There has been plenty to communicate recently and the NSW Department of Education has been relying heavily on social media to do it.
The onset of COVID-19 accelerated digital transformations in schools in NSW and around the world and it has underlined the importance of a robust digital and social media strategy as did the bushfires late last year.
“When we had to close 367 schools last October, we couldn’t communicate this information on an individual level based on size and scope so we broadcasted this information on Facebook schools. It’s crazy to think that in the past these kinds of instances would have required calls to principals at all hours.
“Today, modern communication is so complex, you can’t get it wrong. In a crisis you have no choice but to get the right information to the right audience with 100 per cent accuracy,” says Carmen Michael, the NSW Department of Education’s Director, Content and Engagement.
The strategy wasn’t accidental, it was underpinned by research and a thorough investigation into the ways schools were communicating. The department’s social media strategy started to take form a few years back with an in-depth survey of 1000 parents. They were asked 140 questions that yielded a deep dive into their use of social media to understand what they wanted from their school and their departments.
“Two years ago when we began our digital overhaul with Hootsuite, we had no way of knowing what would be ahead in 2020 and how imperative a robust digital communication system would become. Today, Education the NSW Department’s lynchpin site has one of Australia's biggest and most engaged facebook networks of 1400 schools,” Michael says.
“We’ve found that because parents are already getting their news, connecting with their friends and family members, banking, shopping and so much more on social media, this is also where they’d rather engage when it comes to their child’s education.”
A strong social media game allowed the Department to contact its member schools with consistent messages almost instantly, the social media management platform Hootsuite drove that effort and was able to provide tracking and engagement information.
“I can’t say enough about the Facebook Schools network – it's incredibly powerful as an alert network. With the hub-and-spoke model Hootsuite developed for us, we can disseminate global updates from a centralized cluster that’s built out with a localised aspect as well.
“We also discovered that Facebook is a phenomenal community tool, and on Facebook we really zeroed in on the importance of video. To help elevate our content, we designed a variety of agile co-designed workshops with our partners to help those executing the strategy; ie: those running the Facebook pages, to become more agile.”
Their strategy was three-pronged, focusing on curated user generated content from schools (UGC) — which enabled schools to create their own content (overall more than 80 per cent of the videos produced are user generated content). They also set up structures for the schools to be able to edit their own videos, offering an editing, distribution, and live stream service, and they showed best practice by creating high-end production samples.
“The final strategy was to be really fast to market. When it comes to a crisis, people are unable to wait for a slow cascade of information through various channels – our platform has allowed us to effectively transmit important information directly from the government down to those who need it in real time.”
The NSW Department of Education has 1.4 million parents on Facebook Schools and 1400 Facebook pages managed by Hootsuite.
“Right now, we use Hootsuite Enterprise, a tailor-made solution with over 150 app integrations. We also use Hootsuite impact which helps us track and analyse all of our school’s social media efforts and prove ROI — as a data driven organization this is incredibly important to us.”
The School Safety App helps advise parents of school closures, which was hugely important during the bush fires.
“We used it every day during this period to update the parent community of openings and closures in our 2200 schools. In these cases we only have one or two hours to share information with the community and this app helped us get the information in the hands of those who needed it, when they needed it the most.”
Social also underpinned the education effort during the virus lockdown, providing motivation for the students and direction.
“Social media also helps us communicate learning from home structures — helping us educate parents on the resources available to them to ensure continuity of education. During the COVID-19 period we had to ramp up our digital learning infrastructure quickly, so we started putting out lessons directly on social.
“At this time, we also launched #educationlive where we spoke to a variety of high profile celebrities every morning to kick off the day of learning. They would do a 15-minute class on Facebook Live – this was a really great tool in keeping our students engaged and looking forward to the day ahead.
“We’ve also found that Instagram is a great app for early childhood education – as it’s a highly visual medium. In addition, we have our own parent app and a wide range of local apps for learning.”
The strategy was reliant on access to the internet and suitable devices which was a preoccupation for the department.
“Beyond safety and security, we were concerned with ensuring that all kids had access to devices and the internet during the COVID-19 social and physical distancing period – with equity of digital becoming a primary focus for us.
“In rural communities where the internet is less consistent, we had to get creative in terms of how we could provide continuity of education. We were able to strike up analogue relationships with networks such as with ABC television who were able to broadcast lessons every morning for kids who didn’t have access to internet and devices. At this time, we also provided free internet packages to those who needed it. We feel grateful that we were in a position to ramp up digital and analogue learning infrastructures very quickly at this time,” Michael says.
Image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay