Sep 07 2010

Socially Aware

Follow these seven best practices to understand IT's role in managing social media.

School districts need to think of social media sites as just another aspect of the ever-changing world of IT and the web.

IT professionals expect to consistently learn and train themselves on new standards and technologies. That's why it's important that IT play a leading role in developing social media policies that reasonably compare benefits and risks against the school's goals and mission.

Here are some best practices the IT department can follow to build a proactive social media program.

Pay attention to the terms of service.

Social media often take the form of software as a service, so they really need to be treated with the same care, caution and due diligence that would be given to any other third-party application. Pay close attention to the terms of service because the social media company controls them all. Recognize that the terms can and do change – sometimes without notice to account holders.

Because IT professionals often review outsourcing options for software applications, the IT staff understands the vocabulary and meaning of the various portions of the terms of service. They are also accustomed to working with the purchasing support team and the legal staff to review software application contracts. Therefore, the IT group should take the lead and offer its opinion on all social media activities.

Understand social media's scope and where IT can fit in.

There are many different social media outlets aside from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Social media can include conference or activity registration services and collaboration tools such as blogs, wikis and other online forums.

When external companies offer social media, the IT staff may be the last to find out that an account has been created. If a teacher includes YouTube videos as part of a lesson plan, that may cause a drain on network bandwidth as students view the material through the school's infrastructure.

Groups within the school may run a local instance of a social media platform. Moving these behind the local firewall when appropriate is one area where IT professionals can assist colleagues.

Point out the pitfalls.

Communicate widely about how best to use social media to accomplish the strategic goals of the school. For example, Google Documents may provide great collaboration opportunities as a subset of social media, but the terms of service may conflict with the intellectual property policies of the school. Also, Google's general terms of service do not provide any guarantee that the data is retrievable, so don't store any strategic or personal student information there.

Teachers find social media tools, such as Twitter, offer a quick way to share information and build personal learning networks.

Any accounts on internal or external sites should consistently represent the school. All accounts providing web pages should be consistent with web standards and compliant with federal Section 508 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The low barriers to creating these accounts or adding information to accounts others have created present risks to your school's reputation, brand, image and information. For example, on Facebook and other sites, the school's information is provided alongside advertising that the institution does not control. This could lead to the perception that the school endorses products and services with which it does not want to be associated.

Social media can be an effective way to reach targeted audiences, many of which number in the thousands. A misstep in tone or poorly executed content can be posted indefinitely and viewed by a large number of people. Once accounts are created, it is hard to remove them, so make your team sensitive to these new realities.

Play a role in developing a list of best practices.

Because no money is required to set up a social media account, there are low barriers to entry; anyone on campus can create one on behalf of the school. Assist in forming a committee to decide if the school wants to allow this, and if so, develop best-practice guidelines. Pay attention to existing federal and state statutes such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, as well as the school's policies on branding and identity standards. Include your public affairs staff and develop a communications plan based on whatever decision is made. Use alliances to ensure the entire school participates in the process.

One important point to consider: When people leave your school, the exit process must include a review of whether their account data and access remains available to the institution or unit.

Develop an official list of your accounts.

Create a central location within your school's web domain for registering and listing school-specific and sanctioned social media accounts. Encourage everyone to keep track of, cross-reference and use best practices with official accounts. Each official account should have a regular schedule for posting new or updated information.

Invest in training.

Encourage colleagues to understand that social media activities aren't free. It takes time and professional effort to execute them well. Like all IT disciplines, investing in your talent to keep current in the field is important and pays dividends. IT professionals need to broaden skills such as listening, communications with non-IT people, ­collaboration and risk management.

Once the IT staff are briefed, they can train students, other staff members and teachers. Anyone who posts content to social media platforms on behalf of the school must be professional, conversational and engaging – so they must also be properly trained.

Keep an ear to the ground.

Regularly review what others are saying on social media sites about your district or school. This applies even if the school doesn't have its own social media accounts. Alert the administration to comments made about the school, and use them as input when making decisions about business goals and as a metric for accomplishment.

In the best case, others at your school are already performing this function. If so, search them out and offer your assistance. Many IT professionals are already early adopters of social media and use them in their personal lives.

You can leverage your familiarity with these applications to assist your school. If no one else is doing it, then you can show why it's valuable. If discontented students are complaining or spreading false information about your school on various platforms, your institution will suffer whether it's aware of a problem or not. It's better to be aware and decide what action to take than to wonder why your school is having trouble meeting its strategic goals.


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