POTTSTOWN PA – The staged takeover of the official Twitter feed last Friday (March 7, 2014) at Pottsgrove High School (@PGHSnews), in which senior class President Shelby Burnley (@SheezyBurnleezy) substituted for Principal Dr. Bill Ziegler as chief observer and message sender, was as much about marketing and branding as it was about education and fun, Ziegler said.
And Pottsgrove High fans can expect more of the same in just a few weeks. That’s when, according to the principal, new guest Tweeters will issue “Easter Tweets for a day.”
During the Friday experiment, which Ziegler characterized as “a sort of a pilot,” Burnley intended to give a-day-in-the-life view of a Pottsgrove High student to those reading and viewing her 140-character-text and photo messages over the Twitter network using a searchable hashtag (#PGHSLearns). Ziegler said he selected her for the task because she was familiar and comfortable with the technology, perceived as a leader among her peers, and expressive.
He clearly was delighted with the outcome, and she was all of the latter and more … at least in the view of local news media. The (Pottstown PA) Mercury, its editor Nancy March, and its reporter Evan Brandt, as well as The Sanatoga Post and its managing editor Joe Zlomek, followed, reTweeted or commented on many of Burnley’s activities.
There was groaning at her ages-old jokes, grudging admiration of her Tweeting proficiency (she typed faster and took better photos as the day wore on, a few readers thought), and even some Twitter envy: Ziegler reported “huge student interest” as many approached him asking to be Burnley’s successor in future sessions.
As a result, the day also was a marketing bonanza of sorts. Forty-three new followers joined themselves to @PGHSNews, Ziegler noted, the bulk of them students. The student body was encouraged to follow the stream and Tweet back, “so long as they weren’t doing it during instructional time,” he added. “And the number of reTweets, more than 70, were “enormous,” he judged.
Feedback from teachers also was “very positive,” he claimed.
Although Ziegler billed the exercise as one that “showed we value the voice and the opinion of students,” and which promoted “the life skill” of using social media, he acknowledged it also was about “branding your school.” That’s a phrase popular among members of an entirely different Twitter audience, Ziegler’s peers in weekly online discussions from the Pennsylvania (@PAESSP) and national (@NASSP) Associations of Secondary School Principals.
“Many of my colleagues have already done this,” Ziegler said of the Twitter feed ‘hijacking’, “and they’ve found great success with it.” The “newness of it” is exciting, he said. It instills pride in belonging to a school, other principals contend. It builds a word-of-mouth buzz among students, particularly those who are featured or photographed in a Tweet.
It created a few hard feelings as well.
A couple of students sent direct messages to Zlomek during the day, complaining they were told they could not use their cell phones to follow Burnley’s impromptu remarks. Ziegler believes them to have misunderstood the ground rules, or maybe were told to pocket their phones while a class was in progress.
“I’ll make sure it’s clear next time,” he said. “When they’re not busy or not in class, we want them to follow along. That’s the whole idea.”
Photos from Pottsgrove High School via Twitter