Antonio Viva wrote a post this morning sharing some of his thoughts about why schools shouldn’t ignore social media. He highlights some fantastic points about how schools can and should be incorporating social media into their admissions and advancement outreach. That is one of my favorite topics, and I look forward to continuing to read and write and talk about that role for social media in schools.


But here I’d like to get on my soapbox about why schools can’t ignore social media as part of their education of their students. I was struck a while back by a tweet from a college social media person I follow on Twitter (can’t recall exactly who it was). The tweet was something to the effect of: “Was really excited about a student we just admitted until I visited her Facebook page.” Hmm…


Social media gives colleges and independent schools a whole new way to learn about the kids that are applying for admission. As Ernest pointed out in a post yesterday, that could be a very good thing for the future of the “admissions game.” But as the sentiment shared on Twitter suggests, it could have a down side.


The Universal McCann research that Antonio mentions lends statistical measurement to something that many of us already have a good feel for: the students in our schools – public, private, day or boarding – will be involved with social media in some way. They will have Facebook profiles, they will use FriendFeed and Twitter, they will take pictures and post them to Flickr, they will make videos and post them to YouTube. And if they don’t, they will be looking at pictures and watching videos posted by other people.


It is not uncommon to see stories about how someone has gotten in trouble because of a picture on their Facebook page, or a rant that they posted on their wall, or a video that showed them doing something negative. In the digital world, these things can follow those kids throughout their lives. Over time it may be chalked up to the mistakes of youth. But when they are applying for admission to college? When there are so many qualified applicants, is it possible that a public profile that paints them in a negative light can be a hindrance? (Should it be? Post for a different time!).


To be clear, I am not suggesting that it is ok for kids to do or say the things that are getting them in trouble as long as they don’t post it somewhere. I’m simply saying that schools have an obligation (as do parents, older siblings and other kids) to help teach their students how to be involved with social media. I don’t mean how to create a Facebook account, or upload video – kids don’t need much help figuring that out. I mean we must teach them how to be involved in social media in a responsible way. What is appropriate to post on a public profile? What kind of pictures or video should be shared on Flickr or YouTube? In short, what kind of public, digital persona should they have? It doesn’t have to be clearcoated or sanitized, but it should be appropriate. It should be something that they would be comfortable with their grandparents seeing. Because they very well might.

As children grow up they need to try on different roles and attitudes. They need to experiment and push boundaries. But they need to have safe places to do that. And the Internet is not that safe place. I’m not talking about the danger of chat rooms (important, but not the point here). What happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. Forever…

Schools should expose students to social media, give them access, give them opportunities to experiment and to share the positive things about themselves and the depth of their ideas and creativity. Teach them how to create an online body of work that shows their growth as a student and as a person without leaving a digital imprint of things that used to remain between the student, the dean and the parents.

Steve Ritchie

Steve Ritchie

Co-founder at edSocialMedia | The Proof Group

Steve is a co-founder of edSocialMedia and of The Proof Group. He is a former independent school teacher, coach and dorm parent who loves that his jobs keep him in the middle of the school world.