Using YouTube to Promote Your Schools

Evelyn McCormack
Evelyn McCormack

We all know that YouTube has been used by high school students to clandestinely videotape a fight in the school hallway, or to turn the tables on a teacher they don’t like. The black eye that the media has given YouTube, along with other social media sites, is certainly somewhat self-inflicted.

But YouTube, like most social media, is simply a mirror on society. With three billion viewers a day, and more than 48 hours of video uploaded every minute, you’re bound to witness both the good and the bad.

At the same time, YouTube has worked hard to polish its image. Several years ago, it partnered with the country’s colleges and universities to create YouTube Edu, where you can watch promotional videos and free classroom lectures posted by Harvard, MIT, Stanford and dozens of other institutions of higher learning. And recently, it has expanded that site to include the categories of “primary and secondary education” and “lifelong learning.”

Join the YouTube Yousers

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Dozens of tech-savvy school districts, state education departments and even the National PTA have decided it’s time to join the rest of the universe by using YouTube as a public relations tool. And while any foray into social media can have its pitfalls (anonymous commenting on YouTube, for example), you can control what’s posted on your channel.

Among those using YouTube effectively are the Guilford County Schools (GCS) in Greensboro, N.C., with 338 videos uploaded to its channel since it was created in January 2010. GCS’s videos have been viewed 29,420 times and range from features about students and school events, to panel discussions among educators about learning trends. At last count, 60 viewers “subscribe” to the GCSchoolsNC channel, which means they’ve chosen to receive video feeds from the district on their own YouTube pages.

On a larger scale, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction uses its YouTube channel to post press conferences and messages from the state superintendent, and to promote individual schools throughout the state. The WisconsinDPI channel has uploaded 127 videos since creating the channel in 2008, and its videos have been viewed more than 113,000 times.

One of my favorite school YouTube channels was actually created by OneDublin, an independent, parent-run organization supporting the Dublin, Calif., public schools. This group has its own website and YouTube channel, and its “I Am Dublin” video is one of my favorites. In the piece, graduating seniors individually name the college or university they’ll be attending, and proudly point out that “I Am Dublin” — a simple, but effective way to promote the success of the high school.

Make Connections with Other Social Media

If you’re going to create a YouTube channel, it’s important to remember that most social media sites want you to make connections. If your district already has a Facebook fan page or a Twitter feed, for example, you can easily connect those sites to your YouTube channel. Go to your YouTube Account Settings page and choose the “Activity Sharing” dropdown. There, you can simply choose which of your other social media sites should be connected to your YouTube channel. When you make that connection, your uploaded YouTube videos will automatically appear on your Facebook fan page wall, and links will appear on your Twitter feed.

A number of paid and free third-party applications also can help you to add a YouTube tab to your district’s Facebook fan page, where a real-time library of videos posted to your YouTube channel can appear. Many of these apps, including Involver, Tabsite, and Pagemodo, automatically refresh your YouTube video library. This means that your Facebook fans never have to leave Facebook to watch the latest videos you’ve posted.

Additional Thoughts and Advice

A few caveats about using YouTube:

  • If you’re a one-person school public relations office, take small steps. First purchase an easy-to-use video camera (we use the Flipcam in our office) and practice making brief videos of school events. Then, install video editing software like iMovie or FinalCut Pro, and learn how to use them. Do this before even thinking about creating a YouTube channel.
  • While certainly the decision to open or close comments on YouTube is up to your discretion, most districts close comments on the site. The reason? YouTube continues to permit viewers to post comments anonymously, so comments can sometimes be off-color and downright vulgar.

As the opportunities provided by electronic communication continue to grow, YouTube is one medium that is worth consideration. Think of it as a video newsletter — like a printed newsletter, it allows you to control the content to disseminate your message and avoid the news media gatekeepers.

Evelyn McCormack is director of communications for the Southern Westchester Board of Cooperative Education Services (BOCES) in Elmsford, N.Y., one of the empire state’s 37 regional education service agencies. Contact her at