Diocese’s schools using social media to build communities

By Mary Morrell | Correspondent

Schools in Hamilton, (above), Medford and Point Pleasant Beach are among those who use Facebook as a way to build community.

Kevin Callahan describes using social media this way: “It’s like Paul visiting Corinth, without strapping on the sandals.”

Callahan, minister of evangelization and marketing in St. Mary of the Lakes Parish, Medford, sees social media as a tool for communication, growth and community building, sharing the story of both parish and school and the Good News of the Gospel in the process.

“Utilizing the different social media platforms allows us to reach people where they are,” said Rose O’Connor, director of marketing and campus minister in Trenton Catholic Academy, Hamilton, as well as marketing chair for the diocesan PTA Board.

For St. Peter School, Point Pleasant Beach, “social media has been an integral part of communicating with our family, friends and alumni,” said Lorraine Knepple, director of admissions and marketing, who explained that the Blue Ribbon school began with a simple Facebook page and branched out into multiple media outlets, including Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

“Parents often turn to social media for recommendations on schools for their children, and it’s important that our schools have a strong social media presence so they can see that our Catholic schools are an excellent choice,” O’Connor said. “It allows us to share our story and to share information with our current families, prospective families, alumni and donors,” she added.

Social media is also a powerful evangelization tool, noted O’Connor, providing an opportunity to share how students and youth of the Church are putting their faith into action. ”Simple posts can include a link for additional information or can include an invitation to Mass,” she said.

Callahan agrees. “Evangelization is our mission, and we can do it easily through social media,” he said, imagining what Sundays would look like if every student or parishioner “got one person to Mass through a social media invitation.”

Using the Platforms

Among the most utilized platforms for schools are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, said O’Connor, noting that each platform serves a different use for a different target audience.

Recently, Callahan used Facebook effectively to promote the parish carnival. “The carnival Facebook page was overwhelmingly successful, as was the carnival,” he said, explaining that the family event generated a lot of questions on Facebook to which he was able to respond quickly, providing information and building community.

O’Connor explained that Facebook appeals for the most part to adults – families, parents, donors and alumni, while YouTube appeals to young people. “I post all our videos on YouTube,” she said, noting also that during the height of basketball season Twitter gains momentum. “A lot of the sports teams and coaches utilize Twitter, as do many of the clubs and after-school programs in the high schools,” she added.

Pinterest, a social bookmarking site that serves as an online pin board, relies on visuals and often provides teachers with ideas for their classroom and for instruction. In addition, Pinterest can be used to showcase schools and the different innovative lessons and projects of teachers and students, O’Connor said.

Whether schools use some or all social media platforms, it is essential, said Knepple, that “all pages are monitored daily” and a response is given when people interact and ask questions.

Making a Difference

With all of the platforms free to use, marketing and advertising on social media is budget friendly.

“In the current age of digital ads,” Knepple said, “we also use social media as a main form of advertising. We use analytical tools to see how far the advertising reaches and what impact it has on our traffic.”

“For a relatively small cost, schools can advertise directly to a targeted audience, making marketing efforts, often managed on a limited budget, extremely cost effective,” said O’Connor, adding, “All of these campaigns can be adjusted, and data is provided to show how many people have been reached by the advertising.”

As a communication tool, social media “has also been extremely helpful to keep our school families informed about the legal and budget issues that affect our schools as well. Social media allows us to spread the word to our school families and supporters that important legislation needs their attention,” O’Connor said.

The bottom line, offered Knepple, is “when used correctly, social media can be a very positive means of communicating and getting the word out about your programs and community events.”

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