Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teachers: Avoiding Social Media Pitfalls

My first job as a senior in college was working for a public relations firm in Atlanta, Georgia. Bright eyed and energetic, I practically begged my employer to allow me to write as many press releases as possible for new accounts. My employer at the time took hold of my enthusiastic drive, and allowed me to write freely. However, she reviewed my press releases with a severely critical eye. I revised and edited often, always diligently working to find the right words to place the company I represented in the best light.

As I moved on in my career, I continued as a public relations assistant for a mall management company, and then as a Community Resource Specialist for a large local school system. In all of these positions, I was trained on the importance of public branding and marketing. It was an important part of my job to analyze how the company was being viewed by the public, and work to create the best image possible.

Currently, as a teacher, I continue to critique my message, especially in regards to social media. This is important, because teachers like ministers, police officers, and doctors work in a profession based on trust with the people we serve. By posting or others posting inappropriate messages to our accounts without our knowledge as well as accepting friend requests by our students we run the risk of undermining our authority as service leaders.

Additionally, teachers are vulnerable in that we serve children who are impressionable. Our students look to us as role models, and they want to connect with us. As a result, they will test the boundaries. However, adolescents may not be cognitively capable of setting boundaries themselves. As mature adults, we must do that. For example, in the marketing/public relations spheres social media is often compared to a digital cocktail party. It could be argued that by friending students to our personal Facebook pages, we are inadvertently inviting them to our own personal cocktail parties. From a public relations stand point, this is dangerous territory.

So, how can we use social media appropriately, and prevent a public relations mishap, while also maintaining trust with parents and the students we teach?

First, teachers should defriend any student from his or her personal Facebook account who has not graduated from high school yet or is under 21 years of age. Teachers can create a separate account for personal use and a separate account for the classroom. Facebook affords an easy and effective venue to keep parents informed, share pictures, and updates through a newsfeed. Allowing comments for the teacher account is questionable. For the sake of privacy, leave an e-mail address for further questions or concerns. In regards to personal accounts, teachers should be aware that parents, students, and administrators are still watching and reading what is posted. Every post is a personal branding of you. It's important to be aware.

Furthermore, it's best advised not to blur the lines of personal and business on any social website whether it is Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, or Instagram. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Kate White, the former editor and chief of Cosmopolitan and author of I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know. White states,  "Unless you’re in a field that has more of a casual vibe, like sports or show business, it's smart to keep your Facebook and Twitter pages professionally focused. Post and tweet about a great article you read or a talk you heard that’s related to your profession. Trust me. Even if your boss doesn’t seem like the type who would be bothered by updates on your partying or dating life, on some level, she will find it unprofessional and that alters her view of you."

In closing, it may seem like an overwhelming task for a teacher, school, or school system to take on an issue like social media branding. However, with the constant growth of social media, it cannot be overlooked. Teachers represent their schools and communities. A professional image and set boundaries are vital to success.

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