Social Media: How to 'Sell It' to Your Team

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Social media is something that many younger teachers will have a familiarity with outside of the classroom. Ask any colleague under the age of, say, 30, and it's fairly likely that he or she will have a profile on a social network like Facebook or MySpace. Business-facing social networks like LinkedIn have also seen explosive growth from educators in the last year.

"Education management is one of the top five fastest growing segments on our network," said LinkedIn's director of corporate communications, Kay Luo. The "education management" category includes classroom teachers.

But for educators who are champions of new technologies, getting any kind of social media program going in schools is a serious challenge. A significant portion of districts ban even the tamest forms of social media. So just to get started, you'll need to find ways to broach the subject without scaring off stakeholders. That means focusing on the form of social media right for your school; tying a social media program into learning objectives; and finding the right ways to break the ice with administrators, IT/technology directors, and other teachers.

What Forms of Social Media Are Out There?
Don’t think that social media only includes social networks; they are only one bucket of social media; forums, blogs, wikis, aggregators (collections of blogs), podcasts, vodcasts and microformats (machine-readable media) are other often-overlooked forms of social media that should be considered when making initial forays into social media.

What Is the Educational/Community Value of Social Media?
Just as businesses looking to implement social media solutions need to tie their programs to core business objectives, classroom teachers, curriculum planners, and administrators looking to implement some type of social media solution need to tie their program to a learning objective. Is there a specific expected schoolwide learning objective that you're trying to meet? Remember, you can't effectively tie a social media program to a technology-based learning objective.

The goal of a social media program is in simple terms to foster and enhance communication between people and to socialize learning; the technology skills needed by students and staff to execute a program of this nature need already to be in place, and if they're not, then technology objectives (Netiquette, e-mail literacy, search literacy, basic multimedia literacy, password creation, keyboarding, mousing) need to be completed first.

It's clear that social media properties such as Facebook are highly trafficked by students; according to a 2007 study by the National School Boards Association, students spend nearly as much time on the Internet visiting Web sites and social networking services as they do watching television: nine hours per week for teens.

To "sell" your team on the value of using social media in the classroom, you may need to look beyond tactical technology-related learning objectives and hone in on core curriculum objectives. For example, the California Grade Seven Mathematics content standards (Algebra and Functions, 4.0) states that students must be able to solve two-step linear equations and rate, speed, and distance problems. Classroom teachers need to ask themselves whether there is a clear advantage to having students demonstrate proficiency in this skill using social media (e.g. video or audio content creation and sharing). This could alternately be proposed as a situation where social media is the hook, grabbing students' interest in the project.

If your district has a policy against using social networks (or even video sites like YouTube) on school property, then you'll need to work around this, and either leverage academic-focused online social sites like Blackboard, Moodle, or CyberExtension, or use a different social media tool.

Who Are the Stakeholders?
Unlike traditional curriculum planning, if you're planning a social media program in a K-12 environment, there's one critical additional stakeholder: the public at large. Conversations in social media are highly visible, and easily located through the most basic searches, except for conversations that take place in password-protected forums. Students will need to be highly aware of the visibility and permanence of these conversations. Having students agree to a classroom-based social media set of guidelines could be one way of cementing their understanding of the realities of working in this technological framework. Educators would want this document to attest to a student's knowledge of the unacceptability of the following in social media:

  • Profanity and harassment
  • Using PII (personally identifiable information) in social media
  • Phone number, address, last name, etc.
  • Non-transparent and/or non-constructive criticism of the work of others

Obtaining Buyin?
Just as a corporate director of marketing would need to methodically "sell" the marketing department on a social media initiative, educators and administrators will need to "sell" their teams on the value of such projects. Here's how to do it:

1. Broach the subject by asking "teaser" questions to colleagues.

A. "So, do you read any blogs or online forums?"

B. "Have you ever checked out any curriculum blogs? I've noticed a fairly large curriculum blog contingent in the home schooling community."

C. "I've noticed that a lot of non-textbook K-12 publishers, like Harper Collins, are using social media to reach out to tweens and teens. What do you make of that?"

2. Ask the person who runs your department's weekly meeting to let you make a brief presentation on social media, containing the following slides:

A. What is social media?

B. Who has used it in K-12 education?

C. What are some of the different kinds of social media?

D. How do you ensure that social media targets core learning objectives?

3. Follow up the session with a Q&A. Be prepared to get questions that relate to district policies that forbid the uses of certain types of social media. To avoid arguments about "forbidden" technologies, constantly refocus the conversation on the fact that there are several types of social media, and the purpose of the presentation was to educate the team overall on what's "out there," rather than to propose a detailed direction.

4. With your department head or principal's approval, pilot a one-tool social media project in your classroom or department to get everyone's feet wet.

5. Assess the pilot project's success, and present learnings, best practices, and lesson plan to the rest of the department. Add a slide to your presentation to show an example of the use of social media in your department or school. When assessing the project, pay careful attention to how student engagement, completion, and abandonment matched past projects. A post-project open-response survey for students is highly recommended.

A sensible next step from here would be to write a multi-classroom or department wide project that involves social media, either in process or presentation. My guess is if you follow these steps, you'll find that social media can quickly become a very valuable new tool for teachers, students, and administrators. The possibilities really are endless.

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About the author: Adam Metz is the director of social media strategies at LaunchSquad (www.launchsquad.com), a San Francisco-based public relations firm. He recently published an eBook on social media, There Is No Secret Sauce, which is available from his social media strategy blog, MetzMash (www.metzmash.com). He can be reached at adammetz (at) gmail dot com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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