During a conversation today, I was asked, "What advice would you give to the new administrator just beginning to use social media in his or her new role?" Becoming an administrator is a challenge in itself, which means there are enough issues to deal with without making mistakes using social media. Added to these challenges is the fact that most often new principals or assistant principals are left either with no mentor, or the mentor they have probably doesn't know a great deal about technology in general much less social media. This means the novice administrator is often left to her own devices when it comes to engaging stakeholders in social media.
As an administrator and experimenter with social media for most of the last six years, I have learned a few things about it, mostly by trial and error but also from others. Right now, I would place these five suggestions at the top of the list for new administrators and educators engaging in social media use in their new roles.
1. Think before you post. There is a bit of common sense in this suggestion, but with all the news stories about educators getting into trouble because of some careless posting on a blog or on Twitter, it is certainly worthwhile to repeat and emphasize it. Crafting a social media message for your school or district should be a deliberate process. Careful thought should be put into Twitter statements or Facebook posts. Reading the post from the perspective of your reader or the community is vital. That Twitter message might only have 140 characters, but a lot of damage can result from those characters if worded improperly.
2. Know the limitations of social media. Social media is an excellent way to engage stakeholders, but it isn't always the best way. It is vital that you take time to think about the message and whether the message you want to deliver is suited for your school's Facebook page or a Twitter post. Some announcements still might need to be made through your school's automatic phone messaging system or through a meeting with your parents. Social media is a relatively easy way to deliver a message, but it can leave a lot of room for interpretation, and there are times when all that interpretation is not wanted.
3. Be aware that you may still have to use a blended approach to communication that involves using social media and other media too. It has been my experience that not all parents are plugged in yet. This means I have to make sure stakeholders that aren't using social media, get the message too. Also, it might mean we also have to provide training for parents and community members too so that they can get plugged in and receive the benefits of being connected through social media.
4. Make sure the message fits the medium. This is an old time adage about communication in general, but in some ways, social media is much more powerful, and that means that not everything that needs to be said needs to be done through Twitter or Facebook. Delivering bad news or serious news is probably best left to the older media such as phone messaging systems or even a more formal press release. Be careful of trying to communicate sarcasm or humor. These don't often translate well in social media.Administrators and educators would do well to be very careful with making sure media and message are the best match.. After all, as Erik Qualman, author of the book Digital Leadership writes: "Keep in mind there's no hiding from anything in the new digital world. Your best course of action is to assume whatever you post will eventually be seen by millions." Post only those things you wouldn't mind your mother seeing.
5. Set up school-based and personal-professional social media accounts separately. If you are going to be communicating with others as your own agent, then you need a separate account. Any accounts set up with the name of your school implies that your are speaking as an agent of the school. Whether it is a Twitter account or a blog, if you give it the appearance that you are speaking in your role as principal or teacher, then any posting that you do may be perceived as posts from an agent of the school or district. By having separate accounts, there is no implied relationship. Still, even with separate accounts, it is important to think and post prudently.
Being an administrator is a challenging job and using social media effectively can mitigate some of those challenges. That means engaging in social media in effective ways. New administrators and educators can take advantage of the power of social media by keeping these suggestions in mind.