Schools cannot afford to ignore Social Networking sites when developing their Communication and PR strategy. There are a two key issues that School Strategic Managers might like to consider.
First, just as in the 1990s there was a rush to buy up all the domain names that related to the school [www.yourschool.org.uk; www.yourschool.com etc.] it would be prudent for schools to establish that they have the right to key social networking web addresses for the school, such as www.facebook.com/YourSchool, www.twitter.com/YourSchool etc. Because Facebook and Twitter are privately owned and not governed by the rules that applied to website domain names, it is first-come, first-served in relation to these web addresses.
Secondly, social networking sites do pose an important challenge when it comes to protecting a school’s reputation. These sites need to be monitored daily for defamatory material and for inappropriate pictures. This is no mean task and there is a cost in time. It will not be possible to prevent individual pupils from damaging the school’s reputation all of the time, but there are some steps that a school can take to help.
The easiest way for a school to protect itself is to ensure that it has administrative control of the school Facebook Group, Facebook Page and of the Twitter account. This will allow the school to monitor what is posted on the site, to remove any offensive material and to block undesirable members. If the schools do not set up their own Facebook Page or Group, it is more than likely that someone else will. Ideally schools should set up these pages and then find some mechanism whereby pupils in the school and alumni chose to use that group than any alternative that they might set up themselves. [At Berkhamsted we achieved this by saying that we would announce on Facebook whether or not the school was open on a potential snow-day – we got over 800 members within 24 hours]. It is much better if the school has control of the Facebook Group that the pupils are using.
So long as the school sets up the Twitter account, it can control who is allowed to post “tweets” and to follow the school. The only problem with Twitter is that it is possible for people to write to the Twitter wall, so the accounts needs to be monitored quite closely. It is possible to remove unwanted postings, so long as you have editorial control. Monitoring tweets about the school is a relatively easy task by using the Twitter search site (http://search.twitter.com).
Protecting your School’s Reputation on the wider Internet
One of the unfortunate consequences of the Web 2.0 revolution that made it so easy to publish to the Internet is that a school now has to devote considerable resources to protecting its reputation in Cyberspace. It is so easy for the misguided pupil, former pupil or for a disaffected parent to publish defamatory information on the Internet.
The task of monitoring what is being said about the school is an important one, but need not be too onerous as there are a number of useful websites and free services that will help the person in this role:
Google Alerts is a very simple free service, whereby any user can be alerted as soon as something relevant to their interest is detected by the Google Search engine. What this means is that a school can set up a Google Alert so that every time the school name (or the name of the Headteacher etc) appears on a webpage that someone in the school will receive an email notification and a link to the relevant page. Be aware that Google Alerts do not pick up every posting on the wall of social-networking sites – these will have to be monitored separately - but they are an excellent way to keep an eye on what is being said about the school. www.google.com/alerts.
Here are some other useful sites:
This blogpost is the basis for an article 'Using Social and Digital Media as part of your School Marketing, Communication and PR Strategies' that will be published in the ISC Bulletin later this term.