Social networks can potentially transform how schools engage with parents and partners. They can revolutionise how you promote your brand. But there are risks too. How do you strike the right balance between embracing the opportunity and managing those risks?
The way you use social media can affect how your school is perceived. It can also impact on serious issues such as safeguarding. An effective school social media policy is essential. It needs to be one that everyone in the school understands and follows.
On the other hand, social media is meant to be about spontaneity. Your school social media posts should capture a sense of the activity, enthusiasm and passion that make up your learning experience. Go too far with rules and centralised control and you risk squashing the creativity and commitment of your team.
Social media work best when people feel motivated, trusted and trained to use them. They can then be powerful networks to enhance your brand and engage staff, students, parents and alumni.
Your school is already on social media
One thing’s for sure, social media cannot be ignored. Your school will already have a presence; whether or not you have official accounts and pages, and irrespective of whether there is an official school policy.
You might not have an official school Facebook page but there very well could be an unofficial page that you have no control over. It’s highly likely that your school is being discussed on Twitter. Having your own accounts, that you update regularly, means you can influence what people see. You are also giving parents and students the opportunity to follow an official account for updates and urgent news.
So how do you get the balance right? Start by thinking about the Why, What and Who of social media.
It’s easier for staff to use social media appropriately when there are clearly expressed objectives endorsed by the school leadership. Without this, staff can be left wondering whether a particular update is the sort of thing they should be posting. Linking social media policy to your school development objectives will help staff see why it matters.
If your objectives are not clear, people might decide that doing nothing is the safest option. Worse still, they might post something inappropriate that harms your reputation or brand.
In our experience the more concise and clear you can make your statement of objectives, the less detailed and complicated you need to be about defining exactly what people should and shouldn’t post.
Using positive language in your school social media policy will help give your team the encouragement to get on board. Make it clear that social media are integral to your marketing and engagement strategies and you really do want people to get involved.
A good social media policy will consider different networks individually. Think about whether you want just one Facebook page or Twitter account or whether specific departments should maintain their own under the umbrella of the whole school account.
It’s helpful for staff to understand what sort of things are suitable for posting and what would be inappropriate. A few examples will help people to get started.
Closely linked to this you should specify the training that staff members must have before being allowed to manage any part of your social media presence. It’s unfair to expect a Twitter novice to know how to use hashtags, retweets, and likes, or how to post links and images.
I’d encourage individual departments to create their own brief social media plans to clarify how they are going to use social media to promote their subjects and publicise what’s happening.
Having more people contributing creates more of a ‘buzz’ around your internet presence and school brand. Playing safe and having everything controlled and managed by one person will dampen the impact.
Your policy will still need to assign specific responsibilities:
- Who will approve the setting up of social media accounts that represent the school?
- Who will set up pages and accounts so that branding and communication rules are followed (eg no personal email addresses, correct logo use)?
- Who will monitor and oversee the accounts to ensure they are being used appropriately?
- Who will monitor social networks for ‘mentions’ so you know what’s being said about you?
- Who will train staff members to use social networks confidently and appropriately?
Dealing with negative comments
Reputation management is an important aspect of your social media policy. You need to be clear about the procedure to be followed if a student, parent or anyone else posts a negative comment about your school or a member of staff.
Some schools cover social media use in their behaviour or home/school partnership agreements that are signed by students and parents. This will normally include an agreement to take up issues through normal channels and not to post grievances on social networks.
Social media networks are a less formal environment than your school website. Making updates and posting information is easy to do. Your policy needs to make it clear that all of the processes you have to manage the publishing of images of children and young people also apply to social media.
Many members of staff will have their own social media accounts. Your policy should consider what is appropriate to post about the school on private accounts. Unless it’s an official school account it’s usually advisable to discourage mentioning the name of the school in their personal Twitter profiles or handles, for example. At the very least they should state that they are not representing the views of the school on their personal accounts.
While you can’t control what students do on social media outside of school you should have a clear policy for what happens during school time using school computer resources. Normally it would be inappropriate for students to use social media during school hours unless there is a good educational reason (such as an international or media project) and any activity is under the direct supervision of a member of staff.
While it might be more appropriate for your Safeguarding Policy and PSHE curriculum you should also have a clear policy for equipping students and staff with the knowledge and awareness to stay safe online and what to do about cyber bullying.
All staff should have e-safety training and your social media policy should be cross referenced with other relevant policies, such as safe internet use, safeguarding, bullying, behaviour and HR.
Ultimately social media networks are nothing to be scared of. There are massive opportunities when you get it right. A clearly worded and concise policy is the first step towards achieving that goal.
Need help? Our school marketing specialists can help you create your policy, train your team and support you through the process of setting up accounts and getting started.
For further information on about the advice and guidance we can provide, please speak with a member of our team; you can call us on 0208 466 7222 or email [email protected]