There is a lot of pressure to pay attention to social media and many organisations dive onto platforms without really thinking through why they are there or what they want to get out of it.
That is where having a clear social media strategy comes in. For me there are three main reasons for having one for your school:
Students are using social media now. There is massive potential in harnessing that engagement for learning. At the same time, there are risks around cyber-bullying, identity theft and damage to an individual’s reputation – and students need to know how to handle that.
Staff and parents are using social media now. It is a great chance to harness enthusiasm for your school and improve communications.
Journalists are using social media, giving you the opportunity to build valuable relationships with the education press.
Many children are already using social media but they are also often at a point in their lives where they have not developed key social skills and behaviours.
And many students do not appreciate that putting something on the internet is permanent. After all, when you are 14, you do not consider the impact of pictures from a Saturday night on your future career, do you?
That is why it is vital for staff to be aware of access issues and arm themselves with information and experience to support students in making better communication choices.
Creating a policy
No-one wants to have technology arbitrarily forced upon them, so when it comes to creating a social media policy, it is important to get buy-in from your staff and students – some of whom may know more about different platforms than you do. Digital media moves very quickly so it is important to identify and engage with enthusiasts. They will help you to stay ahead of any new developments.
For students and staff who are less experienced – or perhaps do not have easy access to social media – it is equally important to bring them on board and give them confidence. Having a clear policy for dealing with negative outcomes can be very reassuring.
Taking the first step
The first question you need to address is: what are you using it for? You also need to assess the existing skills and understanding within your organisation.
Before trying to implement anything new, it is important to take stock of where you are now. Are your marketing staff using social media already? Do any of your teaching staff use it to deliver the curriculum? Which platforms are people using personally?
While investigating your current strengths, you can talk to people about their fears and gaps in their knowledge. Training is crucial for giving confidence to staff who are not digital natives, so discussing this with them at an early stage will really benefit you.
I teach teenagers at a business training college and find Facebook is by far the best collaboration tool. We do a lot of project work and having a private Facebook Group means we can share ideas, documents, videos and resources easily. It also provides opportunities for peer-to peer-learning; I keep an eye on discussions, but students can answer each other’s questions and not just rely on me to respond.
I also use Google Plus Communities with older students as well as shared Google Drive folders so we can collaborate on documents. This is a really useful option for staff intranet solutions as you can easily access shared calendars, a suite of office documents and free video-conferencing.
For external communications, Twitter is a great tool, for posting notices on Twitter, for example, as well as on the school website. This can be done publicly or privately depending on how your accounts are set up.
If you are responsible for marketing your organisation, Twitter can also be an invaluable tool for building relationships with journalists who may be interested in running stories about your school’s activities.
Using social media for personal communications is one thing, but being encouraged to use them for teaching, promoting school activities or internal communications can seem alien.
This is why giving permission – and training – empowers staff to use technology more confidently at all levels.
Back this up with clear procedures for staff and students so that they know where to turn when things do not go according to plan and have clear steps set out for issues that arise, such as online bullying, including taking screengrabs for evidence.
Your strategy should not be a static document that never changes. Technology works best when users experiment and share ideas and your strategy should encourage that.
It is a good idea to have termly feedback sessions with staff to ensure your strategy and policies accurately reflect current best practice. This might seem like a lot, but the great thing about using social media is that you can quickly disseminate and complete feedback, either in the form of an online survey, a Facebook poll or discussion.
Top tips for your social media strategy
Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t understand.
Don’t be afraid of negativity online. People may sometimes say things you don’t like, but if you are online too, you can respond, engage and diffuse.
Just because a platform is built for one purpose, does not mean you can’t use it for another.
Don’t feel you have to be everywhere; pick your social media platforms with care. Social media may be free but your time is not.
Promote online awareness and responsibility among staff and students.
There is so much potential with social media so do not miss out – experiment, ask questions and have fun.
Facebook: Largely the place where people go to share with friends and family. You can “friend” each other, “like” and “comment” on status updates and pictures as well as share other users’ updates. There is huge potential for schools to use Facebook Groups, both as a pupil intranet or for parent-teacher interactions.
Twitter: A micro-blogging site, Twitter encourages you to follow other users who share interests. This can be strangers, friends, celebrities, politicians, anyone you find interesting. For schools, it can work really well as a notice board for quick updates, as well as a showcase and way to drive traffic to your website.
Google Plus: This is the new kid on the block and will not necessarily be one that students and staff are using. Do not let this put you off. G+ has a lot of potential, especially for internal communications. Like Facebook Groups, you can use Google Communities as a tool for project work and private communications. Google Drive lets you share and collaborate on office documents in real time. Google Hangouts let you video-conference with up to 10 users for free, as well as live stream to YouTube where appropriate.
- Jennifer Begg is a social media consultant. Visit http://livefreerange.com. She will be talking about developing a social media strategy for your school at the Education Innovation Conference and Exhibition at Manchester Central, which runs on March 8 and 9. Visit http://educationinnovation.co.uk/