Social Media | Q&A
Social Media's New Direction at LAUSD
Earlier this year, Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest, appointed Stephanie Abrams, a former television reporter and anchor, as its first social media director. Although budgets are tight, much of the funding for the new role came out of a pitch the district made to the nonprofit Goldhirsh foundation. T.H.E. Journal Associate Editor Stephen Noonoo recently spoke with Abrams about her new role and how districts can find a new voice through social media.
Noonoo: Part of your job entails educating school staff on social media. What are you learning?
Stephanie Abrams: We're putting out a social media survey that will be going out shortly that will give us a better idea of who is actively using social media and who is just beginning and needs to catch up. What I am finding just from personal experience, and that's by no means a measure of what's happening in the district, is that the students are way ahead of teachers and their parents when it comes to using social media.
For example, a teacher might have a personal Facebook page that they're using to keep their family up to date and all of a sudden they're getting all these personal friend requests from students and they don't know how to handle that because they don't really want their students to see their whole personal lives on their Facebook page, but they don't not want to friend the students because they feel like the students should feel included. So they're in this awkward position, which is why we have this social media policy which we just put out that says to the teachers: It's OK to friend students, but not on your personal Facebook site. Set up a separate Facebook page in order to communicate with them about class work only and follow certain guidelines. It's OK to use social media responsibly.
Noonoo: Are you noticing increased engagement with parents and community stakeholders on social media channels?
Abrams: When we first named and launched the Facebook and Twitter accounts around March 17th there were very few people checking in. We had about 100 people looking at the page a week. Now we've reached 16,080 a week and we continue to grow, although our actual "likes" are climbing more slowly. It's been over a month and we have 1,278 likes. This is a service that was desperately needed in the LAUSD community and as parents, schools, and teachers are learning about it the emails are starting to pour in with requests to share news about their activities and school accomplishments.
There's so much to share. Now we need to grow our audience so that the message is heard.
Noonoo: How are you hoping to do that?
Abrams: I am slowly spreading the news about LAUSD's new Facebook page by meeting with teachers, student leaders, and parents groups, and interested media learning of our Facebook page and social media efforts are starting to share the news. Information about the new sites is also spreading virally. We hope to share information about our social media outreach through our @LASchools Updates on our YouTube as well. I am doing my best to share the news internally and virally as there is no budget for a formal campaign.
We have a total enrollment of 919,930 at LAUSD. I would hope that we could engage tens of thousands more people as the community learns that LAUSD is offering them an independent and continually updated news feed of information relevant to them and their families. I also think that the Facebook page could become a great tool for fundraising for our local schools once enough people are fully engaged or "like" us.
Noonoo: What are some specific goals for growing this presence?
Abrams: I would hope that down the road every school sets up their own Twitter or Facebook accounts enabling the principal or other school leader to send updates to their teachers, students and parents. I also would like to see every school have an independent YouTube account as another tool for teachers to educate with. YouTube.com/education is filtered so that the information is student appropriate. Our filters at LAUSD schools block everything else. We also have a very robust website: lausd.net, which is getting a complete makeover. And, we are the only district I know of with an online news magazine, called the LAUSD Journal, which features unique articles about our schools written by members of our communications team.
I recently wrote an article about a tweeting teacher who calls himself a "tweecher." In addition most of our departments are beginning to develop their own Facebook sites and Twitter accounts, such as [after-school program] Beyond The Bell. We are all eager to share our work here at LAUSD and I strongly believe that once people realize the access and information is here for them, they'll be thrilled to join our conversation.
Noonoo: You've mentioned before that you're trying to bring your district into the 21st century. What exactly does this mean?
Abrams: What that means is that is we don't depend on outside media to get messages out. We are part of a conversation, and people have full communication with everyone who is making decisions here. There is no longer an "us versus them" mentality. It is replaced with a "we."
It's about communication, and it's no different from communication in the past, it's just a different method for it. I think that in many ways government, or at least LAUSD, has been weeded out of the communication in regular media. There's a lot that cannot get out using the Los Angeles Times or NBC News or any particular newscast because they've got a lot of other things to report on that are much more grotesque than what's going on [here]. So it's trying to find a voice in a place where we've been drowned out. Spreading the message is a frustration.
Noonoo: Do you foresee other districts creating similar positions in the next few years?
Abrams: Yes. In fact we've been in communication with several school districts that are encouraged by the idea of finding an independent voice for sharing news of the district and are seeking to fill similar positions.
Stephen Noonoo is an education technology journalist based in Los Angeles. He is on Twitter @stephenoonoo.