Schools should engage in Social Media, but think through policies and procedures first

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Post by: Kim Stephens

Currently, I am helping the Department of Education develop training on social media for their 2011 REMS Grantees (Readiness in Emergency Management for Schools). Since my interest in this area is already piqued, I found this recent story from Texas interesting: “State Sets Social Media Ethics Rules for Educators“.

‘On Dec. 26, new state rules take effect that say educators must refrain from inappropriate communication with a student, including use of cellphones, text messaging, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging or other social networking.’  …Many Texas school districts, including Birdville, Keller, Hurst-Euless-Bedford and Mansfield, are changing their policies and procedures to give educators more guidance.We understand and recognize that social media tools are tremendous assets in education,’said Richie Escovedo, Mansfield schools spokesman.

‘It’s a situation where the technology has outpaced the laws and everybody is still trying to get caught up. Everything we can do to help our teachers recognize the potential pitfalls will help us be in good shape.’

This story demonstrates that social media can be a very personal medium, so people should be careful who they invite into that space. I have advised teachers not to “friend” students–ever. But, on the other hand, social media can be used in a fully professional manner if implemented correctly. This might be a case where the State was caught off guard by not having implemented a policy in the first place and therefore, have thrown the proverbial baby out with the bath water. (This story is from TX so a few colloquialism should be permitted.)

I believe schools should use social media to connect with their community because it’s where the people are: pew research indicates 81% of adults with school age kids use social media. Some goals schools might set when using social media  are:

  1. Increased two-way communications
  2. Improved responsiveness to parents needs/concerns
  3. Improved engagement with community, which might lead to increased awareness of school programs and activities, and potentially even increased volunteerism
  4. and finally, improved flow of information to the community during an emergency.

Regarding the last point, people will turn to social media for information during a crisis whether or not the school or district is posting in that medium. (See this story where people turned to social media for information about a hostage situation in a school because “most of major news networks didn’t pick up the story until 8pm.”) In other words, don’t be left out of the conversation during a crisis or others will fill the void.

But as important as I think it is to be engaged in social media, I don’t think any institution should just get a Facebook page and call it a day.  It is key to think through the following first:

  1. How will social media complement your institution’s current communications strategy?
  2. What types of information do you want to provide?
  3. What types of information might you receive?
  4. What will you consider markers of success?
  1. Who will be delivering messages through social media platforms: schools, district or both?
  2. Who will be responsible for clearing content posted on sites?
  3. Who will be allowed to contribute non-crisis information? (processes and procedures should be spelled out)
  4. Who will be responsible for monitoring social media?
  5. How will information obtained through social media be fed back to those administrators or incident commanders that will need to react/respond or take action?

One additional item, comment policies that establish expectations of parents and students should be written and posted. I would recommend providing information about those expectations to students and parents during orientations and assemblies, not just through written policy statements online. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)

Although this might seem like a lot of work–an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

2 responses to “Schools should engage in Social Media, but think through policies and procedures first

  1. You have to be very careful with social media. Besides cyber-bullying, which is an ever increasing problem , there is also cybersafety issues as well. Any school that encourages social media use has to be careful. The legal implications are quite pronounced.

    • I’m not suggesting that schools “encourage social media”, I’m suggesting that schools participate in social media in order to complement their current communications strategy.
      Yes, cyber-bullying occurs, but schools could use SM platforms as another way to continue educating students about the ramifications of such behavior. I highly doubt students would bully someone on the School’s facebook “wall”; but if that did occur, the student should face the consequences outlined in the school’s posted policies.

      Cyber safety is also a concern, but it shouldn’t be so overwhelming that it prohibits use altogether. Almost every federal agency, including the US Army, uses social media platforms and although they are mindful of cyber security issues, it does not prohibit them from participating.
      It is easy to dismiss the medium altogether as too hard to use, too dangerous, too legally precarious, but I bet 10 years ago there were similar arguments made against schools getting websites.

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