With the announcement that it will be using social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to encourage students to embrace the back-to-school season, Chicago Public Schools are taking a big step in relating to kids in their own domain. The district has set up a Twitter account, CPSbacktoschool, and hopes celebrity and media partners will get the word out about the first day of school via Facebook.
But CPS’ decision to leverage Twitter is odd, given research that shows teens don’t use the microblogging service. Facebook and MySpace are the realms of teenagers, while Twitter has proven to be the “it” network for tech geeks, journalists, potato loving spambots and, well, grown ups.
“We’re excited about moving our message into the realm of these social networking media, and we believe this initiative could have implications on how school districts throughout the country increasingly will communicate with their various constituencies,” said CPS chief Ron Huberman last week.
It may be a case of CPS thinking that since everyone else is on Twitter, the school system should be, too.
But a quick glance at CPS’ back-to-school tweets, shows there’s a disconnect.
Alexander Russo, a blogger who covers CPS on his District 299 blog, tweeted that CPS doesn’t understand that Twitter is not a teen haven: “Chicago tweets ‘back 2 skool’ notices 2 kids & parents . Guess they don’t know kids don’t twttr.” (sic)
It’s a clear dig at CPS, yet CPS diligently re-tweeted Russo’s note, as is customary to do in the Twitterverse when you find something worth sharing. It shows there may be a lack of understanding on how to leverage the social media tool.
For an expert look at how CPS is using social media, and specifically Twitter, I turned to an old colleague, Gini Dietrich, president and CEO of local PR agency, Arment Dietrich, Inc.
“By looking at their Twitter stream, it’s hard to tell what they’re trying to do, other than get Ana Devlantes to do a story,” Dietrich says.
That may be difficult, given Devlantes’ recent unemployed status -- she recently left NBC -- and Dietrich thinks CPS needs to decide who it is targeting on Twitter.
“If their objective is to get information to parents that they’d normally send home with kids, I think they’re using it appropriately. If they’re trying to get class and extracurricular activity information to students, they are wasting their time,” she says. “Their news release doesn’t tell me much, either, other than they want kids in classes on the first day. Is it the job of the kid to get there or is it the job of the parent to get them there?”
“If they figure out their audience is parents, this probably will work. If their audience is the kids, they’d better get over to Facebook and stop wasting time on Twitter,” says Dietrich, who blogs about social media topics. She says it looks as if CPS needs to reevaluate its social media strategy to decide once and for all who it is trying to reach on Twitter.
“Their level of understanding is pretty small and they could end up hurting their brand if they don’t hurry and find someone with some experience to at least help them set the strategy and figure out the right campaigns,” she says.