Monday, December 17, 2012

Lessons from WDW #7: Social Media

I've been thinking a lot about how schools can better use social media to reach out to the community, improve learning, and celebrate success. If your schools are like ours, you are just beginning to scratch the surface of social media as it pertains to your daily work. As with anything, in the beginning, we are taking tentative steps. We want to run to catch up, but we don't want to fall. Meanwhile the rest of the world is liking, plussing and retweeting away.

I think it is important that we enter this fray for a few reasons: 1. We need to speak for ourselves. If we don't tell our own stories, someone else will. Badly. 2. Open communication is good. Misunderstandings happen when people fail to communicate well. Anything that helps us communicate more often to a wider audience is a win. 3. We need to be where the world is. It strikes me as arrogant that we expect the world to come to us on our terms for information instead of us taking it to them on theirs. 4. Social media enables a dialog among stakeholders instead of the one-way communication of many school communications. It allows us to be a community, rather than an institution.

I was reminded recently that our struggle to be part of this new, more personal form of communication has it's parallels in the business world. While I have plenty of stories of personal interactions with corporations enabled by social media, I also get frustrated when a company I do business with fails to treat me as an individual, as a person, and to respond to me personally when I reach out. My expectations for service are much higher now because some companies have done that well, and the ones who have not caught up are suffering from my raised expectations.

Given how far behind most schools are compared to the business community in terms of enabling customer service via online accessibility and social media, I suspect that we are suffering from the same raised expectations of the community. The people we serve expect a higher and higher level of personal attention, and we should be providing that (I would argue) even more than other industries. The personal touch matters. People want to know they are heard. They want to know that their thoughts and concerns count. People want to be more than just a number, a score, or a dollar amount.

I happen to believe that in education, we want that to be so even if we don't always stick the landing when we are given the opportunity to prove it. Social media represents an opportunity to show how focused on individuals we can be (if we do it well), or it represents another opportunity to affirm the conviction that schools are factories built for efficiency, rather than individuality (if we don't do it right). I'd like us to do this right.

That is why I was excited to see this post from the Disney Institute blog. I know from personal experience that Disney does customer service better than anyone. Every interaction with Disney is an invitation to a relationship with the brand, a community. Disney is constantly reaching out to interact with me by offering chat windows on their website, by asking me to complete surveys online, via the phone, and at the parks, and by creating all sorts of online communities and social media outlets that I can access. I knew that if I could find insight into Disney's approach to social media, I would likely gain good strategies to apply to a school or teacher's use of social media.

Based on their 5 pieces of advice, these are my thoughts for education:

  1. Continuously Listen- I'm glad this is number 1. I think a lot of people see social media as just a place to broadcast information. Of course, schools and teachers can use social media to share information with the community, but they should also make it easy for the community to comment back. We should be listening to those comments (positive and negative) and responding quickly to them so that people know that we care and are trying to build the best experience for everyone. If we aren't listening, we let the conversation go on without us, and worse, we are missing an opportunity to learn and to improve what we do.
  2. Quality Interaction- Disney makes a point that social media is an opportunity to really interact with our community. That level of personal interaction enables us to grow our relationships within our community. It also gives us a chance to better understand our community, so that we can always be sure that our message is tailored to them. The best way to reach our audience is to understand them, and the best way to understand them, is to get to know them.
  3. Provide a Helping Hand- There is no avoiding the fact that people will occasionally not be happy with "our brand" and social media is a place where they feel that they can have the most impact with their complaints. This is true. But the best way to deal with that is not to get defensive or argue with them in the social arena. Understand that their frustrations are real, well-founded or not. If you want to win in social media, address the problem. Help the frustrated feel heard. Show the public that you care that people have a good experience with you. Your greatest detractors can become your greatest advocates when you work to serve others and build community.
  4. Give Your Customers the Spotlight- Remember, social media isn't just about your voice. It is about our voices. Allow people to bring their own voice to your message. If you have a consistent message, people will promote that message for you because they want to be part of the community you are building. Let them. Find members of your social community who are good advocates for the work you are doing, and shine a light on them. For schools, this may mean the community. For teachers, it may mean students or parents.
  5. Transparency- The beauty of social media is that it is an open forum. People want to get to know your school or your class or you as a teacher or principal. If what you are doing on social media is honest and useful and well-intended, you do not have to be perfect. The community you build will be invested in its own success (and in yours). 

To me, the overall message is that we create social media spaces, not with ourselves in mind, but with others in mind. We want our students, their parents and the community to value who we are and what we do. In order for that to happen, we need to be of value to them. Social media gives us the opportunity to learn how to be of better value to our community as well as the opportunity to demonstrate that value daily in very personal ways. We ignore this opportunity at our peril.

I'd love to know your thoughts on this topic. How do you use social media as an educator? What lessons have you learned in the process? Also, what examples do you have of good or bad social media experiences with companies or schools?

photo credit: Will Lion via photopin cc

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