The best engagement is content that unifies

When I was a little boy, every morning, between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., I sat in front of the television and watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

I was a loyal fan. I sang along with him. I even dressed up for the affair — sporting a cardigan sweater, of course.

Fred was my friend — except I never actually met him.

I just happened to spend 30 minutes every morning with him, me on my living room floor and he in my television set. And yet, we had a bond — a trust unlike any I’ve experienced in my life.

He took me places — both in my imagination and through his frequent visits to fascinating places in the neighborhood — and yet he never told me how to feel about something. Instead, he gave me two and two and inspired me to make five.

In researching this piece, I came across dozens of articles written by people just like me. We all experienced that same feeling of connectivity to Mr. Rogers. Make no mistake — Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a brand, and an incredibly successful one. But Mr. Rogers the person — he was as real and human as the rest of us.

It reminds me of the relationship many school districts have with their communities. A school district is a brand. They all need to have these five components:

Vision and Mission Statements


A unique message

An understanding of their audience

A connection to the heart

But to parents, school districts are made up of individuals — students, teachers, principals, counselors, nurses, specialists, etc. Parents are connected to the school by the people within it, not the logo on the front of the building. Therefore, your social content has to connect with your audience on a personal level, not in a one-size-fits-all approach.

I work for a BOCES, which if you think communicating on behalf of a school district is hard, communicating about what goes on in a BOCES is almost comically difficult. In short, BOCES provides educational services to school districts in New York state. These services include special education, career and technical education, adult education, professional development, instructional services, educational technology support, library services and a number of management services.

We have so many audiences, that there are endless opportunities for personalization. Recently, we told the story of one of our culinary instructors, Mark Brucker, who just returned to work after battling a life-threatening liver condition.

We told his story, which frankly was emotional enough, but we connected his story to larger tent poles — how important his students are to him, how much he missed work, and the respect and admiration his students have for him. The video encompasses the five components every brand needs to have, and yet we accomplished this by using the people within our organization to tell the story.

The best engagement is content that unifies. Whenever the news gets scary, inevitably, one of my friends posts Mr. Rogers’ now famous “look for the helpers” quote, and immediately, people rally around it, hopeful for the future. The quote is great on its own, but it is amplified because of the relationship we all developed with Mr. Rogers years before. People still connect to Mr. Rogers because what he had to say still resonates with them today. If you’re inspired by something, it’s more likely to stay with you.

Every morning for 33 years, Mr. Rogers appeared on television and spoke to millions of children, and yet I always felt like he was talking to me. No one else. The power of social media is incredible, but so many people misuse it. When it comes to social content, it’s all about the white space between the content, more so than the content itself. It’s the experience and the feeling you’re providing the audience.

What is essential is often invisible to the eye. Social networks are not just each post you create, but the sum of what all of your posts mean. You, as the manager of your district’s social media accounts are controlling the context being placed in front of your audience. You’re curating the sentiment of a living, breathing, social environment.

Since I started writing this piece, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how Mr. Rogers would feel about social media. His attitude toward electronic media perfectly mirrored the love/hate relationship many consumers have with technology today. “I got into television because I hated it so,” he once said. He believed in the staying power of television, so he set out to ensure its power was harnessed for good.

Mr. Rogers used to end each show by telling us that “there’s only one person in the whole world like you — and that’s you, yourself.” For your audience, there’s only one school district for them. So zip up that cardigan and proudly share your district’s stories. Just remember to take the time to do so with genuine care and compassion.