Flyers and emails are great communication tools, but nothing beats social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, for building community. These social channels allow your group to directly and immediately interact with parents, creating real-time relationships that feel accessible and personal. The trick to using them effectively is not to repeatedly blast parents with pleas to get involved but rather to showcase what’s wonderful about your community so they’ll want to be a part of it.
And these days, lots of social technology is relatively easy to use, so parent groups can tell their stories and connect with their communities using a range of videos, live broadcasts, filtered photos, and snazzy graphics.
Use our action plan for the first weeks of school to give your posts and pages an immediate boost. These posts work best on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, but you could also use modified versions on Twitter or Pinterest—it just depends where your school’s parents “hang out.”
Before you jump in, take a few minutes to plan out your messaging and make sure you schedule a good mix of content. A quick Internet search of free online content calendar templates will show you options that work with many different spreadsheet or calendar programs, or download our sample content calendar.
Use TikTok, Facebook Live or a prerecorded video (keep it to just a minute or so) to introduce your board members. Don’t be afraid to ham it up for the camera! You could also post a slideshow of board member selfies or run a series of board member baby photos and ask parents to guess who they are. This should generate lots of fun engagement and get people talking!
Show who you really are
The “stories” function on Facebook and Instagram allows you to quickly share a candid moment in time—and that’s what people love to see! Is your team running around (and sweating) while setting up for the back-to-school picnic? Do a 20-second video on Instagram or Facebook with a shout-out to parents that you can’t wait to see them there! (It’s OK if the video is raw or amateurish; in fact, that’s pretty much the point! And remember, stories disappear after 24 hours.)
Keep the mood positive
A thriving social community is a good thing, but when a Facebook page or group gets busy, there can be an increase in negative or inappropriate comments. Having and sharing social media best practices for your group can help keep everyone on the same page.
Take a poll
Ask your community members to vote for their favorite PTO or PTA event. You can use a free poll or quiz app, or you can simply post a question on your Facebook page.
Hand over the 411
Provide parents with information they’ll need throughout the year, including your group’s calendar of events, a copy of the bylaws, the meeting schedule, and the committee chair contact list. If you run a Facebook group, upload the documents directly to the group and store them in the files section. If your PTO has a Facebook page, post the links with a screenshot of the document to catch parents’ attention.
Post early thank-you notes
Say thanks to volunteers who’ve helped with school startup programs, and include photos if possible.
Make the principal part of the team
With her permission, run a photo of the principal with contact information. If she’s game, throw in a few fun facts to make her more real and accessible: her favorite food, movie, and time of year, for instance. You can also try a live video with the principal.
Boost momentum for back-to-school night
Announce your event a few weeks ahead of time with a post listing the date, time, and place. It’s fairly straightforward to design a graphic using a free app like Canva.
Show your school spirit!
Post a photo of a group of students or even the school building and grounds and ask people for input with a question like “What do you like most about our school?” Make sure to like people’s comments, replying to them directly as you have time (“Great idea!” or “I’m with you!”). Or create a video of your mascot wandering through the halls of the school with a message (and appropriate TikTok music) about how lonely he is without his students and can’t wait to see everyone there.
Is there an open house before the first day of school? Any changes to drop-off procedures? Parents should be getting this important back-to-school information from the school, but your group can help get the word out, too.
Document the first day of school
Take a series of videos and photos throughout the first day and post to Facebook and Instagram. You can create a photo album or slideshow of still images on Facebook, or share videos as Facebook or Instagram stories or on TikTok. Remember to get permission to use photos of children.
Share an illustrated quotation
Select one that sums up the spirit of your parent group and will inspire people to get involved. Search for quotes about community, school, teamwork, or other key terms or words. Then use Canva to create an image.
Post helpful resources
Topics important to families like transitioning back to school or parenting issues in general underscore the point that your group is a resource for parents. Share Facebook posts you find from parenting experts. You can also regram Instagram posts using an app like Repost for Instagram.
Promote your first meeting
Get creative. Make up a riddle or give a hint about a door prize. Post a silly photo, TikTok video, or Facebook or Instagram story to catch people’s attention and ask them to come to the kickoff meeting. Highlight babysitting if it’s available!
Put a spotlight on the students!
Is there a student council or student government at your school? Feature the members in a Facebook post with a photo and a quick summary of their top three goals for the school year.
Ask for input
Give families a chance to feel invested by asking them to help name or rename something—perhaps the PTO newsletter or a family event. Offer a few choices of names and put it to a vote.
Terri Frank contributed to this article. Originally posted in 2016 and updated regularly.