About Face – Can schools use social media positively or should they steer clear?

No-facebook-meSocial media and social networking sites often get a bad press when it comes to schools. It seems that any mention of Facebook within the school gates sends senior staff scurrying for the HR handbook and students scurrying for cover from the latest round of “trolling” (web-based bullying).

And for good reason. It is not hard to find news stories on a weekly basis where the negative aspects of connecting people with people across a fairly anonymous network are brought in to sharp and often tragic focus. Take the sad case of 14-year-old Eden Wormer from Washington state who recently committed suicide after years of playground and online bullying or the recent case in Brighton of a girl who had to move away from both her school and the county in which she lived to escape Facebook bullying.

School staff do not escape the negative coverage, especially where the story turns “salacious” like the recent coverage of the teacher fromWales who’s inappropriate Facebook posts hit the headlines earlier this month.

In the face of such local, national and international negative coverage, schools are burying their heads in the sand and deciding the best course of action as far as their own social media activity is concerned, is not to do anything. This way, they can placate anxious parents and governors by being seen as not endorsing the pathways used by errant staff and bullying children.

But they are confusing two (if not three) separate areas:

1. Online bullying and inappropriate comments are behaviour and HR issues. They can (and should) be covered by appropriate policies and procedures as in any area of staff and student behaviour, be that online, offline, written, verbal, shouted, screamed, whispered or punched. The method in which these transgressions occur isn’t the problem, it is the transgressions themselves.

2. Use of any form of communications for the distribution of clear, relevant, engaging and useful information is a good thing. Social networks, like a newsletter, are a form of communication. Schools like newsletters, therefore schools should like social networks.

3. The use of social networks for actually assisting in the education of children is growing fast. Teachers love being able to get their hands on relevant content and resources for lessons and services such as YouTube for Schools and Facebook for Educators are paving the way for more and more education to take place online and on social networks.

Just because number one happens, doesn’t mean number two and number three shouldn’t.

If we take Facebook as an example, it has over 483 million daily users worldwide. So what? Well, some of those users will be your current parent cohort and also potential parents. So that means you have a ready-made audience for your very own Facebook “fan” page.

Facebook is a brilliant platform for sharing information. Parents love information that will make their lives easier. Share information with parents on Facebook and it is a marriage made in heaven. You can tell them about upcoming events you want them to come to, good news you want them to hear, important announcements they need to be aware of, even tell them the school is closed due to snow.

It is also free (unlike SMS messaging) and if you have the right kind of set up, you can publish the same information to your Facebook page at the same time as to your website, avoiding task duplication.

You also DO NOT need to engage with people on Facebook. You can simply “turn off” the ability of people to post comments on your page. This means you do not need to moderate the page to either delete negative comments or respond to genuine requests for more information. Just direct people to your website (also known as “driving traffic”) for them to email or call you or learn more about the school in a controlled environment.

Engaging with people on Facebook in its fullest sense can come later, once you are more confident and have the requisite skills in place. There are real benefits to taking full advantage of the engagement features of Facebook. It is better that people put their negative comments to you directly so you can deal with them in a positive and proactive manner and this is one channel for them to do so.

Remember, always communicate with people in the way they like to be communicated with. They will then take more notice and also be grateful to you for taking the effort to do it.

In terms of social networks, users will also view you as an organisation that is forward thinking, open, trusting and innovative.

Not a bad set of characteristics to be judged upon and certainly not negative!

Please submit your comments below.

John Brennan has been with digital and marketing agency Concept4 for over 16 years and has experience of many aspects of public and private sector marketing. In the education sector John has worked with organisations from right across the spectrum, assisting them with their branding and communication strategies including advice on the best approach to digital communications, web strategy and combined on and off-line campaigns.

You can view the work and case studies of Concept4 at www.concept4.com

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