According to Andy Beal and Judy Strauss, authors of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, “Shifting from traditional to social media requires new skills, new tools, and an understanding of social media platforms.” Any school leader bringing an archaic understanding and knowledge of old media to social media is in danger of looking foolish and perhaps in danger of getting himself in major trouble with stakeholders.
For school leaders looking for information about social media, business and industry have several organizations providing this valuable information. The Digital Influence Group, a social media marketing expert group, provides a “Top 10 List for Using Social Media” obviously directed toward business and industry. (See their list here.) Obviously, business needs are different from the needs of schools, but there is still much that can learned from their experiences with social media. For that reason, I have taken the liberty of revising and updating this Top 10 List for Using Social Media” so that it might better reflect the things school leaders need to consider as they struggle with this 21st century media.
Top 10 List for Using Social Media for School Leaders & Other Educators
1. Educate your entire school community and all stakeholders about what social media is, what its benefits are, and provide them ideas on how to best use it. Many of the problems and misuse of social media result from both a lack of understanding of its power, and the features inherent in it that make it a way to engage 21st century audiences. School leaders need to first learn all they can about social media. This means attending professional training, reading relevant books and articles, and engaging in conversations with experts. While it is impossible to learn everything about social media due to its continually evolving nature, school leaders who set policy and direct a school community's use of the 21st century media need to know all they can. Once they have that knowledge base, they are responsible for seeing that their educational community is educated on its nature, its potential, its hazards, and its power. This means taking an active role in educating all stakeholders on how to use social media appropriately and effectively.
2. Establish policies and procedures that guide individuals in your school or district in the use of social media, and provide a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities with using social media. School leaders need to enlist teachers, parents, students, and community members in the establishment of policy and procedures to guide social media use for the educational establishment. However, this is not an effort to control content and usage of social media, but merely to set guidelines and policy that direct staff members and students on how to engage in its use for the school or district. For example, policy needs to make it clear when posting to social media is as an agent of the school or district. That same policy needs to delineate who speaks for the school or district in social media communities. It should also define roles and responsibilities of those engaging in social media use. It is important to establish these policies and procedures, not as a means to try to control content, but to protect the school, district, and its stakeholders.
3. Set clear goals for how your school or district is going to use social media. The question of how the district is going to use social media is important. What is the school going to use social media for?Which types of social media tools is the school or district to use? All these questions focus on what the district plans to do with social media. It's time for 21st century school leaders to move beyond bragging about having a social media presence and actually engage in its use to benefit school or district. Having a Twitter account or Facebook account for your school simply isn't enough anymore. It's now time to move to the question of "So what?" which is a 21st century question.
4. When school leaders and other educators participate in blogging, social networks, and online communities, it is important to be transparent. As school leaders move to full engagement with stakeholders using social media, being transparent is important. This means engaging in open, sincere, and honest dialogue with stakeholders through the media. It is a movement from using social media as just another way to make announcements and news updates, to actually engaging in conversations with constituents. To do that effectively though, school leaders and staff need to be authentic and seek to genuinely establish relationships with their communities. By doing this school leaders actually are engaging in social media in the manner in which it is designed.
5. Constantly evaluate the school or district's use of social media. This simply means examining regularly whether social media is being used in the manner desired, and whether the school or district is obtaining its goals and a positive reputation from social media engagement. This process for schools and school districts has to be ongoing.
6. When engaging in the use of social media use plain language, be sincere and candid. Effective social media engagement is on a conversational level. Engaging others means speaking to them about the things they care about, using language all can understand. Posts to social media aren't dictates from on high. They are efforts to engage constituents in discussions of what they care about.
7. Provide valuable content and information to engage and educate your stakeholders and community. Social media is an opportunity to provide stakeholders with information and content that is valuable and by doing so, schools and school districts enhance their own online reputations. Providing parents, for example, information about an opportunity for students to participate in a national study program is valuable information. Again, this means going beyond "just having a social media presence" to effectively using it to communicate and engage the school community.
8. Welcome feedback whether it is positive or negative and respond to it quickly. Social media is an opportunity for schools and school districts to allow for feedback on how they're doing. This can be rather tricky, but allowing your constituent groups the opportunity to speak about the issues that bother them is important. It is equally important for school leaders to respond to that feedback in a timely and appropriate but honest manner.
9. School leaders who want to promote their schools or districts need to participate in other online communities. It is vital that school leaders engage in the wider conversation about education and all the related issues. It is the 21st century school leader who sees participation in larger communities like Twitter's weekly #edchat or discussion boards like those sponsored by national and international educational organizations. School leaders need to engage the global community about their school or school districts too, which means using social media to engage in global conversations.
10. Use rich media (such as animation, video, audio) and humor to engage stakeholders. Using just text announcements posted to Twitter or to Facebook misses the real potential social media has to promote a school or district to the wider world. Schools can post moving videos or photos to a Facebook account. A school district can establish a YouTube account to showcase visually what is happening in the schools rather than just with announcements posted on its home page. Social media is much more than text and school leaders need to take advantage of the strengths of other media in their efforts to engage their communities.
It is truly the 21st century school leader who brings a twenty-first century understanding and knowledge to using social media instead of using it simply as a 20th century media to post textual announcements and news. Social media is so much more than a 21st century version of an intercom system. It is a tool that allows for engagement not passive consumption. Perhaps these ten tips will be a starting point that school leaders and educators can use to engage social media as it was intended.