Wake schools’ sassy tweets bring in students

khui@newsobserver.comFebruary 13, 2014 

Addressing students with terms such as “Sugar” and “bae” (short for baby), the Wake County school system is using Twitter for everything from spreading the word about snow days to encouraging reports of cyberbullying.

The school system’s Twitter account, @wcpss, has shot up in popularity during the past month, picking up more than 4,000 new followers on Tuesday night alone. Part of the increase stems from students’ clamoring for news about school being canceled and part from the district’s tweets, which were called “sassy” by the international Buzzfeed website.

“There have been some complaints that it’s unprofessional,” said Stella Shelton, Wake’s interim chief of communications, who writes the tweets along with staff members. “But we’re speaking the language of our followers.”

School districts have turned to social networking sites such as Twitter to communicate to a tech-savvy public. But Wake’s Twitter account got recognition in April from Buzzfeed for tweets such as “But that ‘M’ in the word ‘confusing’ makes us want to keep you in class,” in response to a student’s misspelled plea for a snow day.

That sassiness was still in evidence Thursday as the account was flooded with snow-day tweets.

Wake suggested the “Snow Day: The Musical” video from former local television news anchor Penn Holderness and his family to parents as “something to help you hang in there.” They also offered the video as a response to a snow day video from Durham Academy.

Wake also responded to posts from the Twitter accounts for Oakwood Cemetery and the Peace Street Bridge, both in Raleigh.

Shelton explained that the Twitter account has evolved to relate better to its many student followers. Wake had 39,500 followers as of Thursday afternoon, up from 30,000 in December, Shelton said. She said that traffic has increased so much over the past month that they had to move some content to a secondary server.

“It’s great when your kid brings you Twitter feeds,” school board member Jim Martin said at the Feb. 4 board meeting. “We’re probably the only school system that has kids encouraging kids to sign up for their school system’s Twitter account.”

Wake’s tweet about schools being closed Wednesday was retweeted 2,207 times within three minutes.

As with last month’s winter storm, many of the tweets from students this week were begging for school to be closed.

“If we relied on Twitter and Instagram, I don’t think school would ever be open,” Shelton said.

Snow news isn’t the only thing that North Carolina’s largest school system tweets about. A repeated theme among Wake’s tweets asks students to report abusive Instagram and Twitter accounts so that they can be taken down.

Twitter “confession” accounts have popped up around the nation that include sexually explicit and derogatory comments about students, often mentioning them by name.

Wake encouraged students to “celebrate your snow day by reporting a bully twitter account” to Twitter.

“We’re diligent about trying to make the Twitterverse safe,” Shelton said.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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