Instead of playing catch-up when the media calls, two public information experts at Washoe County School District in Reno, Nevada provided marketing strategies to promote the school bus transportation department and highlighting its staff.
School Transportation News caught up with Public Information Officer Victoria Campbell and Social Media Specialist Charles Rahn, to ask them what school districts can proactively do to foster positive relationships with local journalists and the community.
1. Keep lines of communication open constantly, with information about good news (awards, recognitions, etc.) and challenges.
Campbell said it’s important to be genuine and consistent in the messages that are distributed, especially when those messages relate to safety and job dedication. She said that while posting the “happy stuff,” you can’t forget the challenges of negative news.
Campbell advised confronting these challenges as they happen, and the district should acknowledge its part in them. Campbell said districts should enlist the help of the community.
Rahn said that when posting positive news, don’t forget about providing visual examples, like displaying student artwork, projects and other accomplishments.
2. Educate the public about what transportation staff does throughout the year, focusing on dispatchers, drivers, mechanics, administrators, etc.
One aspect of recognizing the staff is finding specific student transporters to highlight throughout the year. Rahn said school bus drivers are often beloved by the families and students they transport daily. Posting their stories on Facebook gives the community a chance to advocate for those drivers.
Campbell said that many drivers have amazing stories. Maybe they decorate their buses for the children they transport, or they used to be a Disneyland employee and now they’re a bus driver. No matter what their story is, they are out there, and people want to read about them. She advised setting up a suggestion box in the transportation department where employees can submit ideas. She said that adding human elements allows people in the community to admire or relate with transportation staff.
If a high school team won a game, Campbell recommended that public information officials include the information on the bus driver or drivers who were responsible for transporting the team safely to and from the event. She said they are just as much a participant as the student-athletes and the coaches.
3. Before there is a delay or cancellation of school due to weather, natural disaster, etc., hold an event where you discuss procedures and how decisions are made, with safety in mind.
Campbell said it’s important to educate the community about what goes into being a part of transportation services at the district. For instance, if there is a weather cancellation, make it apparent that the transportation staff was out early in the morning to check the roads for ice. She added that community members need to know school wasn’t canceled because it’s a little cold outside, but because it was actually unsafe.
4. Consider illustrating the work/training of transportation personnel with a visual event, and post ongoing coverage on Facebook Live, etc.
Campbell advised engaging the public with information about training sessions and to invite the media. Several years ago, Washoe County School District held a bus evacuation drill, where it pumped the bus full of smoke and bus drivers had to find dolls seated throughout. She said the media enjoyed the interactivity of the event, and it raised awareness about what the staff actually does and the training it receives. It’s not just driving a bus, she explained, but watching over children as well.
The district also holds a “Winter Weather Prep” event in the fall, where bus drivers race to see who is the fastest to install snow chains on tires. This is a good way to use social media, since all of the winners can be announced online, as well as photos and videos posted from the event.
Another simpler way to show-off the transportation staff in a visual way, is to use Facebook Live, Rahn added. He said that early in the morning while school bus drivers are coming to work and the sun is starting to rise, use Facebook Live to document the processes and procedures that school bus drivers go through to pick up students.
He said the Facebook Live feature is going to be promoted more by Facebook, as it tries to grow its live video presence. Showing drivers in the morning preparing to pick up children is popular content.
Campbell added that not only are you showing drivers getting ready for work, but also sharing human interest stories. You show how early drivers actually have to wake up and drive a large commercial vehicle, in order to pick-up students on-time while being awake and alert.
5. Share data on how far the district school buses drive each year via a “Fast Facts” page for the start of school.
An example of Washoe’s Fast Fact is: “The Washoe County School District uses 351 buses to transport some 20,000 students back and forth to school each day. Every year, our bus drivers log enough miles to drive back and forth to the moon 10 times!”
She suggested performing some quick calculations to help the community appreciate how far drivers drive. That way, when there is a fender bender, the district is able to provide the number of miles the school covers a year, and that there are going to be some glitches along the way.
6. When there are challenges or changes, refer back to those educational events you held. Stress that you value transparency and good communication with students, families, staff and the community. “As we told you back in October… this is how the system works…”
Meanwhile, there are other challenges to consider when posting to social media. For instance, what platform to use and how often to monitor the content.
Rahn said depending on the department’s bandwidth, monitoring all activity on social media regarding the brand is going to be a challenge, especially with increased privacy settings. However, he said, one should be monitoring the domains that belong and relate to the district, and continuing to watch conversations and answer questions when needed. He added that while it’s scary to not be able to see everything relating to your content, that’s okay.
Another factor to consider when joining the social media universe is knowing what to post across each platform. Rahn said he usually posts the same content, but reformats it per each platform. Posts with videos and photos are going to obtain better engagement, he noted.
Rahn added that one thing to consider is that Facebook’s algorithm determines what people see and what they don’t see on the home page. With that being said, it will penalize you if the post includes a link to an external site. He explained that Facebook wants to keep users on its site, and will show the post to a smaller audience if there is a risk it will be directed away from Facebook.
Instead of directing users to a link for school registration, Rahn suggested, post a video of district officials telling the audience to visit a certain site to register for school. These videos can also show users how to perform the task.
He also said when posting YouTube videos, don’t share the video onto a Facebook page. Instead, post the video on Facebook as original content.
While there are many strategies to consider, Campbell and Rahn said the goal is to recognize and highlight those feel-good stories that bring attention to the industry’s unsung heroes.
Editor’s Note: School Transportation News focuses on student transporters who demonstrated heroic acts in its 2020 January issue.