The edSocialMedia crew swooped into Windward School in Los Angeles recently for a boot camp that involved several Windward faculty and admins and also many professionals from neighboring schools. Uncharacteristically, it rained buckets (sorry, East Coasters expecting a little vacay), but the day was a huge success: everyone worked together in teams, shot video, created blogs, interviewed people on campus, and shared ideas about how to tell our stories better. See some of the stories here.  (Scroll to “When It Rains . . .”)

 

Speaker Travis Warren said something that really struck me:  Social media creates shared engagement and shared meaning. The goal is to get people to participate and to extend the experience.

Our goal in the Windward Communications Dept. is create community engagement and give a picture of what life is really like on campus through new stories, photos, videos, and live streaming. But I wondered: just how shared is that engagement? With this thought in mind, several days after the edSocialMedia Boot Camp and inspired by the collaborative nature of the day, we came up with our most ambitious social media project to date at Windward: Founder’s Day Goes Interactive.

 

Founder’s Day began several years ago at Windward as an art festival and slowly transitioned into an all-campus event that honors the School’s founder, Shirley Windward. Soon the celebration blossomed into an eclectic event of academic and artistic activities. Basically, it’s a huge all-day carnival on campus that involves students, teachers, parents, and alumni. Since all Windward community members are there, and it’s always too big of an event for our two-person department to cover, I thought it was a perfect way to get people to participate.

 

A couple of days before the event, here’s what we did:

  • We posted a News story on our home page and emailed it to all community members including parents, students, teachers, and alums that said:

Windward’s annual Founder’s Day celebration this Friday from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. will honor the vital spirit of school founder Shirley Windward as we celebrate her 91st birthday. All parents, students, teachers, and alumni are invited for the big day! Can’t make it but want to participate? Come to WindwardSchool.org for a live photo Flickr feed and Twitter stream from several members of the Windward community.

  • We created a live Flickr feed on the school’s home page so folks could view photos of the event as it happened. Easy, right? But we decided to take the next, big, boot camp-inspired step: we invited everyone to post photos. Create shared engagement, shared meaning. And as it turned out, the Visual Arts Department was doing a project encouraging people to take cell phone photos that they would print out and post on a large window on campus. Collaboration! We worked with them and arranged to have the posted cell phone shots uploaded to our Flickr account so everyone could view the photos live as the event went on! We later edited some of the photos for a final gallery that we posted on the home page and sent to applicant parents.
  • We put a Twitter widget on our home page and created a hashtag (#wwfoundersday) so our department could post tweets, twitpics, and twitvids throughout the day. Cool, we thought. But not cool enough! We then decided to “deputize” two trusted students (very important) from the Windward Bridge newspaper staff and also taught community members in Athletics and the Arts to tweet. That way we would all wander the event, tweeting schedules for upcoming performances, shooting videos of the jazz ensemble, taking photos of the three-point contest in the gym. The point was that each person would document and tweet what appealed to them.

View the Founder’s Day Flickr Live Photo Archive.

The result was amazing. The Founder’s Day social media project let the community create their own reflections of the day as all members became storytellers for the school. It got some people tweeting for the first time. And it resulted in a work-flow benefit for our department because many covered the event in a way that Communication Coordinator Justin Malvin and I could never do on our own and never with such diversity of views and perspectives.

Afterward, our Head of School was ecstatic. He said that the gallery was a real reflection who the school is. That’s about the best thing a Communications Dept. can hear.

 

Getting buy-in from the Head of School was significant because getting senior admins to see the benefits of social media can sometimes be a challenge (something I’ll be talking about at the Whipplehill Summit in in Nashville in June). In this case, the key was to do it as safely as possible (deputize students) and to get everyone involved. The Head and other senior admins will now be more willing to let us employ social media tools in the future because they see that it works and meets their goals of creating a community and effectively telling the story of Windward School.

Has anyone else tried this? Let me know what you think and share suggestions.

Stephen Johnson

Stephen Johnson

Communication Strategist and Consultant

Stephen Johnson has been involved in education as a teacher, writer, and communications professional for over twenty years. He is currently a communication strategist and consultant for schools, small businesses, and non-profits; and since 2009 he has worked with some of his favorite people ever at edSocialMedia, where he currently runs boot camps and consults.