Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Social Media Debate: Should Schools Be Using Social Media To Connect with the Community?

            “The first step in building strong relationships in schools is the first step for building any strong relationships: talk to each other. The more we communicate our hopes, desires, and needs within the school system, the more ideas and solutions we will have to discuss, the more plans we will have to put into action, and the more support and enthusiasm we will have for seeing those plans through.”[1]Communication is essential for building and maintaining relationships with school stakeholders, but how can schools easily communicate information to the masses without it becoming a time-consuming task?  The prevalence of social networking has increased drastically over the past decade and statistics are reporting that, within Canada,  85% of citizens use at least one Facebook account, 46% have a Twitter account, 45% utilize a Google+ account, and 91% of all citizens are using some form of social media on a monthly basis.[2]Social media is changing the way that people chose to get their information and the way they communicate and interact with the world around them.[3]This study will look at two divergent perspectives on the school use of social media as an effective and appropriate means of communication with stakeholders.

Literature Review
            While the topic of social media use in education is growing in popularity, there are still relatively few professional, peer-reviewed papers on the subject; newspaper and blog posts are far more prevalent. As such, this study focuses first on a blog post to support the school use of social media as an effective and appropriate means of communication. To argue against the school use of social media as an effective and appropriate means of communication this study then focuses on the con-approach of a comprehensive pro-and-con article on social networking and society.

            The first piece of literature, How School Districts Use Social Media to Strengthen Community, a blog post written in 2011 by Jill Kenney, focuses on the use of the social media platform Twitter as a communication tool for school boards. Ms. Kenney’s study centers on three school divisions: West Vancouver SD45, Abbotsford SD34, and the Toronto District School Board. It is identified that each respective school divisions’ decision to operate a Twitter account was fueled by a desire to, “...improve communications with their target audiences using new and relevant tactics... social media.”[4] It is important to note that each school division also operated Facebook and YouTube accounts, although the study focuses purely on their use of Twitter. When social media use was compared to more traditional forms of communication such as newsletters, webpages, and emails, Twitter was identified as an additional tool that, “...is used to assess the communications needs and to deliver information to their community (followers), while being as accountable and transparent as possible.”[5]

            Ms. Kenney compiled statistics from each divisions’ Twitter accounts that included their initiation date, followers, and average tweets per month. Furthermore, Ms. Kenney also identifies areas of success and tips for other divisions who are interested in implementing Twitter in their own communications plans. According to Ms. Kenney, the most important factor in each divisions’ success is that their Twitter account is managed by a Communications Manager who is in charge of, “a deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain top of mind between an organization and its publics.”[6]She then identifies that even though each division had a different tweet frequency, how often they used their account each month, they all excel at including a variety of relevant and useful content for their audiences. By examining each divisions’ accounts, Kenney shared that their Twitter accounts were used to share, “sporting events, school closures, committee meetings, educational news and relevant articles, crisis communications, job opportunities, student highlights, etc.”[7] To conclude, Ms. Kenney identifies four tips for other school divisions who are interested in incorporating Twitter into their communications plans: 1. Include content that facilitates conversations, 2. Hold weekly planning meetings on what you want communicated that week, 3. Train the appropriate personnel on social media use, 4. Implement appropriate social media guidelines that address topics like transparency, negative comments, timely responses, confidential information, etc.[8]

            The second piece of literature, Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society?, an article published by ProCon.org in 2014, identifies twenty-four arguments against the use of social networking sites including: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, etc. While the focus of this article is not primarily about the school use of social media as an effective and appropriate means of communication, this writer has identified five of ProCon.org’s arguments that can be used against such use. The first argument identified states that social media enables the spread of unreliable and false information. In fact, 49.1% of people have heard false news through one of their social media accounts.[9]Even with careful planning and forethought, miscommunication can result in false information being distributed through a division’s social media account. Additionally, with the public’s ability to respond to information, public comments could be shared that take the original information out of context and/or present a false perspective. Furthermore, a second argument is that social media posts cannot be completely deleted and all information posted can have unintended consequences. If a mistake is made by a school division such as false information, spelling errors, unflattering information, etc, it cannot simply be deleted as the information will stay online, in some form, indefinitely.

To build on the argument of unintended consequences, a third argument states that social networking sites lack privacy and expose users to intrusions. By presenting information through public social networks, school divisions run the risk of sharing information that could prove to be harmful to students or teachers. For example, a division may send out a tweet wishing the Grade 4 class a good time on their field trip to the city zoo and, while seemingly harmless, an estranged family member could use this information to find a student in which they do not have permission to be in contact with. The fourth argument by ProCon.org states that social media causes people to spend less time interacting face-to-face; a very big concern for school divisions who want to enhance participation by their stakeholders. Statistics show that up to 34% of Americans report less face-to-face time with the family in their homes due to the sharing that occurs through social media platforms.[10]If users are already showing decreased interactions with their own family members, the use of social media may further deter stakeholders from actually visiting the school and its events because they can simply get information through an online network. Lastly, the article highlights that social networking site users are vulnerable to security attacks such as hacking, identity theft, and viruses. School divisions need to be cognizant that their networks store sensitive information for hundreds or thousands of students and staff and a security attack could leave the division liable.

Critical Assessment
            With 91% of all Canadian citizens having access to some type of social media network[11]and approximately 290 Manitoban school accounts already on Twitter and Facebook[12], can it be argued that schools should not be utilizing social media? The purpose of this assessment is not to debate the popularity of various social network platforms or the use of social media to increase student learning. This assessment, however, focuses on whether the use of social media can be used as an effective and appropriate means of communication between schools and stakeholders.

            In regards to efficiency, when deciding on whether or not to utilize social media, a school needs to consider the following: 1. What social media platform(s) are going to be utilized? 2. What information will be shared through this platform? 3. Is there a minimum use requirement to ensure it is providing current information? 4. Is there someone who is strongly interested or passionate enough to help fuel the launch? 5. Who is in charge of the day-to-day management of the communication?

            In regards to appropriateness, when deciding on whether or not to utilize social media, a school needs to consider the following: 1. Is there a need for online communication? 2. What audience will be targeted through social media communication? 3. What social media platform(s) has/have the highest use in the school’s specific audience? 4. Will social media communication replace an outdated communication format or be added as an additional option? 5. What form(s) of information can be shared through the platform?

Implications for Educators
            There is no doubt that social media use is on the rise and has tremendous potential to serve as a means of communication between schools and stakeholders. The almost three-hundred divisions, schools, and classrooms, which are already using social media for communication, highlight just how many educators are recognizing the value of social media for connecting with parents and community members. With various factors to consider before implementing a social media account, schools should revisit how maintaining communication can help enhance school success. Manitoba Education has published a document, School Partnerships: A Guide for Parents, Schools, and Communities, which highlights different communication methods to encourage involvement from parents, families, and community members:
            1. Seek input from the school community
            2. Maintain ongoing communication: share priorities, 
                plans, activities, meetings, announcements, and events
            3. Involve families
            4. Create an atmosphere of trust
            5. Give timely feedback[13]
When looking at the suggestions provided through this document, one can make connections of to how these could be accomplished through the use of a school or division social media account. If a school’s stakeholders are already using social media for personal use, providing an option that meets the audience where it is could prove to be very beneficial for all parties.

            Each piece of literature provides strong arguments in support of their perspective and presents an overall indication that this topic is one that needs to be addressed on a division-by-division or even school-by-school basis. Every school and division has a unique group of stakeholders that hold a diverse set of cultural, socio-economic, and familial characteristics that need to be taken into account before any umbrella-mandates are incorporated. By addressing the ten points of discussion listed earlier in the critical analysis, a school can make an informed decision on whether the use of social media can be used as an efficient and appropriate means of communication.
Bibliography

J.M Arseneault, E.S. Orr, C. Ross, R.R. Orr,  M.G. Simmering, and M. Sisic. (2009).
            “Personality and motivation associated with Facebook use.” Computers in Human
            Behaviour. V. 25. Pg 578-586.

Kenney, Jill. (2011). ”How School Districts Use Social Media to Strengthen Community.”

Manitoba Education, Citizenship, and Youth. (2005). “School Partnerships: A Guide for Parents,
            Schools, and Communities.” Pg 10-11.

Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. (2004). “Working Together: A Guide to Positive
            Problem Solving for Schools, Families, and Communities.” Pg 5.

ProCon.Org. (2014). “Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society”. Pro and Con
            Arguments. Available online at: http://socialnetworking.procon.org/#pro_con

We Are Social. (2014). “Social, Digital, and & Mobile Use Around the World.” SlideShare.





[1]Manitoba Education, Citizenship and Youth. (2004). “Working Together: A Guide to Positive Problem Solving for Schools, Families, and Communities.” Pg 5.
[2] We Are Social. (2014). “Social, Digital, and & Mobile Use Around the World.” SlideShare. Slide 62.
[3] J.M Arseneault, E.S. Orr, C. Ross, R.R. Orr,  M.G. Simmering, and M. Sisic. (2009). “Personality and motivation associated with Facebook use.” Computers in Human Behaviour. V. 25. Pg 578-586.
[4] Kenney, Jill. (2011). ”How School Districts Use Social Media to Strengthen Community.” Uploaded to Get Fresh PR. Available online at: http://www.getfreshpr.com/2011/04/how-school-districts-can-use-social-media-to-build-community/
[5] lbid.,
[6] lbid.,
[7] lbid.,
[8] lbid.,
[9] ProCon.Org. (2014). “Are Social Networking Sites Good for Our Society”. Pro and Con Arguments. Argument #1. Available online at: http://socialnetworking.procon.org/#pro_con
[10] lbid, Argument #8.
[11] We Are Social. (2014). “Social, Digital, and & Mobile Use Around the World.” SlideShare. Slide 62.
[12] Thompson, Kirsten. (2014). Independent Research of Twitter and Facebook Databases.
[13] Manitoba Education, Citizenship, and Youth. (2005). “School Partnerships: A Guide for Parents, Schools, and Communities.” Pg 10-11.