Using Social Media in Schools: Risks, Opportunities and Benefits
Following on from my last blog about the 2012 AMDIS Annual Conference, at which I was invited as guest speaker to discuss the use of social media in schools, I wanted to explore some of the perceived risks highlighted by conference attendees of schools using social media as a communications channel, and see how they can actually be turned into opportunities. I strongly believe (and this is supported by the many success stories) that there are huge potential benefits to schools in engaging with social media, and these far outweigh any risks.
AMDIS is The Association for Marketing and Development in Independent Schools, and I was delighted to be asked to appear as a guest expert on social media at their annual conference in May. Prior to the conference, I circulated a questionnaire to all attendees about their use of social media and the top three perceived risks that were holding them back.
Below is a list of the risks cited for the use of social media in schools, and my comments about how many of them can actually be turned into opportunities.
(1) Negative comments – The top risk listed by around half of respondents was around negative comments, which is a shame as negative comments are really valuable opportunities. I’m therefore working on a video about the topic of negative comments, which I will soon be posting on this blog. It will explain how to turn negative comments around to your advantage. Negative comments should actually be viewed as an opportunity rather than a risk, and one gained much more cheaply than through commissioning market research!
The fact is that people will complain and talk about you, whether you have a social media presence or not. Think about it. If you go to a restaurant and receive bad service, you will more than likely tell someone. You may even tweet about it or put it on your Facebook status. You will do this whether that restaurant is on social media or not. If that restaurant was on Twitter or Facebook, you will be more likely to direct that comment to them instead of your friends. The benefit of this is that the restaurant is the first to know about the comment.
The power of having a presence is that you can contain and reply to the comment, thereby giving you the opportunity to publically defend or turn opinions round, before any negative comments or misunderstandings are shared.
(2) Legal compliance – Legal compliance fears, notably around the accidental inclusion of copyrighted material in videos, and the use of photos with children in, are also stopping some people who work in or with schools from fully utilising the opportunities than social media can bring.
This is understandably an area in which schools want to set a good example with high standards of practice. I will therefore also be posting a legal compliance blog in the next few weeks, covering areas such as this – so watch this space! <”sign up to blog” link>
Rather than avoiding for fear of non-compliance, schools should instead get clued up on the law around this area, so they can take advantage of opportunities to share the most valuable rich content (photos and videos) safe in the knowledge they are acting within the law and best practice guidelines.
(3) Time – About one third of the people surveyed also mentioned limited time being a risk in their use of social media, presumably in terms of being able to monitor and moderate media space appropriately, and regularly update content.
This is a fair comment, but at some stage you have to bite the bullet. Do you remember when you first had to start using emails? Replying to emails was a nuisance to begin with, but eventually you had to in order to avoid being deemed a dinosaur. And actually, emails save time as there is no need to put things into an envelope and find a stamp, as messages were delivered immediately. Yes there is a learning curve, but in the long term, you will find that using digital and social media saves you time in other ways for example less phone calls, emails and marketing activities.
(4) Misinformation/misrepresentation of facts/inappropriate photos/spelling errors – Social media doesn’t mean that anyone and everyone can be a spokesperson for the school, or can upload anything. Only people that you give passwords to can be the voice of the school, so you can carefully manage the sharing of information about the school and ensure that it remains well written and on message.
(5) Mis-use by pupils/safety of pupils/cyberbullying – I won’t be suggesting we use pupils to manage a school’s online content. Again, responsibility should sit with specially appointed and trained members of staff. And if a pupil posted a bullying comment I would expect they would be treated in the same way as if they were bullying in the school. Drawing up a social media code of practice for both school staff and pupils will make it clear what is and is not acceptable, and anyone who contravenes should be appropriately reprimanded and their comments removed from the site.
(6) Staff’s personal activities impinging on schools reputation – Whether the school is on social media or not I don’t believe this makes a difference. School staff will still use social media in their personal lives. Rather than avoiding, it is better to have a social media policy for the school and educate staff on how to use social media platforms in a careful and professional manner, with set guidelines for both personal and professional use. Advising staff, for example, on how to effectively set up and use their LinkedIn profile will allow them to network with others and join discussion forums that could help set them up as experts and opinion leaders in certain education areas. This will actually help boost your school’s profile and reputation.
(7) Hacking or a third party posting as you – This is no different to your blog or website being hacked, and I don’t think the risk outweighs the benefits. There are some security precautions you can take to avoid being hacked. But if an unauthorised person is posting as the school, you will only know this if you are regularly using social media yourself. Most social media platforms such as Facebook now have a reporting procedure for this type of unauthorised activity, and they should assist you to remove false profiles.
Top 5 Benefits of Social Media for Schools
The benefits of social media use by schools far outweigh the risks. Business is built on relationships, and social media is all about relationships, not selling.
(1) Reaching new audiences – The biggest benefit to schools of using social media is in its potential for reaching new audiences. You can quickly build up networks of new contacts at minimal cost, by joining in with discussions and participating in existing groups.
(2) Saving time – You can save time by posting links quickly and easily to multiple platforms, with huge potential reach, in a very short space of time.
(3) Monitoring – You can monitor discussions about your school by setting up keyword searches on relevant words and phrases. As well as standard words and phrases, don’t forget to include common mis-spellings and spaces. There are a number of tools you can use to do this, including Tweetdeck, Google Alerts – to monitor brand but also local news and education stories – and Social Mention.
(4) Increased exposure and huge reach potential – If you do a great job, then your customer might tell three friends, who may then tell another 3 friends (word of mouth). Recommendations from friends remain one of the most highly trusted forms of marketing. Social media makes sharing recommendations really easy. With a click of a mouse you can send a message to your blogs, YouTube, twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the people following you will be able to share that with their networks. The beauty of the internet is that each message will then be shared with 100’s if not thousands of people. This is going to increase exposure and give you the kind of reach that you have never had before.
(5) Great customer service by a forward thinking organisation – By communicating and sharing information with parents and pupils in the places they already spend time themselves, you show that you are in touch and responsive to their needs. This also helps to reinforce their view of your school as forward thinking and moving with the times.
I hope I have shown you the great many benefits that using social media in schools can bring. It can either work with you or against you, so make sure you harness the power of social media, so it works for your growth.
Now you can embrace your parents and provide them great information and great ‘customer’ service. And remember, if parents interact with you online, their friends will also be aware of your school, so it’s important that you bear this in mind and make the most of it.
If you would like to discuss how to implement a social media strategy into your school, or how to write a social media policy document, then give me a call on 011 33 20 21 21.