As the largest coed Jewish day school in Baltimore – and the area’s only community day school – we have made significant progress this year harnessing the power of social media to share key messages with our current and prospective families. We have increased our Page “likes” over 33 percent, and have created some great content, including a number of creative videos that have “gone viral”. We are posting regularly with engaging content, using a warm and friendly voice, and our page stats reflect the growth in our audience and their interest in our page.
All that being said, one of our greatest frustrations continues to be the number of our parents, trustees and other highly committed school ambassadors who continue to tell us they are “just not interested in being on Facebook.” When there is a Parent Association meeting, a Board of Trustees meeting, or even a school Marketing Committee meeting, there is inevitably a core group of our most committed parents that professes to have absolutely no interest in joining Facebook, much less becoming a regular.
One of our Parent Association presidents is a Princeton grad and has been among the most vigorous and constructive advocates for our school. She and her family are significant contributors and they would “do anything” for our day school. Anything except join Facebook.
Another parent has been an invaluable member of our Marketing Committee, providing key insights into the admission process, and happily serving as an advocate for our school in the larger community. She too is an Ivy League graduate, and is most willing and able to debate the many benefits of attending our school. But she has no interested in going online and sharing those sentiments on Facebook.
While I certainly respect any individual’s personal decision to not join Facebook, and while clearly there are some (particularly in the Orthodox community) who feel strongly about not participating in social media – whether for philosophical reasons or simply as a waste of their valuable time – there are steps that schools can take to explain to their day school community that Facebook is not only “kosher”, but that it has become a legitimate, cost effective, and powerful way for our schools to communicate and market themselves. Here are four ways to make the case that your school’s ambassadors will be more effective “cheerleaders” for your school if they choose to embrace social media.
1. Recruit a few social media “mavens” to serve as role models
Like any recruiting effort, getting your ambassadors on-board with social media requires rolling up your sleeves, brainstorming ideas, developing a plan, implementing it, and finally evaluating and fine-tuning your strategy. You probably want to have your social media plan well underway, with a school Facebook or Twitter page that has regular posts, valuable content, and that shows some level of interaction with your constituents (e.g. likes, comments and shares).
Once your page is up and running, having a cadre of ambassadors who are already actively on Facebook and are comfortable with social media is key. Identify these individuals at a Parent Association or other school meeting, reach out to them (speak to them, ask them to be your Facebook friend, or email and tell them about your school’s page). Before you know it they will be regularly interacting with your posts, and helping to expose your school’s page to their Facebook friends, through their news feed. They will also be serving as a most valuable social media role model for other members of your school community. Start with your “believers” – identify them, cultivate them, and they will help get the ball rolling.
2. Let them know that Facebook can be “kosher”
This year’s Jewish Day School Social Media Academy has helped participating schools develop strategies and best practices for using Facebook and other social media sites to bolster their school’s admission, marketing and fundraising efforts. But don’t under estimate the value of the Academy, and its AVI CHAI Foundation sponsorship, as a “hechsher” of sorts for the legitimate use of social media by Jewish day schools.
I make it a point whenever I speak to a group of parents, teachers or trustees, to mention that our school is participating in the Jewish Day School Social Media Academy, sponsored by the AVI CHAI Foundation, in which 20 schools, including this school and that school (drop a few names to impress them with the breadth of day schools that are participating). I explain that this is a year-long effort, that we attended conferences in New York and Washington, D.C., have a calendar of monthly webinars, coaching calls and other assignments. I add that this is part of a national effort to provide Jewish day schools with the 21st century communication skills they need to effectively tell the story of how and why Jewish day schools are the most important investment a Jewish parent can make.
3. Show them how (just don’t tell)
I have found for many of our parents, that it is not enough to tell them to go on Facebook and like our page. You could (and should) just tell the students in your Middle or High School and they would know how to find your school’s page and “like” it. But many of our parents and teachers need to have their hands held and be shown how to navigate this new and unfamiliar terrain.
This could be done by way of an onscreen projector, a PowerPoint presentation, an email message, an instructional video, or a printed handout. For several parent committees, we created a printed handout with screen captures of our Facebook page and explanations of where to click to like the page, like a post, comment, or share a post. If you are meeting with parents about an event that you have posted on Facebook, you need to explain to them how to “join” the event and how to invite their friends.
We also gave them a copy of Ken Gordon’s excellent article, How to Be a Social Media Mentsh (adds the stamp of approval (and encouragement) of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE) as yet another social media “hechsher” for Jewish day schools), and the graphical representation of a social network that Lisa Colton shared with us at our opening meeting. This is not a one shot effort, but a message that needs to be repeated at every opportunity that you are meeting with parents and explaining all the valuable information that can be found on your school’s Facebook page.
Here is a sample of one of the handouts we created:
4.Include social media as part of your ambassador training
One of the initiatives that has come out of our school’s Marketing Committee this year is the need to create a formal Ambassador Training Program for our parents and other stakeholders, such as our faculty, board members, alumni and even High School students. We recognize the tremendous value of our many satisfied customers in conveying the key messages in support of our school through grass roots marketing. It goes without saying that social media needs to be a key component of any ambassador training effort that your school undertakes.
Whether you hire a consultant or coach to run workshops for your parents, or you develop your own ambassador boot camp, make sure that social media is addressed. Start by legitimizing it (show that it’s kosher), and then show parents how to use it by letting them get behind the wheel. The ideal approach would be a discussion and demonstration followed by a hands-on session in your school’s computer lab, with parents actually logging into Facebook (check with your network administrator to make sure Facebook is not blocked by your school’s firewall), and going on your school’s page to like it and view and interact with your content.
Once you get your parents to take a test drive, and once they see the benefits – in terms of increased participation in Facebook events and fundraisers and greater access to information (e.g. school closings and reminders) — you will be on your way to building a stronger community of social media ambassadors who will help support and grow your social media strategy.
Joan Fishbein Feldman is the Director of Communications of Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School in Baltimore, Maryland. Beth Tfiloh Dahan is the area’s largest coed Jewish day school, with students from PreSchool through Grade 12.
The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy is an intensive program designed to help Jewish Day Schools advance their strategic use of social media in areas such as communication, marketing, community building, alumni relations and development. The 2012-13 nationwide cohort of 20 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation. Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here this spring with the tag #jdsacademy
The 2013-14 cohort is currently in formation. If your school or community is interested in more information, please contact Lisa Colton.