More musings on media

maplenol barn on 1-6-11

I began an examination of communication yesterday. (Wow, a free consulation. The district ought to hire or pay me after all of this.) In it, I submitted that the Save the Maplenol Dairy Barn movement grew on Facebook because its communication was genuine, instant, suited to today’s citizens, and had compelling content. In short, it was effective. It worked. Now on to the examination of the School Board’s failure to gain community support because its communication lacked those points.

C. Again, I think the School Board tries to communicate. They appear to own Facebook pages for the district and the high school, which would give them a thumbs-up in the areas of instant and suited to today’s citizens. (It is hard to tell who runs the pages. An Acceptable Use policy is posted at one page and not the other and there is more than one page for Valley High School. There are no links on the WDMCS site to any affiliate sites.) However, Facebook is known for its intense engagement (take a look at the Save the Maplenol Dairy Barn page!), rapid-paced commenting, sharing of ideas, and collaborative planning. Reading two seeming-to-be district Facebook pages does not show evidence of people typing away like they are on fire. Why? No compelling content.

The district page has very fact-heavy posts. They are almost mini-media releases for its 799 fans. Hm. I wonder how many employees they have. LOL The Save the Maplenol Dairy Barn Facebook group has more than 1800 fans. This points to compelling content. A few requests for fan interaction are given, but for 799 fans (its student body is around 2000 in grades 10 – 12), less than 1% are engaging.

And there is no announcement to their fans that the barn is on the market. They did not communicate the sale in the most effective way. As a way to increase trust, wouldn’t board members want their constituents to be involved and perhaps keep the barn in town? Since they didn’t that says to me that they are not genuine in their communication, as if they don’t want anyone to know what’s going on with their money.

Collective buying or fundraising in support of keeping the barn for storage could have come from any of the taxpayers, not just the families of students. Imagine this tweet: “We need to seal up the roof to keep our weed whips clean and dry. Join us in raising the roof for — insert money amount here — woo hoo! #TigerPride” Alumni and residents no longer living in the district could contribute and good vibes could flow; they could see the barn as a monument to their generosity the next time they come to town. How about for the community: “Come listen to talented/caring/etc. district 10yo share his (insert great experience) before tonight’s board meeting at 7pm”  Maybe they would feel good enough to donate again. But this means the school board has to have Facebook fans and Twitter followers, which they do not. Probably because they have no compelling content.

Facebook could have been a great place for the community to give input and ideas to the district for working out the barn issue in way that is convenient and quick for the constituency — “Someone big wants my opinion? How empowering!” When there is an issue that the district knows will be controversial or difficult, it ought to turn to its community quickly. This conduct adds time to the problem-solving process on the part of the board, but how do you measure the idea of “The board trusts that you can handle the challenges we are presented with and we value your thoughts. You supported our ideas in the past, and we want to keep your support. During our campaigns, we listened to you. We still want to listen.” Such a move would also show how quickly the board can act and what its priorities are.

And while a Facebook post about the barn would have been nice, it is not nearly invasive enough. Remember, the number of followers is relatively low. What would be invasive enough? An article requesting input in city-issued WDM and Clive Magazines, an interview in WDM and Clive Living Magazines, or a ‘want ad’ insert in the utility bill would have been acceptable to alert the all the people whom the school board serves. The utility bill avenue would have been especially interesting and compelling. And yes, I said ‘serve.’ The school board is responsible for producing contributing citizens with its schools, for the future good of the community.

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