that she was at a conference and learned that people no longer used websites to obtain information. She said that parents of school-age children only paid attention to Facebook and Instagram.
It should be noted, and that the school’s website is one of the worst on the Internet, and that the school is known for its severe deficiency in communicating information to parents.
Public Communication 2015
As part of the out-of-touch generation, take my advice with a grain of sodium chloride, or whatever water retaining additive you choose, but here is what I have learned in the past eight years.
It is true that many people from different generations tend to engage in social media at varying levels; however, there is no one single media that can reach everyone regardless of their generation. Education level, social economic status, and language all play a role in where people gather information. To declare that there are one or two media sources that parents of school-age children rely on is arrogant at best, and more likely, ignorant.
Any organization’s strategy has to be to use every possible form of media delivery to reach the stakeholders. In the case of a school, information has to be delivered through student folders, phone call announcements, in-school announcements, school website, parent emails, mail, Public Service Announcements (PSA,) school’s Facebook page, etc. Information must also be repeated in order to reach people when they’re listening. A single Facebook post is like going to a street corner at 6:00 AM and yelling out information and then assuming that everyone who passes by that street corner that day will hear the message.
But just sending out the same message through all the channels is ineffective. Social media channels are best used as a ‘reminder’ or ‘alert’ forum with a link back to one source (e.g.; the school website.) Long posts on Facebook make the information less likely to be read both now and in the future. Short posts with a link to more information for those interested is the most efficient method of delivery.
The website is NOT dead. In fact, it is more vital than ever. A charter school’s website is an information source for those considering enrolling their children, a primary source for parents for detailed information, and it establishes the public image for the school. A Facebook page is vital, and if you have a brilliant administration, Twitter can be the inside source for parents who want to know the inside scoop of what is happening now, but the school website will always be the 24/7/365 place for vital information.
It will take a decade or more to weed out the old PR professionals who live in the past; however, it doesn’t take a sixteen-year-old to know when someone doesn’t understand how to communicate in this century. If the stakeholders say they are not being adequately informed, it’s obvious the organization has a problem.