March 22, 2011: Music Watson sat hunched over her laptop in the back corner of a San Diego Convention Center ballroom, typing frantically as a parade of high-powered speakers (Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Salman Khan of the Khan Academy, Richard Riordan, and Lesley Chillcott, the producer of Waiting for "Superman," and others) and charter school luminaries (including Hart Vision Award Leader of the Year Cameron Curry, Teacher of the Year Meredith Dadigan, Judy Burton of the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, CEO of Summit Prep Schools Diane Tavenner and Co-Founder of Partnerships to Uplift Communities Ref Rodriguez) took the stage. Watson's job over the course of three days' worth of keynote speeches and award acceptances was to keep the outside world--the people behind handles and hashtags on Twitter, those checking in via Facebook, and visitors from across the county to CCSA's blog--appraised of the goings on at the 18th Annual California Charter Schools Conference.
"The theme for this year's conference was 'The future of California public education,' so it was fitting to use technology to take the conference into cyberspace," said Watson, CCSA's interim senior vice president, Communications. "By using a variety of social media sites, we were able to more effectively educate people about the exciting, innovative things happening at Conference, and to get people excited about the event."
Both Twitter and Facebook are "social media" sites, meaning (to paraphrase Wikipedia) they use web-based technology to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. For the uninitiated, Twitter is a micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters known as tweets to "followers." Facebook pages allow people to come together online to share information and discuss specific subjects, such as charter schools or education reform. YouTube, a video-sharing site, lets users upload and share videos. Finally, a blog is a type of website with regular entries of commentary, description of events, and other material such as images or video.
The Association utilized each of these social media sites differently. Each night of the conference, the CCSA blog included a post about the next day's highlights. Press releases announcing the winners of the Hart Vision Awards were also posted on the blog throughout the four-day event, and a round-up of media coverage was available the day after the conference wrapped.
"We used the blog to longer-form news and information," explained Watson. "Once we posted on the blog, we could then share the link to each post on Facebook and Twitter, reaching people who maybe wouldn't usually visit our blog via the social media platform that works best for them."
Fans of CCSA who have "liked" the Association on Facebook were able to see pictures from the conference and get updates on conference events, including links to CCSA's YouTube Channel and Twitter page. Visitors to the YouTube channel could watch same-day edits of speeches and videos from the conference. That meant that not only could Oakland-area charter supporters revel in the joy of KIPP Bridge's Hart Vision School of the Year Award by watching the video shown at the conference about the school, they could also, only hours after the video was shot, watch Principal Lolita Jackson accept the award on behalf of the school and hear her give the "morning greeting" to her KIPP Bridge family. And if a couple of hours was too long, CCSA's followers on Twitter could read the short updates Watson was sending during the speeches, sharing the high points of the speeches 140 characters at a time.
"Last year was the first time we live tweeted the conference's general sessions, but this year we really took it to the next level. We shared quotes from each of the speeches, links to the videos, links to related website, and more, all with the "#ccsa" hashtag that made it easy for people searching Twitter to identify tweets coming out of the conference," Watson continued. A hashtag is a way for people to search for tweets that have a common topic, in this case, the 18th Annual California Charter Schools Conference. They are so-named because of the "#," or hash symbol, prefix.
Attendees and exhibitors at the conference also got into the act on Twitter. @WaitingSuperman, the Twitter account used by the makers of the groundbreaking 2009 documentary, shared a link to CCSA's video of the Waiting for "Superman" panel discussion. Culver Newlin (@culvernewlin), a school and office furniture dealer thanked "all who came by to see us and our furniture" at the conference; @CharterInsights dished about his poster session; ACEL-Fresno Charter High School Principal Dave Childers (@davechilders) complimented the conference's speaker lineup; and LA Mayor Villaraigosa (@villaraigosa) gave a shout-out to CCSA through the site, tweeting "Thank you @CALcharters for honoring me with the #CCSA Elected Official of the Year award!"
If all this social media stuff has you confused, you would be well-served to visit the conference website, where you can access presentations on Communications/Public Awareness from the Advocating for the Charter School Movement strand of conference programming that includes social media strategies. You may also want to explore the Online California Charter Schools Conference, a "virtual conference" that consisted of select breakout sessions from the conference schedule at the San Diego Convention Center. While not specifically focused on social media, the Online Conference "marks a new frontier for the California Charter Schools Conference," according to Conference Producer Lee Condon.
"With so many of our schools adopting online curriculum or blended models of instruction, it is important for the conference to also offer sessions online. The Online Conference was a great opportunity to put our 'Future of California Public Education' theme into action by using technology to expand the reach of our sessions beyond the walls of the convention center, and beyond the four days of the conference." Recorded versions of the sessions will be available for viewing online for a limited time period, Condon said.