Leader Leap: Building Authentic Connections through Social Media

by Alicia Fischer

When accepting a position to lead a high school in St. Cloud, Minnesota, I immediately began to examine ways to connect with my diverse stakeholder group, particularly my over 1,400 students. I wanted to establish a connection with students, staff, and families over the summer, which can be challenging since I do not see them face-to-face. I began looking into social media platforms and connecting with other high school leaders throughout the country. In education, leaders have been seeking ways to connect with our stakeholders so that the connection is meaningful and relevant to them and their needs. Eric Sheninger, Principal at New Milford High School in New Jersey, is one of the top social media influencers in educational leadership. He states, “One of the greatest benefits of using social media has been connecting with stakeholders by delivering real-time information on student achievements, staff innovation, athletic scores, meetings and important dates....” Through my research I have found the most important aspects of creating a social media presence is that people see and hear your authentic voice. I love using humor to engage my target audience, my students. Human connections thrive when people are in environments that welcome their authentic selves. For many of our students, their online presence is an avenue to show the world who they are without having to do so in a live social setting. 

Prior to taking this leap as a leader, it is extremely important to determine your goals, who your target audience is, and how to set aside time to learn and engage with your new platform tool. For me, as the first female principal in 50 years at Apollo High School my goal was simply for my students, staff, families, and community to engage with me so they could get to know their new leader. I worked with our district communications department to decide between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Engagement on Instagram is crushing engagement on Facebook and Twitter. Its per-follower engagement rate for top brands is 58 times higher than on Facebook and 120 times higher than on Twitter (Levin, 2016). With Instagram being highly visual and used by a high percentage of high school students and parents, this is the platform on which I decided to focus my communication efforts.  (To learn more about how to get started on Twitter from Confianza Contributors, see here.)

In collaboration with experts in the field, I also used metrics to discover my most influential social media users in collaboration with our district communications department. Not shocking, it was several students. So, on a Thursday afternoon in August, my Insta handle (@apolloprincipal) was created and launched. That evening, I had my first formal presentation with constituents at our fall activities meeting with several hundred students, parents, and coaches present. I created a few flyers that had my handle on it and as I engaged in personal conversations with students, I spoke with them about my goals for my social presence. By the end of that week, my goal was to have one hundred followers. So, fifteen posts later, I have 135 followers and have engaged in several conversations with my students. One week from the date I started the account I received a DM (direct message) from one of my students who said I seemed fun and she was excited to meet me. She then asked me if I like REO Speedwagon. She was at a concert in Milwaukee and saw that I liked live music. My secret sauce was working…. making connections with my stakeholders to build positive connections in my new school community.  

As a high school principal, one other aspect of developing a social media account with students being the target audience is the modeling of appropriate social usage. We know that our students in middle and high school find much of their identity through social media. Students can see their parents, teachers, and school staff utilizing social media in fun, responsible ways.  

Now, after one month of the school year, my follower count is over four hundred and growing. My students are enjoying getting to know me and how much I enjoy them.  

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