The Salt Lake City School District, under the handle @slcschools, recently reached 1,000 followers on Twitter. Its Facebook page is covered with accolades for teachers in the district, recaps of holiday service projects and a picture of Santa Claus next to a statue of a ram at Highland High.
Social media, a growing force around the world, is growing in schools around the valley as well. It not only links parents and students to important stories and happenings inside the districts, but also will be an important component to keeping children safe in the future.
Granite was the first district in Utah to embrace social media. Under the guidance of communications director Ben Horsley, Granite's twitter feed, @GraniteSchools, has grown to more than 3,400 followers. Horsley started the feed in 2009, initially to communicate with the media, but has seen rapid expansion among Gen-X parents.
"It's a demonstrated fact that parental engagement is key to student success," Horsley said. "Our overriding goal is to increase community engagement, and Facebook and Twitter are tools we've found to be very successful at doing that."
While many educational feeds, consisting mostly of event updates, remain distant and faceless, Horsley says interacting with users makes a big difference in quality. Horsley joked around with students in recent weeks complaining about shortened holiday schedules and also uses the Twitter account to answer direct questions from parents.
Ryan Shattuck, a social-media expert who updated and maintained the Twitter account for presidential candidate Gary Johnson, says that's the best approach to keeping the feeds relevant.
"Too many corporations and organizations make the mistake of keeping their social-media feeds so professional-sounding that they come across as personality-less automatons," hesaid.
With recent safety debates rising in public schools, Horsley has also seen, firsthand, the importance social media will play in awareness and security. When West Lake Junior High was put on lockdown just after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Twitter feed became like a town hall, providing updates and answering up-to-the-minute questions from concerned parents.
"Often, we get more responses or connections to our social media than we get through traditional methods like phone messages and email," Horsley said. "The feedback portion is also critical. It gives people an outlet to report unsafe behavior anonymously and keep us informed about what's going on."
"It takes a couple of minutes to make a phone call or send an email about a potential issue with school safety," he said. "It takes only 30 seconds to post a tweet or post to Facebook."
At a glance
Granite School District has tweeted more than 3,200 times, often making it a point to update multiple times per day.
Salt Lake City and Granite school districts have made Twitter and Facebook updates part of their emergency-preparedness plans.
Along with the district feeds, Granite spokesman Ben Horsley says it is important for parents to follow the feeds at individual schools. Each school maintains its own account.