Marty Fischer and I had been talking about trying to start a Twitter pride hashtag for about six months. The concept was similar to something we saw during a visit to a school in Chicago. It was only after Courtney’s senior year started off with a couple hiccups in August, that I invited Alex and Courtney to Scotty B’s for breakfast to pitch them an idea for their senior DECA project. I had only a few sentences out before the light bulbs went on and they both ran with my small idea. They had achieved success in DECA in their sophomore and junior years and were searching for an idea to knock out of the park. I never dreamed that they would take the project to the lengths that they eventually did.
Their first meeting was a few days later with all three DECA advisors and Marty Fischer. The girls wanted to pitch the idea and have a brainstorming session. They had the insight to know that if done well -- this was going to be bigger than a DECA project. Their plan was to generate positive pride in their school. The idea was to use social media as a way to promote positivity -- rather than what many students use it for -- putting people down. The girls tweeted a couple times from the newly created @MHWSPride Twitter account and within one day, a student no one would have ever thought would use the hashtag - did so. They knew it was going to work! Students slowly started to use the new hashtag so that now it is common to see at least one tweet everyday that contains the #MWHSPride hashtag.
Alex and Courtney approached their English teacher, Mr. Bulman, about writing the first blog entry: he enthusiastically agreed, and the “170 Days of MWHSPride Blog” was born. Putting their DECA marketing background to work, they started to promote it to everyone they could think of. Recognizing that most parents aren’t on Twitter, the girls quickly realized that they were missing their secondary target market and created a Facebook page for MWHS parents to see the daily blog. Mr. Fischer helped by emailing all MWHS parents about the blog. He also reached out to MWHS graduate Rachel Slavik and the project was featured on the WCCO News in October! Page views increased by 1000 after that news program aired. The project started out slowly, but after Homecoming week, the news stories, and the introduction of the #MWHSPride t-shirt, we started to see that the project was gathering momentum.
Keeping the daily blog entries flowing was by far the hardest part of the project. Courtney, Alex and I brainstormed ideas for “themed” blog weeks. We had many people that helped us along the way, either with their ideas or just by asking others to write for the blog. I can remember saying to myself at Day 70, “how in the world will we get another 100 people to write?” Whenever the chips were down, the blogging gods came through and we never missed a school day without a blog entry. Just because it was hard work, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth it. The blog provided an intimate look into our school and our community through personal stories. I found myself driven to tears on many occasions with either laughter or heartfelt pride in the stories.
The statistics on the blog and the project are staggering. Last week the blog reached 30,000 page views. It has been seen in almost 40 countries and all but one continent. The Twitter account has almost 500 followers. The Facebook account has 330 followers -- with most posts being read by more than 500 people EVERY day.
Out of this pride campaign came a very competitive DECA project in the category of Public Relations Campaign. As mentioned earlier the reach and exposure of the campaign was local, metro (WCCO and Minnetonka Magazine), state (MN School Board Association Conference) and even global (blog). In DECA we tend to see the same kinds of projects year after year in certain categories and neither Steph Lolich nor I had ever seen anything remotely similar in the Public Relations competition. Having already been to the International DECA competition in their sophomore and junior years, Courtney and Alex knew that this project had great potential. In their junior year, they advanced to the finals (which means they placed top-20 in the nation). This year they wanted to make it to the podium (top 3), but came in 4th place. While upsetting at the time, they can now agree that they won so much more! They changed the culture in their school. They made it cool to use social media to promote positive happenings. They promoted school and community pride in all sports, activities and happenings at MWHS. As their DECA advisor, teacher, mom, and friend, I could not be more proud of these two young ladies; they’ve left behind a legacy that will live on at MWHS long after they’re gone!
#WestonkaPride #DECAPride #MomPride #MWHSPride
Alex Riffle & Courtney Simonson
Courtney, Sue & Alex