Finding Our Social Media Compass

The Jewish Day School Social Media Academy exceeded all of our expectations and in many ways has taught us “how to fish.” We still have work to do in terms of our policies, our long-term goal-setting, and the benchmarks we want to set for ourselves, but we now have a direction and a pretty sweet compass. With Facebook as the primary social media platform utilized by our school families (past, present, and probably future), that’s where our focus began. But it was just the tip of the icebook.

OUR THREE MAIN TAKEAWAYS

1. There’s More to Facebook than Cute Faces

Through the Academy, we were able to develop an authentic voice and an organized strategy for Facebook. Sure, we still use it as a window onto the school, but we have learned how to use it to facilitate conversation, spark discussion, and communicate widely. The days of posting a cute picture aren’t gone, but the days of only posting cute pictures sure are! We are being more thoughtful, intentional, and creative about using Facebook for:

– Certain school-related announcements (e.g. a school-closing announcement Vine)
– Sharing information from our community partners
– Celebrating school and community accomplishments
– (Re)Connecting with alumni
– Fundraising
– Linking to holiday and other Jewish-related resources
– Posting educational videos (e.g. TED Talks)

2. Smarts & Strategy: How, When, and Why to Use Social Media

Still, it’s not just about quantity. Over this year we learned with and from others about how, why, and when to use social media. For me as Head of School, the part of our Academy project that had the most impact was exploring how to bring my own voice to our school twitter account (@CHALeads). To let my voice be the school’s voice and to identify it as such—as opposed to our twitter feed being essentially anonymous. While the number of (publicly identifiable) followers hasn’t skyrocketed, the quality of my twitter conversations certainly has. Through working with Liz at Big Duck and Lisa at Darim, I’ve found a way to bring my own voice forward as a representation of our school. As the school’s head, it’s important to me (not to mention my responsibility) to be present everywhere I can, and Twitter is an entire universe to be present in at any time.

3. Setting Fundraising Goals: Clear, Urgent, and Achievable

Our culminating project through the Academy was our CrowdRise fundraiser, a social/viral one never seen before in our community. Based on one of our new initiatives (“Community of Kindness”) that speaks to all different people in the Jewish community here (i.e. not just our existing families), we built the fundraiser around three motivators:

  1. The limited window of availability of the AVI CHAI Foundation matching funds
  2. The relative down time in our overall fundraising calendar
  3. Achievable, conceivable goals

Our initial fundraising goal was $5,000, which we thought was reasonable and achievable in the 5-week window of the campaign. Thanks to the urgency of the match and the sharing that some of our friends did online, the message spread, and we surpassed the original goal with time to spare. We were able to also use an iPad Mini as a bit of a carrot to dangle: donors of $36 or more were eligible to win it through a random lottery! So we revised it up and set the new goal at $10,000—an ambitious amount for a school our size and in a short time frame. We finished the campaign having raised over $8300!

All in all, the Academy project was a major success for us even without the fundraiser. Through the coaching calls and webinars, we were engaged in thinking about (and supported in implementing) several components of a social media strategy and action plan. While one year isn’t enough to see any of them come to full fruition, we’re now equipped with the tools to continue the process on our own.

Especially that compass!

 

Noah Hartman is the Head of School at Cohen Hillel Academy.  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 2013-14 nationwide cohort of 15 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here with the tag #jdsacademy

Complete the Social Media Self Assessment for your school at http://www.dayschoolacademy.org/assessment

It’s Everyone’s Job. Plan For It.

As we often say at the Davis Academy, life is a journey: a journey of learning and discovery; a journey that embraces family and community; a journey that broadens our world.  As we embarked on the 2013-14 school year, our advancement team joined together on a year-long journey to better define what social media looks and feels like at the Davis Academy. This journey has provided us the opportunity to reflect on how we utilize social media and how we can better engage our constituents via the various avenues of social media. Prior to embarking on this journey, we were already using social media (Facebook and Twitter, in particular, to various degrees); however, we had not been very strategic about our approach.

This journey, our Jewish Day School Social Media Academy experience, has given us the coaching, guidance (and nudging) we needed to go outside of our comfort zones and to experiment with new approaches, strategies, and projects. Our biggest takeaway has been the simple realization that social media is everyone’s job and that timing is everything. That being said, with the guidance of our amazing coach, we have taken a closer look at defining our social media policy, developing our content curation strategy, and are striving to further empower the members of our community to authentically become involved in the SM storytelling through formal trainings. 

Many members of our community (faculty, parent ambassadors, alumni and administrators) have an established social media presence, and it has been a yearlong goal to streamline this activity into a more collaborative effort.  All of our constituents have amazing content to share individually, but by sharing collectively the impact is significantly more powerful. In order for the shared effort approach to work, we have quickly realized that some formal training is imperative.

We have identified a core group of Host Committee Members/Parent Ambassadors/Faculty Members who already recognize the tremendous value and the impact that social media can have, and we are using this core group to train and engage others as well.  While much of this training took place midway through the school year this year, we recognize that there will be much greater momentum in future years when these trainings occur right from the start. In the fall, as part of our Host Committee kick off, our parent Co-Chairs will begin with a dialogue around social media (as we have done for the previous two years).  This dialogue will then be extended into a hands-on application session in our Tech Lab where the co-chairs will walk parents through the ins and outs of Facebook and Twitter (aka Facebook/Twitter 101).  Together, they will have the opportunity to explore the Davis Academy Facebook page, Twitter handle and grade level specific hashtags, interact with the already existing content, and curate new content themselves in a supported setting.  We want our parent ambassadors and host members to feel empowered to post, share, tag, like, and comment as they go about their everyday activities. In a similar fashion, our faculty and administration also are taking a more formal approach to SM training and are holding sessions for other key players like parents, grandparents, and teachers to join in the collaboration. 

Thanks to the monthly webinars, coaching calls, and ShareFests with other JDS Social Media Academy schools, we feel we are better equipped to use social media as a communications tool to reach more families and community members.  We look forward to involving more constituents and improving our practices to tell The Davis Academy story through these valuable channels.

 

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 2013-14 nationwide cohort of 15 schools was generously supported by The AVI CHAI Foundation.  Each of the schools will be sharing insights from their experience through blog posts here with the tag #jdsacademy

Reclaiming My Social Media

As a rabbi and Jewish educational leader, I have used social media, including Facebook and Twitter, extensively. Sadly, in recent weeks there was an epidemic of the use of my social media in ways that I considered to be negative or insulting. We’re all had that happen:  someone posts an insult or an obscenity and we have to decide how to respond to the situation and to the individual.

Cleaning up my social media mess is becoming a bit like a mikvah immersion.  For a month, I am holding off my usual weekly routine of posting, and re-purifying and reclaiming my social media presence not only in reaction to a particular set of circumstances, but in a proactive way that will help me to lead that presence, both as an individual as well as professionally.

During the month, I’ve been renovating my Facebook and social media presence and creating, in effect, my own social media policy, so that my Facebook and Twitter presence reflects my values. The guidelines and day posts, which can be followed on my personal Facebook or on Twitter (@JewishConnectiv), with the hashtag #reclaimingmysocialmedia:

Social Media Cleanse

  1. Social media is social. Cleaning out people who watch but don’t share.
  2. There’s enough hatred in the world. Cleaning out people who consistently add more hatred, and deleting sarcastic comments.
  3. My social media is safe place for expression. Cleaning out anything or anyone who makes it unsafe.
  4. Done with narcissism. Cleaning out narcissists and limiting “selfies”.
  5. Respect. Fostering respect for one another on my social media.
  6. Humor. Adding humor and joy to my social media, and inviting others to do so.
  7. Music. Adding music that will make people smile or dance and inviting others to do so.
  8. Educating. Posting something that people will learn from. Making everyone a teacher and learner.
  9. Repairing the world. Adding something to social media that will make the world better.
  10. Adding passion. Inviting everyone to share their passions on my social media.
  11. Sharing something personal and inviting others to do so. Taking risks is part of social media.
  12. Setting limits. Prioritizing the 3 most important things to post daily, 5 comments I want to make to others and 10 things to “like” each day.
  13. Learning silence. Not every comment needs a response. Respecting people’s comments by letting them be.
  14. Exercising ownership. Nobody has an unlimited right to post or comment on my FB wall. Granting the privilege to those who are respectful and removing comments or people that aren’t.
  15. Reaching out to someone new. Adding a new contact regularly. You should try it, too.
  16. Looking backwards. Some past posts no longer reflect who I am today. Cleaning up and trashing what no longer fits.
  17. Stop using general posts when what I really need to do is to talk to one or two people about something. No sense in broadcasting what is really an issue that only involves a small number of folks.
  18. Posting something that doesn’t do anything for me but could really make a difference for someone else. Like a piece of wisdom or experience.
  19. Promoting someone else today. Maybe their business or career, or their value as a friend.
  20. Reducing use of my social media as free therapy for others. Being an online psychotherapist or relationship counselor does do them or me justice. Being a friend does.
  21. Letting go. I don’t watch to see who’s “unfriended” me. I figure anyone who does has a good reason and I respect that.
  22. I use Shabbat to turn off for a day. I encourage you to take a weekly social media fast.
  23. Setting a face-to-face or Skype or Hangout with someone I usually see only on social media. If the vast majority of your friendships are only on Facebook, it’s worth turning that around.
  24. Practicing humility. The insight I share on social media might be valuable. But considering the possibility that it isn’t.
  25. Stopping reading between the lines. A comment is a comment. If you think a comment needs exploration, ask. Most often, people say what they need to and that’s it.

Talmudic law speaks of our responsibility for any potential dangers that may lurk on property that belongs to us. Our online presence is no less our responsibility. I am neither the first nor the last to clean up his/her social media presence.  I have found inspiration in those who have practiced greater mindfulness in regulating their social media involvement. And I am honored to know that many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers have found value in my campaign and have begun actions of their own to take greater charge of their social media activities.  In closing, I invite you to consider:

  • What actions do you take to protect your social media presence and to assure that it reflects you and your values?
  • How do you keep interactions (and the participants in those interactions) safe?
  • If you were writing your “ten commandments” for your social media presence, what would they be?

 

Rabbi Arnie Samlan is executive director of Center for the Advancement of Jewish Education in Miami, FL and founder of Jewish Connectivity, Inc.

A Place for Us to Listen

JCDS started off the 2013-2014 academic year with what I would have considered a strong social media presence. While the school has been active on many social media channels for some time (Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, LinkedIn), most of my focus had been on Facebook, as it is a quick and easy way to share photos, videos, and important updates with our parents, grandparents, donors, and alumni.

Looking back, I wasn't thinking about social media in the right way. While I posted nearly every day, the most engagement I got was a couple of likes here and there. I was posting, not connecting.

Through experimentation over the last six months, I've learned that my role, as the voice of the school on Facebook, is not to be a news source, but to create an environment that starts conversation. Once I was able to get the conversation started, Facebook became a tool unlike any other. It became a place for me to listen to what our audience values, which in the end, is the most important thing of all.

By analyzing the engagement levels and analytics of our recent posts, here are the top 5 Facebook strategies that have been successful for JCDS:

1. Tag those who are involved, and those who you want to be involved.

When you tag someone in a post or photo, it will show up on their Facebook page. Not only will it directly call attention to the person you want to be involved, but your post will also be visible to their network, and therefore, reach many more people who you otherwise would not have access to! I’ve had success asking people to tag themselves and their friends. The benefit of this is twofold: they are actively engaging with the post, and they may tag people who we are not yet connected with.

2. Ask questions.

Asking specific, pointed questions is a great way to get the conversation rolling. Sure, I’ve had a few flops, but those helped me learn what our audience likes to talk about. I've seen success in action in many of my #ThrowbackThursday posts, where I've asked (via tagging) people in the photo specific questions about what's going on in the picture. One comment leads to the next, and pretty soon anyone who sees the photo gets a deeper understanding of what was happening when the photo was taken, and hopefully feels more connected to story I am trying to tell.

3. Be genuine.

In January, JCDS students were surprised with a visit from the 2013 World Series Trophy. First, I posted that we had big news with a photo of one of our staff members dressed as a Red Sox player. The next day, I posted a photo of excited kids (and tagged their parents) and shared that the trophy would be coming. Then — the most successful post of all — was a video of a 4th grade teacher telling the kids that the trophy was coming. Seeing their pure and genuine reaction definitely resonated with our social media audience: 38 likes, 19 comments, and the jackpot, 12 shares. The video was even written about in the local newspaper, the Watertown Patch. This kind of engagement was unprecedented for us.

4. Repeat successful themes.

Between the regular daily posts, I've committed to a few repeating themes. One universal theme, #ThrowbackThursday, has been a great way for us to connect with our alumni and alumni parents. I’ve gotten a tremendously positive response from our throwback photos. Because this is a weekly theme, the audience knows to expect it. And because there are usually a lot of comments, people are not shy to participate.

I also created a new theme, called #JCDSCharacter. I felt it was important to celebrate our students through short stories that capture the spirit of our school. Parents love to see that they are sending their kids to a school that helps them grow into mensches. It's also a great tool for prospective families. Every time a #JCDSCharacter post is shared, a whole new audience is exposed to the great things that happen in our school.

5. Engage with other organizations.

Celebrating successes of other schools and organizations is a beautiful thing! Just as much as we want people to engage with our school Facebook page, it's important to interact with others. While I am on Facebook, I make sure to take the time to look at what other organizations are posting. If they post something that relates to our school or community, I share it on our page. Fostering good-will between organizations is priceless, and the favor is almost always returned.

 

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 2013-14 nationwide cohort of 15schools 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

Also, check out the Jewish Day School Social Media and Video Academy website, which includes a free self-assessment to help your school focus on key areas of growth in your social media work.

Top Ten Tech Tips Learned from the Book of Esther

Cross-posted with permission from OurJewishCommunity.org

In today’s world, holiday celebration is usually juxtaposed with whatever else is going on at the time.  So it was with my celebration of Purim this year, as I was travelling into the holiday from the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin and the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington DC. I couldn’t help but reflect on Purim in the context of technology, and I discovered that the Book of Esther is full of helpful tech tips!

As background, Purim is one of several Jewish holidays to commemorate the resilience of the Jewish people in the face of oppression (otherwise known as: they came to kill us, we won, let’s eat!).  The main characters in the Book of Esther are King Ahasuerus of Persia; his beautiful first wife Vashti; Haman, an evil official of the king; Mordechai, a kindly Jew; and Queen Esther, the second wife of Ahasuerus, who was Mordechai’s relative and also a Jew.

Another piece of background: There are two ways to approach biblical texts.  One is exegesis.  This involves a careful, objective analysis.  The other is eisegesis, a subjective, non-analytical approach.  It lets us read our own message into the text.  And that’s exactly what I decided to do.  Here's what I learned:

1.  Diversity matters.  Throughout the Nonprofit Technology Conference, many spoke of the importance of diversity in tech teams – the need to include women, minorities, and others who are so often excluded.  Purim celebrates diversity as well.  The cast of characters includes two queens who are quite different from one another, and two courtiers at opposite ends of a good-to-evil continuum.

2. Avoid the shiny object syndrome.  The king’s shiny object was Vashti.  But when he wanted her to prance around naked in front of his friends, she refused.  If he wanted a queen who doubled as a display piece, Vashti wasn’t that woman.  He was wooed by her looks, and never bothered to see if she had the substance needed to accomplish his goals.  Of course, I’m speaking from the king’s perspective of viewing Vashti as a beautiful, objectified woman, rather than from my feminist perspective.  But the parallel holds: with technology, it’s critical that we look past the sexiness of the package to make sure it does what we want.

3. Collect data and ask questions.  Several conference sessions addressed the importance of data.  Haman could have used that lesson.  When King Ahasuerus asked how he would honor a great man, Haman said he would dress that person in royal robes and lead him around on the king’s horse.  Haman assumed the king was talking about him, but it turns out the king was asking how to honor Mordechai.  If Haman had done things thoughtfully, he would have first gathered data and then answered based on that.  We need to make sure our tech decisions are data-driven as well.

4. Just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come.  Haman built gallows for Mordechai.  But, it turned out that’s not what the community (and in this case, the king) wanted.  In fact, Haman ended up being the guy who was hanged.  So don’t assume that, just because you build something, people will want it.  Maybe you’ll be the only guy using that tech in the end!

5. Go big or go home.  Be loud and bold and crazy.  Like Esther, be yourself. And be willing to make noise.  Wear a mask occasionally.  Experiment with tech.  Try new things on for size.

6. Don’t drink and tweet.  Be responsible.  Though it’s a mitzvah (commandment) to get so drunk on Purim that you don’t know the difference between Drupal and WordPress – or Salesforce and Oracle – drink responsibly.

7. Segment your audience.  If we were writing and disseminating the Book of Esther today, we would share it differently with each audience.  For example, kids would get a text about hamantaschen (cookies), queens, and noisemakers.  Adults would get an email about nudity, drinking, and violence.

8. Think before you hit send.  King Ahasuerus had already decreed that all the Jews should be killed – before Esther told him she was Jewish.  When he wanted to reverse the decree, it was too late. So the story had to end with the king allowing the Jews to defend themselves, and therefore tragically slaying tens of thousands.  He would have been better off not issuing the decree in the first place.

9. Borrow from the past, but decide what to discard.  The Bible is a series of myths and legends.  Its authors were brilliant and creative.  I still look to some of my ancestors’ writings for meaning – but not to all of their stories.  Some are simply not meaningful to us today, so we also create our own authentic stories.  It’s the same with technology.  We have to decide what to hold on to and what no longer serves.

10. Be disruptive.  The Purim story is about disruption.  Mordechai changed history by refusing to bow to Haman.  Vashti disobeyed the king.  Esther disrupted the norms too.  In an effort to save the Jews, she appeared before the king without having first been summoned – a clear violation of royal protocol.  The authors of the Book of Esther knew that it is through disruption that society moves forward, just as disruptive technology helps us create new markets and value streams today. 
As someone who values the ongoing evolution of the Jewish experience, I celebrate disruptive Judaism and disruptive technology.  Through disruption, innovation happens. Meaningful experiences emerge.

Laura Baum is rabbi and co-founder of OurJewishCommunity.org, an online synagogue that reaches hundreds of thousands of people around the world.  Follow her on Twitter @Rabbi .

Its Not About The Likes. Reach Higher in Your Online Alumni Engagement.

Originally posted on EJewishPhilanthropy

As part of the #NetTalks Alumni Engagement Webinar Series, Beth Kanter, nonprofit social media and engagement guru, taught an important lesson during her recent presentation: you must invest in building your online alumni ecosystem, and then you can turn to activating it to achieve your stated goals.

You don’t just want people to “like” you. And you don’t actually want them to start engaging the moment they become alumni. And you don’t really want to share information about your program with them. Really.

Why?

  • Because “liking” your Facebook page or your content is just the beginning. It’s potential, but it’s not the goal. You want alumni to follow you, engage, advocate for you, and donate. The “like” is merely one early step along this path.
  • Because beginning to engage should happen before they become alumni – focus on developing long term relationships and mature communication channels that flow in both directions!
  • And finally, because you want to be in conversation with alumni, not broadcasting information at them.

Building your online alumni ecosystem cannot be based on one-directional broadcasts, nor rest primarily on reminiscing about the past. The opportunity to leverage social media and networks is huge, but requires that we pivot our approach to be more empowering, more conversational, and more personal. (Join the next webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19th to learn about “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”.)

Take this example from URJ Camp Kalsman: When beginning to hire staff for the summer, they turned to their alumni (and potentially current older campers and parents of current campers) on Facebook to ask, “We are in the midst of hiring our summer staff and we want to hear from you! What do you love to see in a camp counselor?” By asking a question, the camp invites engagement, values the perspective and experience of alumni, and gains important insight for their future hiring. They’ve moved from “liking” to “engaging” and those who respond actually may influence the experience of future campers.

Beth also showed several examples from schools that are using reminiscing as an entry point to strengthen their network. Their “Throwback Thursday” photos are intended to go beyond reminiscing – they are getting alumni to tag their friends in the group photos, which creates or re-creates a strong group dynamic and builds energy.” It’s not about the school, it’s about the relationships that were fostered there. The Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn, NY had 78 comments on a photo from the 1970′s, as alumni talked with each other and reconnected with old friends.

Moving from engagement to activation, The Jewish Community High School of the Bay featured photos of beloved teachers and coaches holding signs (“Coach says GIVE!”) that prompted alumni to join in the communal effort to reach their fundraising goal – tagging friends to contribute and asking for photos of their favorite faculty.

Social media is social as much (or more so) than it is media. As a professional seeking to engage and activate your alumni community, consider yourself more “party host” than “alumni magazine editor”. To play this role, you must have the right tools in your toolbox and know how to use them. However, doing it well goes far beyond technical proficiency. Be a good listener, steward conversations, and empower your biggest fans to enrich the network with their voice, actions and relationships.

If you missed Beth’s webinar, view her presentation here. To learn more about activating an alumni network, join the next #NetTalks webinar with James Fowler on Feb. 19 on “Mobilizing the Network: The Power of Friends”. Register here.

Tips for An Effective Professional Presence Online

Cross-posted from Clips and Phrases

I was putting together a presentation for Jewish communal folks on developing an effective professional presence online, including some bits about the personal/professional continuum, some about reputation management, some about privacy vs. publicy, and other technical tips. Before I finished the presentation, I asked my network: What advice would you give? Here are their answers…

Rebecca: Creating separate lists for professional contacts and adjusting privacy settings accordingly.

Arnie: Ask questions consistently. Value people’s responses. Engage them in conversation. Respect them. Maintain a sense of humor and a sense of perspective.

Deborah: Just like in in-person communication, consider verbal, vocal (tone) and non-verbal (appearance). They all make an impact.

Stephanie: Nothing is truly personal. You must always represent yourself professionally, even in your personal spaces (i.e., your hobby blog, your “personal” Twitter.

Liz: Don’t just “sell” your programs and/or yourself. Also answer others’ posts, share others’ ideas/posts, participate in the on-line community.

Peter: Be a digital role model (easier said then done).

Ken: Don’t just talk to your own pals. Better yet: try and make new pals, as often as possible.

Lisa: Be generous — respond when people ask or share. Also, re Stephanie’s comment which I 100% agree with, look at the ratios of personal sharing, professional sharing/promoting, generosity/appreciation for others, network engagement, etc. Only a small percentage should be the cute things your kids said (that don’t relate to anything else), otherwise professional contacts will have a hard time taking you seriously. All about the ratios.

Mimi: Connecting with people authentically, keeping things light/funny (the new professional) and warm! AUTHENTIC. GENUINE. REAL. HONEST. (Grabbing my thesuarus here ;)).

Asaf: To the point about reputation maintenance online, I think the best term is personal branding. I think from a professional point of view, people should consider their online presence as supporting the brand that is them. This relates to what they post,where they post, and to whom they post.

Isaac: To be a brand you need to have a consistent voice, tone, message and point of view. To be a personal brand, the above needs to be authentic and closely connected to your actual personality and style.

Big thanks to everyone who contributed to this post! Check out the presentation here.
What advice would YOU give?

The Value Added of Engagement

Originally published on the Grantcraft blog

There are over 500,000,000 users on Twitter – and I am one of them.

As President of a family foundation, I spend my day managing the foundation’s operations and staff, working with partners in the philanthropic and organizational world, and searching for new, innovative projects to invest in. Our foundation advocates for and advances the full inclusion of people with disabilities into the Jewish community. Our focus is on creating lasting change and I work tirelessly in pursuit of creating a fair and flourishing community.

I speak at conferences, conduct interviews with journalists, meet with legislators, and do whatever is necessary to push the issue of inclusion onto the agenda. Like you, I have a very full schedule filled with meetings, phone calls, site visits, and still more meetings.

And then I started tweeting.

Most of my philanthropic friends and foundation colleagues do not use social media, for a variety of reasons. I myself was unsure of how effective Twitter could be in helping to change the status quo. But I embarked on this experiment six months ago to see if I can build community around the issues the foundation advocates for. I understood that it takes time to build an audience and find one’s voice online. Change does not happen overnight.

Of utmost importance was having a Twitter strategy in place. I knew in advance who the influencers I wanted to engage were and connect with, what type of content to push out. Certainly I had much to learn:  how to engage, how to effectively use the platform, when and how to post and how to conduct conversations. Through trial and error I have learned and the early results are encouraging – there has been a definite increase in the number of conversations, retweet and mentions. (Notice I didn’t mention number of followers- that’s not a metric I’m using to measure success). Additionally, my tweeting has brought increased exposure for our foundation’s official account and we have seen a marked upswing in traffic to our blog.

So far, so good.

People ask me why I tweet – especially those who think Twitter is where people post about their morning coffee! I see Twitter as an integral tool to furthering our mission. Here’s why:

– Tweeting allows me to see who the players and influencers in this field are. Connecting with them allows us to share experiences and knowledge.

– Twitter is helping to position our foundation as a thought leader in the inclusion arena.

– It allows me to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities and raise awareness of the issue.

– By showcasing the wonderful work being done by our partners and grantees, we advance their individual missions and contribute to “grantmaking beyond the buck.”

– Social media opens my eyes to other projects out there, the latest news and trends and that allows us to have a finger on the pulse and assist us in becoming a smarter funder.

The central reason why I tweet is because people connect to other people. Putting a face on our foundation’s activities helps create a more intimate conversation and can bring more people into the fold. People connect to my passion, my sense of urgency to create sustainable change and as President, I have a unique voice on the issue people want to hear.

Funding innovative projects is not enough – we want to move the needle. The value of social media is the ability to reach the masses, meet people where they are hanging out and engage them. I want to tap into the energy and passion young people have for issues of social justice and encourage them to become involved, advocate and be at the forefront of change in society. I want to use my newfound connections to urge organizational leaders to make their communities more inclusive.

When I look back in a year or two, I hope to have raised awareness and to have caused more people in the Jewish community to realize the importance of the issue. This will go a long way to realizing our foundation’s mission, one tweet at a time.

Jay Ruderman is the President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. Engage Jay on Twitter and follow the foundation as well to learn more about inclusion.

Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About

Originally published in EJewishPhilanthropy

During Open House season, schools are looking for ways to stand out among the crowd of institutions trying to reach prospective parents. Talking about a school’s “warm and nurturing community” and the “academic excellence” is only going to get the school so far.

So what else can schools do to rise above all the noise?

When we are faced with many choices, we often rely on word of mouth from friends in our social networks to help make our decisions. So it was clear to us at The Jewish Education Project that in order to promote the school in a unique way, we need to have the parents involved and we need to get the parents talking.

As Bonnie Raitt writes and sings, “Let’s give ‘em somethin’ to talk about.” Or in the 21st century version of this, let’s give parents something to Facebook about.

Parents who are part of the Parent to Parent (P2P) network have been learning about the power of social media to share their stories about Jewish day school education, and adding their voices through local parenting blogs and the Parent to Parent site. The challenge has been to keep them talking, especially during peak periods, such as open house season. Here’s where the campaign approach comes in.

The P2P campaign model organizes parents for a specific time period to talk about a value, an idea, an event – any focus point unique to the school that will help prospective parents get a better idea of what that school, and the community it fosters, is all about.

A very creative campaign can promote the school, without necessarily talking about academic excellence or the nurturing environment. Take for example a marketing campaign for Mercy Academy, an all-girls’ Catholic school in Louisville, Kentucky. In an article about the campaign, the writer explains “The campaign, created by Doe-Anderson, a Louisville-based advertising agency, is meant to reflect one of the school’s core goals: to help its students become independent, productive women in the real world.” And as you can see in the ad, they didn’t need to show science labs or innovative technology to get the message across.

Jewish day school education is first and foremost about imparting positive values to our children. You know it when you experience a Jewish day school education. We need to give parents a framework to convey those values with their friends.

A P2P Campaign in Action: Mazel Day School

The highly engaged and motivated parents of Mazel Day School (MDS) of Brooklyn were the brave pioneers who first experimented with this approach. When I asked the parents what they love about the school, most of them had a real, emotional reaction to the question and talked about the school’s successful approach to imparting positive values. They are extremely proud to see their children grown into mensches.

It was no surprise that they suggested a Photo Mitzvah Campaign promoting the value of the children doing good deeds by inviting parents in Brooklyn to submit pictures of their child doing a mitzvah or good deed. The Mazel parents wanted to reach parents from Jewish early childhood centers in the area, so they partnered with several of them on the campaign. The submitted photos were shared on Mazel Day School Facebook page. The photo with the most “Likes” on Facebook won a $400 Amazon Gift Card.

Mazel Day School parents gave out fliers in the early childhood centers, emailed their friends, sent Facebook messages and talked to other families. The parents now had something to talk about.

The campaign ran for five weeks and opened new doors for the school to reach prospective parents. For the first time, Mazel Day School officially partnered with early childhood centers in the area: KingsBay Y, JCH of Bensonhurst, and Shorefront Y. These new relationships can now be leveraged for other partnership opportunities and for reaching prospective parents. The campaign increased exposure of the school to the broader community. Mazel Day School Parents overheard parents who were not part of the school talking about the contest. The Mazel Facebook page experienced a significant boost during the competition period, including 50 news likes on the Facebook page. The last time they had so much traffic was when their school was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy; now the attention was due to a positive story that truly highlighted the school and the community. In their reflection about the implementation of the campaign, the Mazel parents wanted to organize a larger group of parents to lead and implement the campaign to reach an even larger audience of prospective parents.

At their upcoming open house, the school will ask prospective parents how they found out about the school. At this time, the Mazel parents will be able to evaluate more specifically the reach of their campaign and where they need to focus their future outreach efforts.

Action Steps: Running a P2P Campaign in Your School’s Community

Consider experimenting with this campaign approach to promote your school. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Invite a minimum of three parents in your school to run a campaign.
  • The parents should identify a value, event, or other unique aspect of the school that excites them and would be appealing prospective parents. If it doesn’t galvanize your current parent body, don’t do it, because they won’t be talking about it with their friends.
  • Identify your target audience; be very specific on who you want to reach with the campaign. Mazel parents aimed specifically for parents of children in local early childhood programs, for instance.
  • Get talking! Play around with different social media tools to spread the word about the campaign. Empower parents with the tools they need to keep the conversation rolling.
  • Most importantly, make it fun! Turn it into a competition, make it into a game. Let the parents get really creative and make it their own.

Best-selling author Seth Godin writes: “Stories are the way we navigate our world, our chance to make sense of who we are and what we do.[…] Nonprofits make change, and the way they do this is by letting us tell ourselves stories that nurture our best selves.” Creating a buzz and chatter around your school requires giving parents a great story to talk about. Day school parents are part of a movement committed to giving their children the greatest Jewish education possible. Let’s build that movement; let’s help parents get their stories out.

What will your community share?

Parent to Parent is an initiative of The Jewish Education Project and is made possible by a grant from UJA-Federation of NY. Learn more about Parent to Parent on our website, blog, Facebook and follow us on Twitter. If you are a New York area day school and would like to get staff assistance to implement this project, contact Irene Lehrer Sandalow, Project Manager in the Day School Department of The Jewish Education Project at [email protected]