February 18, 2020

Tel Aviv Education Department’s Social Media Guru

Danielle Chen

Israelis seem to use Facebook for everything. In a country of around 8.5 million people, almost 5 million are considered “active” Facebook users. And when it comes to crowd-sourcers and peer networkers, the Facebook group is the go-to information resource in mainstream Israeli society. 

Looking for the best kosher restaurant in Jerusalem for a group of 20? Try the Israel Foodies group. Are you an American “oleh” looking for cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving? Check out the “Americans in Israel” group. Want to find out your child’s Hanukkah school schedule in Tel Aviv? Danielle Chen has you covered.

Chen, a lawyer turned social media community builder extraordinaire, is the digital and communities manager for the Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality’s department of education, who reaches out to her constituents via Facebook. There are multiple pages and groups on the site for topic ranging from general information to age-specific communities. As the center of Israel’s “Startup Nation,” Tel Aviv-Yafo has a dynamic and groundbreaking approach to public education including no homework. That’s right. Homework was outlawed in Tel Aviv schools.

The Tel Aviv-Yafo municipality is responsible for approximately 70,000 students from ages of 3-18 and growing. Chen said, “In the last five or six years, people are staying here, with two to three kids. Maybe the kids are [sleeping] in the same room because they don’t have enough space, but the schools are good and are growing.” 

Chen was brought in as a freelance social media consultant almost two years ago for an “only-in-Israel” idea: encourage online communication among various stakeholders, parents, teachers, administrators and government. Today she is a full-time manager at the department, with other municipalities coming to learn about Tel Aviv-Yafo’s communication strategies.

“When people started to understand that we can provide the answers most quickly, they started to trust us.” — Danielle Chen

Chen began her radical experiment in 21st-century government/citizen communication with a Facebook group, enabling parents to ask questions directly to the department’s representatives. 

“Facebook is public, so everyone sees it,” Chen said. “So we have to work faster, according to Facebook’s schedule.” She added that once the conversations started turning from complaints to compliments, she knew she was onto something. “When people started to understand that we can provide the answers most quickly, they started to trust us.”

But Chen’s work isn’t just about municipal government 2.0. It’s also about building community. “Israelis are used to being in communities. We’re communal people,” she said, noting that parents are contacting the department and sharing knowledge with one another, while school administrators are monitoring the comments to learn more about those they serve. Chen has created both a virtual, real-time help desk and a community of peer learning and support.

An early adopter of all things social media, Chen started out on Twitter and quickly migrated to Facebook. She is the current head administrator of the 92,000-member ‘Supergirls’ group created in 2015. “[Facebook], she said, “is a way to find your community, even if it’s not physical.”