Flexing Your Faculty: Teacher Blogs

I’ve previously written about the valuable role students can play in generating content for social spaces. Student-generated content is a great way to communicate the culture of your school, straight from kids who experience it every day. But you might not realize that there is another source for content creation right under your nose—the faculty.

Faculty bloggers are a great way to round out your school’s story online. You can show off your outstanding teachers to several different audiences. Potential families and potential employees are both curious about what life is like on campus. Although student recruitment is a major part of outreach, staff turnover rates in international independent schools range from 10 percent to as high as 60 percent. This makes staff and faculty recruitment a big part of school marketing.

Making the Case

Faculty are already busy—they’re teaching, after all—so asking teachers to blog on top of their regular duties might be a hard sell. There are ways to make the case, however. Teachers already regularly communicate with parents in a variety of ways. Think about how some of that information can be turned into blog posts—for example, photos from a field trip, quick video clips from presentations or class reading for the week. If the class is using technology or other tools in the classroom, all the better. Initiatives like 1:1 programs (one laptop for each student) are also great fodder for blogs.

Another way to make the case is to appeal to a teacher’s professional goals and career arc. Blogs can be a great way to create and maintain personal brand. As previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon for international school teachers to change schools. Some migrate to new schools every two to three years and having a digital record of classrooms and activities can be a great way to show course progression, teaching styles and interest to potential employers.

Privacy Concerns

As always, protecting students and families is critical. Faculty should adhere to the same data protection and privacy policies used for all school publications. I am personally a big proponent of having the majority of content publicly available, but keeping kids safe is of the utmost importance.

Finders, Keepers

Your teachers might be creating the greatest blog content ever written, but if it isn’t easy to find, they might as well not bother. Make faculty blogs easy to find for all of your audiences: potential families, current families, potential employees and the teaching and learning community at large. Consider creating a page on your website that lists all faculty blogs and make it easy for users to navigate between them.

Final thoughts: Blogs aren’t the only way to share faculty-generated content. Microblogs like Twitter, photo sharing sites like Flickr or the many social bookmarking sites are also options. It’s up to you, the school and your faculty to figure out what works best.

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Routine Maintenance

Your online communications tools and protocols require continual upkeep. Just like your home or your car, you rely on these tools and use them regularly. Here are a few ideas for keeping your online communications engine running.

Get a Tuneup
Brush up on social media tools and online trends regularly, as well as the latest your CMS provider has to offer. Do you know about the latest platforms and tools? What are the newest features and changes on the platforms you use? Have you taken full advantage of them where applicable, or at least given them a try? You should be able to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of these tools, including the latest additions. On the flipside, take a hard look at the pieces you currently use and pay for. This sort of internal audit will help you determine what you might be spending time on, or paying for, that you don’t need.

Change the Oil
When is the last time you reviewed your privacy policies, terms of use, user agreements or other policies surrounding your social media and online presences?  Given the frequency of updates and changes in the online world, it is important to make sure your policies and procedures are up-to-date. Re-read these policy documents every 12 months and confirm that no changes or additions are necessary.

Check Your Spare
If your entire network went down, what would you do? If you store your policies and procedures on your servers, how would you get to them? Create a “low-tech” backup and print your policies and procedures, social media documentation, social media strategy and other important documentation (e.g., emergency contacts, crisis communications plan, contact information for vendors and other key players) —just in case. You don’t want to get caught without this key information if your systems fail.

This piece is cross-posted on the CASE Social Media Blog.

Program Notes: CASE Europe and Beyond Social Media

The recent CASE Europe seminar “Beyond Social Media,” developed by Ken Punter (@kenpunter), Ellie Lovell (@ellielovell) and me, was structured to give attendees the opportunity to go beyond the basics and learn how to develop strategic initiatives for social media.

Ellie’s vision for the seminar was to look past the day-to-day details of social tools. She describes the overall approach:

“We have been talking about social media for a long time now, and we’re all doing it in some way or another…but I wonder how many of us are doing it purposefully. We seem to talk more about the tools and the ‘how?’ rather than the principles and the ‘why?’ I was really keen to look at what we want to achieve and how social media can support those objectives. We need to demonstrate the value of using social media and online channels. It’s an area that will continue to need investment if we are going to do it purposefully.”

The Sessions

We heard from a variety of speakers representing higher ed, private industry, schools, communications, fundraising, alumni relations and marketing. Ken Punter kicked off the day’s talks by reminding us of the roots of basic human behavior. Ken believes that people should be at the center of everything we do with regards to social tools. “It’s an approach, not a technology,” he said. This reminded me of Andy Shaindlin’s “Ride the wave, not the board” concept as discussed on his blog, Alumni Futures. Both speak to the heart of the social web—it’s about people and behaviors, not software and platforms.

We also heard from staff at three institutions—Leeds, Open University, and York—who provided case studies about their efforts in social media. They included a bespoke solution (a custom platform built in-house), a “walled garden” hybrid (using a private alumni directory service alongside tools like Facebook and Twitter) and using solely third-party tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube). While the approach highlighted in each case study proved effective for the respective institution, the success of varied methods also speaks to the fact that there is no magic bullet for “solving” social media. Each institution has its own character, stakeholders, culture and community. Taking a hard look at an institution’s strategic initiatives is the key to selecting an approach for effectively engaging audiences with social technologies.

Measurement, return on investment and garnering support for initiatives is also key, as highlighted by the seminar’s two final presentations. First, a panel session on measuring and monitoring social media considered different approaches to both qualitative and quantitative measurement and stressed the need for benchmarking. I closed out the day featuring issues related to growing support for social media initiatives and reporting successes to peers, managers and high-level leadership.

In all, the day’s presentations provided a cohesive look at the issues that go well beyond starting a Facebook page or tweeting for the first time. Strategic thinking and being true to the voice of your institution are major components of a successful implementation of social tools.

In case you missed the program in person, learn more by following these links.

This piece is cross-posted on the CASE Social Media Blog.

Hello Europe

The folks at CASE Europe have welcomed me with open arms since arriving in London last fall. I’m happy to say I’m presenting at two events this summer:

First, at Online Management: Beyond Social Media, a daylong seminar put together by Ellie Lovell of Warwick University (follow along with #caseonline if you can’t be there in person).

And second, as part of the first ever schools programme at the CASE Europe Annual Conference, speaking with Tracy Playle of Pickle Jar Communications.

Please let me know if you’ll be in attendance, and stop by to say hello!

Social Media and the Alumni Relations Profession

What does social media mean for the modern alumni relations professional, and the future of the profession itself? Check out my piece in CASE Currents (CASE membership required) for my thoughts, along with insight from Andy Shaindlin, Andrew Gossen and Charlie Melichar.