Building a Business
What about social media?
When Facebook first rocketed to popularity in 2006, many observers believed it was mainly a way for teens and college students to stay in close touch with their friends. But today many businesses and organizations have Facebook pages. Should you?
If you ask a business communications consultant, the answer will likely be: “Yes, because your customers are already there.” Facebook has more than 750 million active users worldwide, and the number is growing daily.
If you ask the families you serve, your staff, board members, and colleagues, the answer might vary.
Facebook, of course, is not the only option for connecting online. MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter are information-sharing sites, and Flickr and YouTube enable sharing of photos and videos. All these and more are social media, and they are changing the way we communicate.
Risks versus benefits
Social media have become powerful communication tools, as recent global events have shown. These websites give us ways to make contact, exchange information, and engage people in online communities. They can keep groups informed, garner support, and call for action.
At the same time, however, social media pose hazards, such as spreading viruses and attracting predators. Facebook, for example, has come under criticism in recent years for lapses in security, use of private information on members, problems ensuring child safety, and misleading advertising.
Apart from such internal dangers, there is the risk of thoughtless or malicious posts by users. In one company, for example, an employee happened to see a confidential list of people who were to be laid off and, eager to warn her co-worker friends, posted their names. The friends reacted with shock and confusion, and company officials felt betrayed.
As another example, defamatory comments like “My boss is a jerk” can tarnish a company’s reputation. The consequence for an offending employee can be dismissal. (Many organizations routinely go online to screen job applicants and current employees.)
What’s more, social media comments are now finding their way into the courts, where they can be used as evidence in such matters as divorce cases, child custody hearings, and child support disputes.
Yet for many employers, the most common irritation is the time employees spend on social media when they should be working. As a result, many employers have blocked access to social sites on company computers and have set policies governing use of smart phones and other personal mobile devices.
A role in early childhood education?
A child care facility considering the use of social media needs to consider several questions:
What is our goal or objective in using social media? Is it to improve communication with parents or attract new ones? Is it a temporary site for rallying supporters to a community cause or for raising funds? Do we want to raise our visibility in the community or share ideas among staff? Communication experts advise against using social media for outright marketing and instead use them to improve communication with customers.
Whom are we trying to reach—parents, staff, board members, vendors, volunteers, donors, community leaders, supporters, colleagues, college students, regulatory agencies, or some combination? What’s the best way to reach these stakeholders? If they don’t use social media, a website or standard e-mail might be more effective.
What will be the cost in money and time? Facebook and other social media are free, but regularly updating a page and responding to comments in a timely fashion can require a serious commitment of time.
How will we choose which social media to adopt? A survey of parents and other stakeholders can identify which tools they use and how they use them. It’s also important to distinguish between types of tools available. Facebook, for example, offers profiles for individuals and pages for businesses.
How will we train staff in the use of social media? Will we hire a consultant, or form an in-house team of volunteers? Simply creating an account on Facebook or Twitter and exploring it can help staff become familiar with how social sites work.
What policies will govern the use of social media by staff on and off the job? Who will have the authority to represent our facility online? The policy needs to define social media and address such issues as confidential and proprietary information, copyright, photos, factual accuracy, and liability. Employees need to remember that privacy does not exist in social media and that postings need to be brief, respectful, and professional.
How will we inform parents or other targeted stakeholders about our adoption of social media and invite their interaction? It’s good to have a respectable number of people already lined up to “like” a Facebook page when it’s launched.
How will we deal with comments about our facility? Experts say to expect candid feedback, including negative remarks, and use it to improve service.
What’s the profession saying?
Exchange, an early childhood educators magazine at www.childcareexchange.com, in its May-June 2011 issue, reports that early childhood professionals have been slow to adopt social media and other digital devices and encourages readers “to open your mind to the possibilities.”
Several national early childhood groups use social media. Facebook members, for example, include the National Association for the Education of Young Children, the Children’s Defense Fund, and the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.
NAEYC, in particular, has drafted a Position Statement on Technology that will be published in a final version this fall. The draft, available at www.naeyc.org/positionstatements/technology, suggests that teachers can use social media to help families stay more connected with their children while in care.
Public and private schools often have technology coordinators who can share ideas on social media policy. One resource is the Power On Texas project, www.powerontexas.com, created by the Texas Education Agency in collaboration with AMS Pictures, a company with offices in Dallas and Austin. The videos highlight how teachers in seven public school districts are using technology to transform student achievement in grades K-12.