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SALT LAKE CITY — The first school district in Utah to have a Twitter account has become a favorite among its students.
The Granite School District Twitter account, in existence since summer 2009, has about 3,800 tweets to its name and more than 4,100 followers.
Most of the tweets on the account are in response to students who have posed questions to the district, or retweets of students who have mentioned Granite. Ben Horsley, who directs the district's communications department, said he tries to match the tone of individual students' queries.
"This is new territory; no one has paved this way before, and we just decided we're going to be as responsive as possible," he said. "If kids are being silly, we'll be a little silly back. If they're asking a serious question, we'll give them a serious response."
Students have responded to Granite's approach. Horsley said during the past two snowstorms, the account gained about 1,000 followers, with more questions coming in than ever before. Some called for snow days; others pleaded with the district to keep the doors open.
"I think people recognize we're willing to respond to those questions, and that's what social media should be," Horsley said. "We want to be where our patrons are, and those students deserve as much of a response as our adult patrons do."
Been real kids. Check for updates in the morning and most of all...stay safe. I am gonna finish watching A-Team on my DVR. #gnight— Granite School Dist. (@GraniteSchools) January 28, 2013
He said the account has allowed the district to connect with more students than in the past. In some cases, a serious tweet leads to a more traditional follow-up conversation or meeting. In other cases, a tweeted conversation becomes a fun way to interact with students.
Sunday night and Monday morning, as about half a foot of snow coated much of the district, students took to Twitter to call for a snow day for the second time this month. Horsley alternated warning students to watch out for their personal safety and poking fun at students begging for a snow day.
When a student mentioned she didn't want to clean off her car, and that the school district could send someone to do it, the response was "Parking lots AND ur car?" An hour later, a tweet called for the students to stay safe.
"I like the fact that Granite is trying to connect with the students on a more personal and intimate way," said Shannon Clark, a sophomore at Olympus High School in Holladay. "We're one of the best districts, and you can see why. They're strict, but fun at the same time."
Horsley said that approach has opened up communication between the students and the district that he thinks has been more effective than a traditional administrative account would have been.
"When they see they're getting an actual response, they go, ‘Hey my school district cares, they care about what I think. Sometimes they're gonna tell me when I'm being a little dramatic, but at the same time, when I do have a legit question, I know I can go to someone with that question,' " he said.
The district gets a lot of compliments, according to Horsley, and has seen only one complaint about the way the Twitter account is run. Someone thought he wasn't acting like a mature, professional adult, he said.
"I respectfully disagree," he said. "I don't think adults have to be stoic all the time — especially those who are able to reach kids the best, generally can reach them at their level."
Horsley said he is the main person behind the account, although other staff members sometimes monitor it. He believes it is important to show the students that even at the highest levels, the district is seeing students' questions and concerns and responding to them. Many of the students just want to banter, but those who have serious questions can find a place, as well.
Granite has a Facebook page as well, and an Instagram account for which Horsley said he has not yet found a good use.
"These things change over time," he said, "but I think we'll always be in any sort of medium where we feel there's benefit to communicating with our students."