In their book Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age, Kitty Porterfield and Meg Carnes make a strong case for school leaders engaging in the use of social media as a means of communication. As they so clearly point out,
"School leaders must be able to communicate with all their stakeholders, from the staff members in their buildings to the parents and other stakeholders in their communities."
In times past, school leaders could do that through published newsletters and similar communication channels. In the 21st century, our stakeholders expect a more interactive form of communication, often that form is social media.
In their book, Porterfield and Carnes, provide a list of 10 current realities of social media that no matter how hard district leaders try to block, filter, or policy our way through, these realities are ours and we can't change them. Here are six of those realities about social media that school leaders ignore at their own and their school or district's peril.
1. "Social media is a new way to build relationships." Social media is the new way to get out and connect and build those relationships. Shaking hands has given way to Tweeting. Conversations at community meetings has made its way to Facebook. Our new reality is that our parents are increasingly expecting to engage in educator-parent relationships through social media.
2. "Communication is no longer about you; it's about your customers." The old days of sending out newsletters meant you were able to tell your story and that's it. Modern communication through social media means that what you speak about is about the people you serve, not you or your organization. Social media is about engaging your customers in conversation about you and your school or district.
3. "If you don't tell your story, someone else will." The truth is, you, your school, or your district is going to have a web presence or digital footprint whether you want one or not. If your district decides to change the school calendar, implement some new dress code, or start school earlier, there are people on the web talking about it. If you don't engage in social media, they are the only ones talking about it. Use social media to tell your story and give them an opportunity to respond. Then, let them know you're listening.
4. "Your reputation is at stake." You and your school or district has an online reputation no matter how hard you've tried to filter, block, and avoid social media. If you aren't there to establish your reputation, there are those who will gladly do it for you. Ignore social media at the risk of your school or organization's reputation.
5. "You don't have to do it all at once." Contrary to conventional wisdom, school leaders are perfectly fine wading into social media waters by using just one or two tools to begin with. Try out Twitter first. Learn all about its benefits and limitations before trying to set up a school Facebook page. There's no reason you can't start small with engaging in social media as a communication tool.
6. "It's here to stay." Finally, school leaders need to stop waiting for social media to go away. While the tools may change, interactive communication using the Web will be around. It doesn't matter how much we filter, block, or avoid it, social media is a part of our culture, and 21st century school leaders know how to use its strengths to engage stakeholders.
In the 20th century, school leaders could be satisfied with sending home newsletters celebrating the stories of their schools. In the 21st century, those newsletters look archaic and harken back to a time when talking at people was perfectly fine. In our current era, our stakeholders expect to engage in two-way conversations about what's happening in our schools and school districts. Social media is a big part of our current communication reality and school leaders who minimize or avoid it are not engaging in 21st century leadership.
Note: I usually don't go out of the way to endorse a book this much, but I would encourage every school leader to get a copy of Why Social Media Matters: School Communication in the Digital Age. Porterfield and Carnes have created a textbook for school leaders to use as they engage in social media as a communication technology.
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