Facebook elicits all kinds of reactions in the public school sector when trying to convince administrators and board of education members to allow it to be used as a communications and/or marketing channel. Fear is certainly one of those reactions. While it is certainly a fair reaction since schools are charged with protecting their students at all costs, the simple fact remains that the students are already in the space and they are there to stay. So why should schools be afraid?
The media has played a part in the fear factor of social media. Just several months ago news organizations were pushing stories about the experienced teacher who posted inappropriately on her personal page about students and parents and was quickly fired from her job and then about the student who challenged a principal’s discipline of one of her Facebook postings in court and won. Then, in recent weeks, the tragic death of a Rutgers University student and the enhanced concentration on cyberbullying confuses the conversation about whether or not a tool like Facebook is ultimately dangerous or harmful.
Like anything in life there are inherent dangers. However, if approached strategically, Facebook can greatly benefit a school district’s communications, marketing and recruiting efforts. I work for a public school district in Ohio that is a career-technical school district. We have been using Facebook for outreach since 2007 and it has been the most effective and beneficial of the wide assortment of social media tools available online that have changed the way we connect with our “customers.”
This fall, we are taking our Facebook efforts even one step further by allowing individual teachers to manage program pages all on their own. Yes, initially the idea of losing control was at the forefront of conversations amongst administrators, but because our team has a “no fear” attitude when it comes to blazing a trail and innovating, we pushed forward. Why? Because, the fact remains that, with a good strategy and a good plan and with time taken to train the staff (or students), social media can work. And, at the end of the day social media is not about the tool or mechanism, but rather it is about open and transparent conversations and engaging people in dialogue. Who better to do that than our teachers?
How are we doing it? Here’s how:
- We have a well-defined purpose for any teacher that is going to have an individual page. These purposes must include: recruiting of new students, school-related communications with parents and students, answering school-related questions, re-connecting with former students and collecting information to do vital follow-up surveys for post-program placement rate information, showcasing classroom projects, informing the public about career and college pathways, highlighting success stories, addressing legitimate concerns
- We have well-defined items that should NEVER happen on the page: sharing personal information, commenting on other students, disciplinary actions, student behaviors or other staff members, criticizing business, community and educational partners, ignoring questions or comments
- Each page must include the legal disclaimer and purpose statement (legalese written by the lawyers)
- All pages are created by the Office of Marketing and Communications and teachers are made administrators of the page
- All teachers who want a page must go through a training session
- Comments posted by fans must be responded to within 24 hours
- These pages are audited three months after creation and if they are not being updated or utilized, they are deleted
- We are providing FlipCams and digital cameras to the staff to use to make sure the pages are visual
So what has been the response so far? Well, we have had about 25 instructors create pages. Some are doing very well, some are struggling. I will do a follow-up to this post down the road to update you on our Facebook experiment.
What do you think of this concept? Should we avoid Facebook and live in fear of it or should we embrace it? How is your school district approaching this?