What Marketers Can Learn About Twitter From Pissed-Off High School Kids

Last month (Jan. 6, to be exact,), the Washington, D.C. area received its first snow of the season -- three to five inches, which sent school boards scrambling to assess driving conditions and whether to delay opening or closing schools for the day.  Most school systems got it right, but one didn’t -- setting off a social media storm that would take over Twitter. 

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in Virginia missed the call. More snow fell than was forecast and froze quickly, making the roads and sidewalks treacherous.  Close to 30 accidents -- including one with a school bus -- were reported during the early morning commute.

Students using the hashtag #closeFCPS expressed their outrage at having to report to class on time in the hazardous conditions. They also became real-time weather reporters by posting videos and photos of snow conditions, roadways and accidents.  

On what was the first day of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and the day after the premiere of “The Bachelor,, a bunch of outraged kids in Fairfax County became the top story of the day, trending no. 1 on Twitter nationwide, second worldwide, and receiving coverage by major media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Postand USA Today, as well as making lead story on all the local news channels.  And as the day went on, the hashtag took on a life of its own.

How’d they do it? 

As a parent of a teenager who attends a school following the snow policy determined by FCPS rulings, I had a front-row seat to the social media frenzy.  What can their success teach us?  Here are five critical components that I observed:

1.     A common cause: Nothing rallies the Twitter troops more than a common cause. This one was a no-brainer. A snow day is a rare and precious gift from the snow gods.  This was cause marketing at its purest.

2.     A common enemy: The villain of the day was Ryan Mcleveen, a school board member who had developed a strong bond with students through social media (Twitter in particular).  Over 41,000 people, many of them students, follow Ryan because he is the first to report school delays and closing -- until he didn’t. That’s when the students made him the target of their tweet bombs.

3.     Short-term objective: Combine a common cause with a short window of opportunity, and you have a heightened sense of urgency to ignite the base and drive the effort. 

4.      Humor:This is what I believe caused the effort to trend and continue trending well past the decision point for canceling school.  The students played a game of one-upmanship with Instagram posts and tweets, with the most humorous being retweeted over and over.  As the day progressed, it was the entertainment value rather than the cause that kept the hashtag trending. 

5.     The bandwagon: Once the hashtag trended, teenagers from other school districts, states and even countries jumped in to support the cause and/or to participate in the fun, many having no idea what the hashtag meant.

The Result

Beyond a formal apology from the school board, the students also got their snow day a day later (along with the following two days of delayed starts) while the rest of the school systems in the area were back on a regular schedule.  But what they may have gained, more importantly, was influence. 

The question became: Were the delays and school closing due to the weather/road conditions, or because of the public shaming on Twitter?  We may never know for sure -- but on Jan. 13, the D.C. area received less than a half an inch of snow. And while other school districts announced a two-hour delay, Fairfax County closed its schools.  #FCPSstudents #Winning

1 comment about "What Marketers Can Learn About Twitter From Pissed-Off High School Kids".
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  1. Tory Houston from student, March 3, 2015 at 3 p.m.

    It is amazing the power of social media in this day and age. I wonder what would have happened if this same incident arose in the 1980-1990's or even 2000. Twitter was not as large and didn't have quite the same effect on users. I would be interested to see what would happen if our class tried starting to trend a topic on Twitter. Since we are all in class at 4:30, we would tweet a topic of a common cause, and follow the rest of the steps that FCSP also did in order to increase the trend. Because of the variety of people in our classroom, ages who mostly range from 19-23, I guarantee the topic would receive some kind of recognition, even if it was just a trending topic in Phoenix. We would also need to find someone who is the common enemy, maybe for example, Arizona State university as a whole.

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