Part 1: It’s Institutional

“Social media, I gave you the best years of my life, but never again. I know where I am wanted. Screw you [insert social media service here]. You broke my heart.”

I’ve been trying to write a blog reaction to Leo Laporte’s condemnation of social media but struggled to pin down exactly why I’m so bothered by it. I think that it boils down to the fact that someone with a netcast network with 175,000 regular viewers essentially felt shunned when “no one noticed” that a piece of his social media puzzle (the recently cancelled Google Buzz in this case, which I don’t even really consider social media as much as an extension of Gmail, but that’s a different story) wasn’t working as expected and then decided to bail on social media in general. Even worse was that he eventually took it all back when the bug was fixed and everything started working again.


With his core message spread with his netcast and then extended by his social media outreach, I don’t see much of a difference from what a lot of our schools look to do with websites and social media. We have our core audiences, the ones we know will find us wherever we put our news, and the extended audience, the extra eyes, that social media brings us. But imagine if some of our schools weren’t getting quite the eyeballs on our social media outlets that we expected and so we just gave up on the whole endeavor. It would be a ridiculous overreaction to a lack of engagement — rather than redouble efforts or fine-tune strategy, why not just give up?


The core reason why schools and organizations embrace social media is to build and extend communities. We’re in it for the engagement, potential and realized, and not the ego. We’re in it for the sharing and the give-and-take, even when it might seem like more give and less take — and that’s ok. We should look at social media missteps as room to improve and fine-tune our strategy.


I’ve come up with a lot of one-liners that I thought would get a little more traction than they did (in person, in writing, and in 140-character bursts). Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don’t. But you don’t give up. It’s not your ball to take home when you get frustrated and ruin the game. Remember what we teach our kids: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.


Part 2: It’s Personal

We’ve been making a steady push in our middle and high school grades to get students to blog regularly — not just for assignments or projects, but to take advantage of the amazing personal publishing platform. I’ll admit that we’ve had mixed success, but we’re getting better every year and slowly it’s becoming a part of what our students do. Our blogs are open to the world, though we do have a healthy bit of comment moderation and haven’t yet done much to focus attention on them. I’ve been happy with how we’re progressing.


So I was surprised a couple of weeks ago when a parent met with me and expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the fact that her middle school student was blogging in plain sight of any eyeballs that found the blog on the internet. Even though we had the site open to regular visitors but blocked by search engines, one posting was drawing heaps of spam comments — none of the comments were posted online thanks to comment moderation, but each blocked comment landed in the student’s inbox.


The parent and I had a good discussion about privacy, though we fundamentally disagreed on what should be done. Spam comments aside, I pushed the parent to see the value of publishing on the web and the benefits of a healthy portfolio of student work on the internet. The parent was understandably concerned about the student reading the garbage comments in her email, but also a little less understandably (to me, anyway) concerned about the potential impact of an errant typo or blog post on the student’s future endeavors; she would have been more comfortable if the student was blogging on an internal platform that could only be seen by other students and teachers, which to me completely misses the point of web publishing and teaching students to use real tools on the real web for real engagement.


What I think I’ve come to realize is that we can’t necessarily consider student blogging in the same light as we do our institutional social media outreach. We have to take a more considered approach that makes sense for our schools — and it’s different with our students because it’s an inherently more personal endeavor. The ground rules that we play by in the classroom have to make sense in the bigger picture of our school communities, their expectations, and their norms. We have to bring everyone along together while celebrating successes, spotlighting leaders, and learning from the lumps that we take.


Image credit: Kristina B

Basil Kolani

Basil Kolani

Director of Information Services at The Dwight School

Father of two, ed tech director excited about social media in schools, MYP technology teacher at an IB World School, TEDxNYED and EdCampNYC organizer, lover of historical non-fiction.