Does Your School District Have a Social Media Policy?
April 12th, 2018
The students in your schools are not the only ones using popular social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In 2017, 81 percent of the U.S. population had a social networking profile. Facebook remains the most popular with over 2 billion users worldwide.1 Close behind are YouTube with 1.5 billion, Instagram with 800 million, and Twitter with 330 million. With numbers this staggering, is it any surprise to learn that the user bases of these platforms include not just your students, but faculty, staff, coaches, and administrators?
According to a study conducted in 2016, 71 percent of teachers use Facebook daily for personal use, 33 percent use Google +, 32 percent use Pinterest, 27 percent use Instagram, and 18 percent use Twitter.2 Over the past decade, the meteoric rise of social media has changed the ways that individuals consume and share information, connect with one another, and network professionally. With social media infiltrating so many crevices of our lives, the lines between sharing personal information and work-related information on social media often blur, becoming part of the same interwoven tapestry of digital interactions that capture everything from the momentous to the minutia.
For this reason, all school districts should have a social media policy in place to ensure employees have guardrails and guidelines to protect their schools, the district, themselves, and anyone with whom they interact. This includes students and fellow employees. Faculty and staff must also respect the position of the school district’s leaders as the single source of official news, information, and commentary on school issues and programs. If your school district does not already have a social media policy in place with rules and guidelines for both professional and personal use, now is the time start the conversation around implementing one. Consider the following social media policy best practices.
Social Media Policy Best Practices for School Districts
- Clarify Who Can Comment on School Issues and Policies. School districts are public entities that are routinely observed and scrutinized by the media, the community, and parents. Such groups will inherently associate anyone affiliated with the school district as a representative of its policies, which means guidelines should be put into place to clarify which individuals are authorized to comment on school issues and any other topics of interest to the public or the media.Whether they support recent decisions personally or not, faculty and staff must understand that they should not comment or share their personal opinions about school issues via social media. Any public commentary is accessible by the media, parents, and community members and could be misconstrued as an official statement from a school representative, or as evidence of discord between staff and leadership. Make it clear that faculty and staff are not to comment on official school business on social media unless they are among designated staff members authorized to share information via official district or school social media accounts.
- Establish Whether Social Media Can be Used to Communicate with Students and Parents. A 2016 study found that 20 percent of teachers surveyed use social media to communicate with parents or students, primarily using Google+.3 The efficacy of social media platforms as a channel for parent and student communications needs to be determined on an individual school district basis. Many educators argue that as part of teachers’ need to keep parents informed, social media should be used as an effective avenue to reach busy parents by leveraging the tools they are already using to consume information and learn about their community and the issues facing their children.If you and your school board agree that social media can be used effectively to provide updates to parents and guardians, establish policies that include:
- Which platforms may be used to communicate with parents.
- If teachers should use their personal profiles on these platforms or a secondary professional, or school-issued account.
- The frequency with which teachers are expected to provide updates using social media.
- What type of information may be shared (e.g., reminders about dates and times for standardized testing), and what information may not be shared (e.g., individual student grades).
- A clarification that social media may only be used as permitted to communicate school-related information, and that teachers should not “friend” or “follow” current students using their personal social media profiles.
- Ensure Teachers are Protected from Cyberbullies. Your students are not the only ones at risk of being harassed on social media. For some individuals, the ability to hide behind a computer screen gives them the courage to criticize, while others take advantage of the public nature of social media to share negative opinions widely. Whether you encourage your faculty and staff to use social media to communicate with parents and students or not, make sure your school has a policy in place that gives them recourse to report any inappropriate commenting or communications.
- Put Photo Usage Guidelines into Place. Faculty and staff should never post photos of students on social media. Every parent has a personal comfort level as to the public sharing of their son or daughter’s likeness, and many do not want their child’s image shared in digital social spheres. Your school district’s official accounts should have guidelines in place for what types of photos can be shared, and it should have written permission to share students’ photos from parents or guardians on district managed accounts only.
In many ways, social media allows public entities such as school districts to keep parents and community members informed about the positive accomplishments of students and programs and can let those in its influence connect to one another in powerful ways. Like all tools with the potential for positive impact, however, social media engagements need guardrails to ensure appropriate and efficacious usage. Once you and your school board have agreed on social media policies, share them with all faculty, staff, and new hires, and provide annual policy reminders. By ensuring all employees understand and respect your district’s social media guidelines, you can be confident social platforms will remain tools for good and will minimize the risk of a social networking nightmare disrupting your district.
3. Seat, K. (n.d.). Surprising Statistics about Educators’ Social Media Use. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from https://directnetwork.mbsdirect.net/surprising-statistics-about-educators-social-media-use↩