This is the Digital Age for schools and it's time to go back to the classroom to find out how schools can use Social Media to their advantage. Most schools nowadays have a great website that can be used by staff, pupils and parents alike to post information; to "big up" the achievements of both school and pupils, but this may not be instant enough. While those interested may visit the school website on a regular basis to keep up to date with what's going on, there are times when schools need to open up lines of communication that are immediate.
In the harsh winter of 2010 many parts of the UK experienced severe weather conditions, with shops, businesses and schools having to stay closed in many parts of the country. Many organizations took to Facebook and Twitter to post real time updates. This was a great way to find out if public transport was running, if roads were open, if workplaces were open and if schools were open. With weather conditions worsening or improving on an hourly basis, Twitter and Facebook were both useful tools that could be used to give people an idea of the exact conditions in local areas. Social Media was the ideal resource for people who were trying to organize their day and needed up to the minute reports on what was available and what wasn't.
A SOCIAL MEDIA POLICY IS A MUST
Your school's Social Media Policy is vital – it will provide guidance for all users in how to use Social Media and, more importantly, how to respond to social media comments. I would recommend that you draw up your Social Media Policy before you start creating Twitter accounts or Facebook Pages for your school. If you're not sure where to start with your Social Media Policy, then there's some guidance in a recent blog post I wrote and some tips for creating an Employee Social Media Policy that may help you get started.
TOP TIPS FOR TWITTER
You may find that it's easier to start your school's Social Media engagement with Twitter – it's easier to set up a profile and easier to start using than Facebook, especially if you're fairly new to Social Media and you're still sussing out what it's all about.
You'll need to register a profile on Twitter with an image (your school logo or coat of arms would be great here) and then let people know that you're on there. The easiest way of doing this is to add a Twitter button to your school's official website – the buttons are free from Twitter and it's probably best to choose the "Follow" button. You'll be given a piece of code to copy and paste into the website – then your website visitors can just press the button if they have a Twitter account and you'll be added to the list of people they follow.
Chances are that if you're a school, you'll be more interested in reaching the relevant people that you wish to communicate with, rather than building a huge audience. This can be quite easily achieved with the button on your website. You may also find it useful to make an announcement in the local press – any local newspaper would be more than happy to publish this news for you, as would a local radio station – after all, this is a local interest story.
WHO TO FOLLOW?
As for people to "follow" – what about your Local Authority, other schools in the area, colleges in the area. There will be a variety of non-profit organizations in your locality that would be useful for you to follow – local TV and Radio stations, local hospitals, the local police force, sports clubs, etc – the list really is endless and you can add people to follow as you go along, building a list of people you follow and followers.
Once you've registered and your account is live, you're ready to start communicating. Just remember, tweets can only be 140 characters long – great for reminders, up to date information, requests for help and assistance. Once you've got used to being succinct in what you have to say, you'll be away and having fun with it.
FACE UP TO FACEBOOK
Putting together a great Facebook page really is a must for schools nowadays – all the kids are on Facebook, so the schools should get on board if they want to communicate with pupils and their parents. In April of this year, Facebook (which started life as a college only platform) launched a new type of community page for schools where students and staff can message each other, exchange files and create events. Groups for Schools can be used to create class, club and dorm groups and there's even a Facebook app (Inigral) that will provide a closed community within Facebook that can be customized to suit an individual school's needs. However, this costs at least $10,000 which is a tall order for most UK schools, so we have some advice on how a school can set up it's own Facebook page that can be used effectively by staff, kids and parents:
- On the Log In page, click on the link at the bottom of the page "Create a Page for a celebrity, band or business". You will then be able to register the school (select "Education" from the drop-down menu for type of organization – this means that Facebook's recognition technology will let you enter the school's name on the profile).
- You will then land on the Administration page which is bare – you can now add a profile picture (choose either the school's logo or a professional photo of the school building) and some information about the school.
- Then you'll need to click on "Edit Page" (underneath the photo you've uploaded) and now the fun part begins. You'll be able to alter the page to suit your particular school's needs. You can set age restrictions (for security reasons) or even add discussion boards for staff and students to chat.
YOU CAN CHOOSE YOUR SETTINGS
Now it's time to sort out the "Manage Permissions" – your opportunity to choose who can post to the Timeline – whether it's staff only or whether you want to allow the kids to join in and post to your Timeline. You'll also be able to control who can add photos and videos and who can tag photos on your page. You can even choose whether or not to have a "Message" button on your page so that you (the school) can receive messages via Facebook.
Think carefully about these settings (although you can alter them at any time) – if you are allowing the kids to join in posting to your Timeline, adding photos, video, etc, allowing people to send you Facebook messages, then you'll need to appoint somebody to check out and respond on Facebook at regular intervals each day.
Messages will need to be responded to as soon as possible. Chances are that the kids may join in with some negative comments – at first the students may think it's amusing to post unsuitable images or 'diss' the school in some way. This is where you look to your school's Social Media Policy to guide you on how to respond in these circumstances.
And, don't forget, during times of disorganization or crisis, both Twitter and Facebook can be invaluable tools for letting people know right now what's going on.
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Jonny Ross specialises in Social & Digital Marketing and Organic Search. He has a proven track record in the retail e-commerce field and now specialises in providing and enhancing social and digital services in the B2B and B2C sectors.
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