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Should Schools and Colleges Teach Social Media?

Jonny Ross posted this on

I’ve recently been helping schools and colleges with their social media marketing. In May, I was invited to speak about social media at the 2012 AMDIS Conference – the annual conference of The Association for Marketing and Development in Independent Schools. I wrote about it in my blog here.

What comes across time and time again when I speak to teachers and lecturers is that they lack confidence with social media and don’t have time to read up on current trends or new digital technologies. Schools, universities and FE/HE colleges are rightly reluctant to “jump on bandwagons” and this – coupled with fears about the risks of engaging with social media in terms of child protection, negative comments and the staff time involved in maintaining and “policing” social media platforms – has kept many from engaging with social media at all.

This is a shame, as social media offers great opportunities to schools for:

  • engaging with young people on a platform they are familiar with
  • promoting the fantastic work that academic institutions do
  • building their reputation as knowledge and research leaders in key areas (sport, science etc).

Parents discuss schools online, and so do young people. Schools and colleges can really utilise this opportunity. An example is the girl in Sweden who tweeted “I hate Engelska Skolan junior high!” Dr Jon Buscall (who manages the account for the local senior high and saw this comment through an alert) replied to her with “Hang in there.” The girl in question replied, checked out the school and ended up choosing it for her 3-year A level program. Each student brings from the local government around £9000 per year, so that one tweet effectively paid for the school’s marketing budget that year!

And what many don’t realise is that whether they are on social media sites or not, people will talk about them in the public realm. It is impossible to eliminate potential negative comments, but if you are set up on Twitter and Facebook etc (even if you’re not actively posting every five minutes), and have searches and filters set up to pick up any reference to your organisation, then you have a much better chance of quickly identifying and containing bad PR by dealing with it quickly. If there was ever an example of how quickly a bad PR story can explode in a matter of hours, it was last week’s #Shicklegate!

Victoria highlights in the Northern Lights e-book, From Student to Salary with Social Media, that 59% of Senior Managers say that social media will have a major impact on how they find people and expertise, and most recruiters are now checking candidates’ Facebook profiles before interview. The e-book gives over 100 practical tips, ideas, and step-by-step instructions on how to get a job using social media.

With communication and presentation skills (both online and offline) now being such an important aspect in recruitment of graduates and jobseekers, I was surprised at how little knowledge many teachers have about social media platforms. For example, in one of the AMDIS seminars, a teacher even asked how much it costs to set up YouTube!  Yet after Google, YouTube is THE biggest search engine, and has launched the careers of some of the most famous stars that young people admire – Justin Bieber being a perfect example.

Many teachers are on board with the opportunities for creative engagement with young people through social media, but simply lack the knowledge and skills to be able to teach it with confidence. Head teachers and school and college leaders need to give teachers and lecturers the confidence to use and teach social media properly with good quality training? and clear guidelines for good practice.

Not only do schools and colleges risk being left behind in terms of promoting themselves and the amazing opportunities they offer to young people, they also risk leaving their young people under-equipped to deal with both the risks and opportunities that social media offers them for developing their career.

Young people are already actively using social media to talk to their friends EVERY DAY. Schools are missing out on a huge opportunity to engage with them here (and for minimal cost, compared to posted letters and printed brochures). Schools and colleges are also missing out on the opportunity to lead the way in showing young people how they can use social media to get a job, and what they absolutely must NOT be posting to their Facebook profiles.

Digital technologies and social media use are no longer a frivolous addition to the curriculum, it really could mean the difference between getting a job and joining the swathes of college leavers and graduates who are not joining the dole queue. Educational establishments should really be getting on board with social media – now is the perfect time to really make a difference to the lives of young people.

What do you think?  Should effective social media use be taught in schools as part of careers education?  Or should schools stick to pen and paper and let Justin Bieber lead the way online?

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