Ooooh. Foursquare. That looks cool. Google Wave. Awesome. I totally need to check Klout and see where I rank. Should I use Seesmic? Or maybe TweetDeck is better. Have you checked out the new BrightKite? Should we get Watershed or just a YouTube channel? Which do you like better, Picasa or Flickr?


It’s so easy to get sucked into what I like to call “shiny object syndrome.” If you read Mashable or TechCrunch (or any other number of social media/technology-driven blogs) you will see many new tools and gadgets covered and reviewed. You may be wowed by their descriptions and feel like you’re going to be the only kid on the block who isn’t using it if you don’t sign up right now.


But I caution you, most organizations (especially schools) do not need all the tools and toys they talk about on these sites. Do you really need a Watershed account if you don’t live stream any video? Probably not. Do you really need a paid Flickr account if your head of school doesn’t feel comfortable letting anyone but you post photos to the account? Probably not. And do you really even need a separate Twitter client, or can you just monitor it from the Web?


These are all things to consider before signing up for every social media tool that launches. Although it’s often fun and exciting to be an early adopter of new technology, sometimes it’s smarter (and safer) to sit back and let others road test them for you before jumping in with both feet. Think of all those people who set up Plurk accounts just to be overshadowed by the news media sensation that has become Twitter. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time and energy convincing your head and board of trustees to approve a Facebook Group just to discover six months later that what you SHOULD have done was set up a Fan Page.


As for my take on what tools the “average” independent school needs, Facebook is a great place to start. Open a fan page and promote it among your faculty/staff and parents. Add photos. Cruise around other school sites and see what they’re doing well and what you can improve upon. I recommend looking at Proctor Academy, Saint Mary’s Hall (yes, shameless self promotion), Worcester Academy and Stanford University. You’ll see a lot of great updates and parents/faculty/alumni actually engaging with the site.


Your next step could be Twitter. It’s easy and (like Facebook) completely free…for now. You can even crosslink your Facebook and Twitter accounts to update each other so you don’t have to post in two places.


I would honestly recommend a LinkedIn group as a next step after these two. It’s a great way to help alumni network on a professional level, and you get to be the intermediary and see what everyone is doing. It’s a great way to get information to start a speakers bureau for your school, and it’s a wonderful goodwill gesture for those alumni who might be job hunting!


In no way is this list complete — it’s not meant to be. It is intentionally minimalist to help you get started without becoming completely overwhelmed and wanting to throw in the towel. Give these a shot, and then I would love to hear from you on what you think are the best tools for independent schools. What are your go-to tools and why?

Jennifer Milikien

Jennifer Milikien

Principal/Owner at Local Color Communications

Jennifer is a graduate of Texas A&M University and has an MBA from The University of Texas at San Antonio. She has worked in the marketing and public relations field for more than 12 years and has extensive experience in non-profit, financial services, education, healthcare and newspapers. She has won awards from the Texas Public Relations Association for public relations tactics and planning and for magazine writing and editing. She serves on the board of the Public Relations Society of America's San Antonio Chapter.