Want brand ambassadors? Try school social media training.

With better social media professional development, you can turn your teachers into school brand ambassadors.

By Melissa Hite, Marie Kressin Last Updated: April 28, 2023

There are approximately 8 billion people in the world, and nearly 5 billion of them are on social media. Depending on the exact numbers you use, that’s somewhere around 60% of the world’s population—and in the United States, the percentage is even higher. One of the basic rules of marketing is to meet your audience where they already are, and like it or not, your district’s parents, students, and community members are on social media.

These days, social media can make or break a brand. But even if you’re posting great content across your platforms on a regular basis, that content won’t do any good if no one sees it. To really use social media to build your brand, you need to expand your reach—and to do that, you need help.

In the U.S., there are about 3.2 million public school teachers—more than 200 teachers for every one superintendent. While your voice—whether in person or on social media—may carry the most weight, the voices of your employees have the greatest volume. Say your district has 600 employees total, each with about 300 Facebook friends. If every one of your employees shares just one district post, it has the potential to be seen by 180,000 people. That’s 180,000 possible touch points with your district’s brand.

Fortunately, in our 2022 study on brand ambassadorship, we found that the majority of teachers already understand their responsibility to be megaphones for their districts. About three-quarters of the teachers we surveyed said it was important for them to be familiar with their districts’ brand and messaging priorities, and 72% said it was their responsibility to improve the district’s reputation.

However, half of our surveyed teachers said they never engage with district social media. And even those who do engage may not have the necessary know-how to use social media to further build your district’s brand. In our study, 21% of teachers said they had never received training on their districts’ brand and messaging priorities.

This may sound grim—but there’s good news. More likely than not, a good number of your staff members are willing to act as school brand ambassadors; they just may not know how useful their participation on social media could be. Your job is twofold: to show your teachers how much you need their voices and to help them build the skills they need to engage online. Brand advocacy on social media, like any other skill you want your teachers to learn, will take some good old-fashioned professional development.

Building Familiarity

According to our research, 12% of teachers don’t engage with district social media because they don’t have personal social media themselves. For these staff members, it’s worth providing a “Social Media How-To” professional development session. Pick one platform at a time and go over the absolute basics. By the end of this session, your social media novices should know how to:

  • Set up an account
  • Access the platform from their mobile device
  • Post, tag, and share
  • Access and follow the district’s profiles
  • Avoid basic pitfalls—like engaging with trolls in the comments

As you begin planning this school social media training, be sure to check in with your teachers about where their knowledge gaps lie. After all, even teachers who use social media a little may not be present on all the major platforms. Maybe most of them have a pretty good grasp of Facebook, but find Instagram or Twitter more intimidating. Assessing your teachers’ needs beforehand will help keep your school social media training relevant and worth your participants’ time.

Of course, not all your teachers are social media newbies. Our research also revealed that 38% of teachers have personal social media, but never engage with their districts’ content. For many of these people, the problem isn’t a lack of know-how; it’s fear. It’s not hard to see why. Just Google “teachers and social media,” and you’ll find a slew of warnings, from “Teachers and Social Media: A Cautionary Tale About the Risks” to “Teachers, Politics, and Social Media: A Volatile Mix.” These teachers have probably seen educators being burned by a past post, photo, or retweet, and they may be refraining from engaging with social media professionally because they don’t want to make a similar mistake.

To get these teachers more comfortable engaging with district content, consider hosting a “Do’s and Don’ts” PD session. Use this PD to show your staff members the line in the sand. Be very clear about the district’s expectations for social media use. What is okay for staff members to post? What isn’t? Show participants where they can access the district’s social media policy, and walk them through the most important points. You might even provide an easy-to-digest one-pager of Do’s & Don’ts that participants can take with them and consult regularly after the training. And be ready for folks to ask questions. In fact, depending on who’s in attendance, this type of training may be best facilitated as an open discussion. There’s a good chance participants will come in with specific scenarios they want to talk through.

There’s one more group of teachers to consider: those who are ambivalent about district social media. There are probably plenty who know their way around an Instagram feed but have no desire to post about their jobs. You can’t force your employees to advocate for your brand on their personal social profiles; even if you could, your audience would sense the inauthenticity. But in these social media PD sessions, you can take some time to convince them that engaging on social media is worthwhile—not just for the district, but for their students, too.

It’s no secret that students are more successful when their families are engaged in their learning—and these days, parents are on social media. According to data from Pew Research Center, 79% of U.S. parents are on Facebook, and 80% of those who use the platform engage with it daily. If your teachers can see social media as a window into their classrooms, platforms like Facebook and Twitter can become powerful tools for family engagement—as well as brand-building.

Illustration of four Girl Scout cookie style boxed with photos of people and phones

Building Your Brand

While building familiarity with social media is more of a beginner-level PD, using social media to build your brand is an advanced placement course. The folks who are present for this session should already be well acquainted with the basics of each social media platform because, ideally, this more advanced PD will be about messaging priorities and how to use the district’s values to identify strong stories for social media.

Let’s start with your district’s messaging priorities. When it comes to things like districtwide or even building-level announcements (think snow days, late starts, and lockdowns), you may not want each individual staff member making their own post. That many posts can quickly turn into a game of telephone gone wrong—with a parent at the end of the line hearing something that’s wildly incorrect. Instead, use this PD to either brainstorm or communicate methods for sharing information quickly while maintaining accuracy.

East Central Public Schools in Minnesota has implemented a strategy they refer to as COPE, which stands for “Create Once; Post Everywhere.” The idea behind their COPE strategy is to prevent individual staff members from using social media to put their own spin on important district information—whether intentionally or by accident. Instead, teachers are encouraged to simply retweet or share the district’s official posts, ensuring that information stays consistent as it spreads. Strategies like this will help you build the kind of credibility that is the foundation of any strong brand.

In addition to credibility, social media can be a solid tool for sharing stories that connect back to your district’s core values. If your brand is how your community feels about your district, then your values are the guideposts for the feelings you hope to elicit. Is your district relationship-oriented? Do you center your work around a core value of joy? Maybe all your conversations go back to the importance of curiosity. Once you know your core values, you can begin training your people to use social media to tell stories rooted in those values.

For example, if your district brand is grounded in the core value of joy, encourage staff members to brainstorm how to tie joy into the stories they’re telling online. It might go something like this:

  1. Try having participants break into small groups to talk through what they’ve experienced at school that week.
  2. Encourage each group to draft a post along with a few photos and hashtags. Does anyone have photos of lessons? How could they turn a moment from their workweek into a story about joy that would be successful online?
  3. Have each group present their post to the larger group and receive feedback on what is and isn’t working. Does the post support the district brand? Why or why not?
  4. Give your participants time to revise their work, and maybe even have everyone make a post before leaving!

How-To Tips for School Social Media Training

Now that you’ve thought through your big-picture goals for hosting social media PD and considered a few high-level options for what your sessions could look like, check out these quick tips to take your PD to the next level.

Make sure the training is worthwhile.

Just like you would with a classroom lesson, don’t be afraid to use pre-assessments and formative assessments to make sure the session is appropriate to your participants’ skill levels. Ask your attendees what the district’s hashtags are before you even begin, or post an announcement on Twitter halfway through the PD and ask your participants to retweet it. Not only will this increase your engagement numbers, but it will give your participants a chance to check in with their own understanding.

Lean on internal experts.

There’s a good chance that at least a few teachers in your district are already acting as excellent school brand ambassadors on social media. Why not put their expertise front and center and have them lead professional development? The advantages to peer-led PD are many: It’s cost-effective, it builds relationships among staff members, and it boosts skills not only for the mentees, but for the mentors as well. Empowering teachers to lead professional development helps them build leadership skills—while making them feel valued at the same time.

Include elements of choice.

Let’s be honest: Very few teachers get to exercise agency when it comes to professional development. In fact, only 24% of schools allow teachers to suggest or vote on topics for PD, and only 7% of teachers get to decide whether they engage with professional development in the first place. These statistics aren’t surprising; there are a number of external factors acting on how PD takes shape. In a 2020 survey, 70% of respondents reported that their PD topics are connected to their strategic plans—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But just like a teacher can still include elements of choice while teaching to state standards, you can include elements of choice in your PD. You might provide a beginner’s track and an advanced track, for example, to accommodate both newbies and experts. You can also allow participants to choose which platforms they’re most interested in learning about. What if you held a large PD with small breakout sessions? Staff could choose to attend sessions about Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook Live.

According to research from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, teachers who did have choice in their own professional development reported much higher satisfaction than those who didn’t. Giving your teachers some autonomy over the way they engage with this PD is likely to increase their buy-in—especially if they’re already hesitant about social media.

Clarify the relevance.

According to researchers James Gregson and Patricia Sturko, a key facet of adult learning theory is making the real-world application of professional learning abundantly clear. “Adults learn what they need to know,” they write. If you make your social media PD voluntary, it’s likely that the folks in attendance will already recognize why the training matters. However, if it’s mandatory PD, make sure you clarify why social media is an important tool for your district. Why is school social media training worth taking your staff members away from all the other work they have on their plates? Being explicit about your why will go a long way.

You might even show teachers how they can use their expanded knowledge of social media in their classroom lessons. After all, there are tons of materials online that play off students’ interest in various platforms, from Twitter-style book reviews to mock Instagram profiles for historical figures.

Case Study: Collier County Public Schools’ #Tweetchers

Nearly 10 years ago, social media use at Florida’s A-rated Collier County Public Schools (CCPS) was in its infancy. The district, which spans 63 schools and approximately 50,000 students, had just one districtwide social media account. But parent surveys had shown a dip in parent satisfaction with school communication. From 2014 to 2016, CCPS saw a 5% decrease in the number of parents who agreed with the statement “I feel informed about Collier County Public Schools.”

The district’s initial response involved creating Twitter accounts for each of its campuses—but keeping those pages stocked with content would be a challenge. To give parents a consistent window into their children’s classrooms, the district would need help from the inside. They’d need #tweetchers.

According to Chad Oliver, executive director of communications and community engagement at CCPS, the #tweetchers initiative is a way to expand the district’s reach through social media. Originally launched by Oliver’s predecessor Greg Turchetta, the program helps educators overcome their fears of social media and become better school brand ambassadors.

“Think of it like this: You have an army of teachers who willingly share their classroom stories,” he explains. “They share their best practices, they share student successes, and then those tweets are retweeted on the school Twitter pages and visible on school websites. It’s a built-in content provider.”

But how would they get teachers comfortable with becoming #tweetchers? The initiative faced a number of challenges—the first being CCPS’ past social media policies. “Some educators have been around in the district long enough to remember when we used to ban social media,” Oliver says. “You have to get over the hurdle so they know they have the blessing from their administrators.” Then, of course, there’s the overwhelming workload teachers already deal with. “We try not to overburden our educators,” Oliver says. For that reason, it was important that #tweetchers be “a coalition of the willing,” he explains. “If you’re inclined to share on social media, we’ll support you, but it’s not something that you have to do.”

Over the course of four months, CCPS kicked off the #tweetchers initiative with a total of more than 100 trainings across all its school sites. The first several were for all staff and explained the why behind the program, as well as the benefits it could provide the entire district. Subsequent trainings, though, were for those who actively wanted to become #tweetchers. They provided guidance on specific topics: how to create a classroom Twitter page, how to record and edit videos, or what makes a quality post.

Before long, the first #tweetchers were off and running—and years later, CCPS teachers are still joining their ranks. The district provides ongoing support and training for anyone who wants to participate, and the benefits keep rolling in. For example, #tweetchers often catch the attention of CCPS’ local ABC news affiliate. “Because we have so many educators on Twitter sharing videos, sharing photos, sharing stories, the station has taken lots of those stories and shared them with their audience on the news,” Oliver says. “That’s gold from a marketing standpoint because you’re getting more eyes on the content.”

Even more importantly, #tweetchers gives parents a window into their students’ time in school. “With four kids, we have been inside the walls of [CCPS] for 14 straight years now, and as a parent, I feel more connected than ever,” wrote one parent shortly after the program began. Another agreed: “The schools’ posts are a little splash of happiness that show up in my news feed, reminding me that my child is in a great environment that they are flourishing in.”

All this success has made #tweetchers contagious. “When you show teachers the positive stories, they do say, I want to get in on that. I want my kids to have that exposure,” Oliver says. “Because at the end of the day, this is all about celebrating student success.”

Building School Brand Ambassadors

There’s one more important aspect of brand ambassadorship we haven’t addressed. In our 2022 research, we found that employees who feel valued are more likely to advocate for their districts than those who don’t. It makes sense. According to data from business magazine Workplace Insight, 80% of people say feeling appreciated is important to their happiness at work. You wouldn’t feel like singing your district’s praises if you didn’t feel great about working there.

So the problem of how to engage your employees on social media isn’t just about training; it’s also about culture. How are you creating an environment that teachers want to post about? How will you make them feel valued? Making sure your staff members have the know-how to engage on social media is crucial, no doubt. But if your teachers aren’t actually proud to work at your schools, all those technical skills are for nothing.

Professional development around social media is the fuel, but your teachers’ pride and love for their schools is the match that will set it aflame. So don’t just train your teachers; thank them. Listen to them. Post about them. Celebrate them. Make sure they know that they matter. By getting your staff fired up not only about social media, but about their role in your schools, you can make your district’s light shine all the brighter.

Originally published as "Social Skills" in the Spring 2023 edition of SchoolCEO Magazine.

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