February 9, 2012

Being social: part 2

If you need to take a moment to look back at my previous posting about all the identities that are officially, unofficially, or absolutely not representing Princeton High School (PHS) (or Princeton City School District (PCSD)), go right ahead.

Now, what's to do about it.

First off, it's not my job to look out for Princeton's online identity. I am, in fact, making a point of divesting myself of some of the non-necessary parts of my Princeton life at this point. Teaching at Princeton High School is my job, and there's a lot of things about PHS and the PCSD that aren't my job. I've also been hired to do a special project in managing the PHS website for the 2011-12 school year, but that special project wasn't defined to include anything like 'watch out for PCSD's online identity', it's a whole lot closer to 'just post some stories from time to time and update some of the stuff if anybody notices it.'

But, in case you wanted to know...

Marketing today isn't marketing in the pre-intertubes era. Back then, a company controlled its image and could sue the living snot out of anybody who tried to take control of that image who wasn't a part of the corporation. Coca-Cola produced ads for Coke. They picked their colors (red, white, black), their images (American, fun, young, nostalgic), their spokespeople (Santa Claus, Mean Joe Green, Selena), their iconography (the Coke bottle). If somebody started making unofficial Coke products (drinks, shirts, whatever), Coke simple sicced their lawyers on the offenders. With Coke's deep pockets, they could simply out sue any monolithic copyright offenders into submission and protect their image that way.

In the interweb age, however, it's far tougher to keep control of an image. Anyone offending that image is likely to be far less monolithic, far tougher to squish like a bug. Parodies, video commentaries, tweets, Facebook statuses are all very quick to spread around the web and almost impossible to remove once they're created and shared. This all means that an organization has far less control and has to be willing to open things up to web users. The best organizations turn this into an opportunity rather than a frustration. The worst thing to do in such a situation is to rant and rave pointlessly at any web user who decides to do something creative.

Steps I think PCSD/PHS should take...
  • Have a plan - Somebody needs to have some vision for Princeton's online presence. That somebody used to be the PR director (with varying quality as the position's gone through three incarnations/office holders in my eleven years in the district). Now, with less money, PCSD has no PR director but needs to have the work done somewhere.

    This could be a single individual (somebody at central office, I would think, because otherwise an individual building would likely be favored if a person at that building were chosen - this is a skoo district, not a district of skoos, after all) or it could be a group of people (somebody from CO, HS/MS/Elem reps, tech savy parent and/or student maybe). In this case I would suggest most of the work be done by employees. Our district makes a huge attempt to include parents and students and non-parent community folks on every committee, and that has its place. It keeps everything open and allows non-employees to provide important input. In this case, however, there is value in having PCSD folks determine how/what PCSD wants to market themselves.

    Then, put together a plan. Figure out what the Viking is supposed to look like (a consistent coloration), figure out what our online red and grey are (this has been done for the new school's interior but not for the web), what the important phrases/graphics are going to be, what the policies are going to be about online Princeton, who's going to search the web once or twice a month to see if a new Princeton persona or website has come into being.
  • Centralize the official presences - The PCSD website is already in place. There are aspects of it that I like, and others that I don't like quite so much. It's in place, however, and I don't think it's going away even with the district's money troubles. The central office folks - or the committee or person in charge - needs to tell the entire district (principals, staffers, whoever) that anything put online using the Princeton brand belongs to Princeton. If it has a Viking on it or says Princeton or PHS or whatever - and absolutely, positively if it's being run by an employee - it belongs to Princeton. That means the account info and password and link info for any of the official Princeton things needs to be handed over the moment the thing is created. If it's not given to the committee (I'm going to stop saying 'committee or person or central office') within one week of the site/persona being created, it gets shut down as soon as the district finds out about it. There needs to be some incentive for quick compliance.

    I don't know if class-specific websites would be included here. For example, I have a Facebook group for my honors chemistry classes that doesn't necessarily represent Princeton but that I have called PHS Honors Chemistry. If I was required to give the control up to the district, I would rename the group to not include PHS or Princeton in the name, but I recognize that the district has a right to know/approve what I'm doing.
  • Reach out to the unofficial presences - Ask every coach to contact their sports boosters, every music teacher to contact the music boosters and communicate to them to district's goals and expectations for any online presence that says Princeton. Ask them to work with the district and be careful about what they do online when using Princeton's name.
  • Try to shut down anybody who won't comply - The Facebook profiles that say they're Princeton but aren't Princeton and don't necessarily represent Princeton well should be reported to Facebook. So should any Twitter feeds or anybody else who isn't Princeton but says they are. At the very least, those feeds should be monitored, and the real Princeton personas should be posting there to make sure everybody knows they're not real.
  • Be vigilant - Somebody needs to be searching the web on a regular basis to see if Princeton's online presence is changing. Google notifications make this a little easier, but there's no substitution for straight up, diligent web searching. Look for Princeton and PHS and Vikings and Vikes and Evendale and Springdale and Sharonville and PCMS and every other school out there in various combinations.
So, where did I go wrong? What did I forget? 

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