Social Networks - thoughts for Schools

If I had a pound for every head teacher who said they were worried about using the leading social media platforms "Twitter" and "Facebook" I think I would have £45.00, or perhaps more. The main fears are that, let's call them, 'certain users' will take advantage of the ability to publically post comments as a way to complain or, even worse, be abusive or threatening toward the school or its staff. From experience, such behaviour is rare but when it does happen the implications for the school can be significant, calling up all manner of policies like complaints, greivances, acceptable use,  safeguarding and more.

The frustration for schools is that they understand that sizeable numbers of their parents are already using Facebook and a growing number are also adopting Twitter. As a result, socially aware head teachers would like to reach out to these parents using the online services that they prefer. Its all about 'Parental Engagement' and many schools have already bitten the bullet and use social networks to ensure parents and carers are up to date. Using Facebook and Twitter in this way can 'push' messages out to the school audience where, historically, websites were expected to be so attractive that they were the focus for updates and new information. Websites don't push... some do not even 'pull'!

So, what to do? Is there a way to give schools the tools to push messages out to parents but ensure they do so with as much control as possible. Can head teachers be given sufficient reassurance that they can manage what 'comes in' as well as what goes out? Well, based on findings from the two big social networks, perhaps the following will offer awareness of how to protect a school. This first post relates to Facebook.

Facebook

Pages vs Groups

For a long time, Facebook Pages were the preferred way for certain schools to communicate with the outside world. However, one thing that some may have missed is that 'Pages are always public', meaning their information and posts are available to all Facebook users, and if they represent a school, they can only be created by official representatives. But public pages were just that and less than helpful comments were sometimes left on these pages by visitors who perhaps had a spleen to vent.

By contrast, Groups have far greater measures available to allow them to be locked down.

This Facebook page (Jan 2014) is a good point of reference. The page in question is shown below (purely for expedience) and it shows that there are three privacy options for Facebook Groups: Open, Closed and Secret. In a nutshell, they work like this:

  • Public: anyone can see the Group and find it in searches
  • Closed: anyone can see the group, but only members can see and make posts
  • Secret:  only members can see and make posts

Another key part of these Group types, and in particular the 'Secret' variety is that Secret Groups are not indexed by Google, so posts will never appear in Google search results. Also, if someone has (or is given) the web address (URL) to the Secret Group they can't gain access to it without being invited.

The table below shows who can join these three types of group and what people can see about them. Note, the term 'be added' is a link and it details that administrators (or 'admins' as they are called), can add other Facebook users to a Group.

 Facebook Group Type
 Question Open Closed Secret
Who can join? Anyone can join or be added or invited by a member Anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member Anyone, but they have to be added or invited by a member
Who can see the group's name? Anyone Anyone Current and former members
Who can see who's in the group? Anyone Anyone Only members
Who can see the group description? Anyone Anyone Current and former members
Who can see the group tags? Anyone Anyone Current and former members
Who can see what members post in the group? Anyone Only members Only members
Who can find the group in search? Anyone Anyone Only members
Who can see stories about the group on Facebook (like in News Feed and search)? Anyone Anyone Only members

So, to really manage a Facebook scenario and to ensure only those a school wants 'on-board' can see what the school is posting, is probably wise to choose the 'Secret' group type.  The only downside we have noted is that once a user has been added to a Group, even if they 'leave' the group (the user can decide to do that at will), then the user will still recieve notifications from the Group. The act of leaving the group simply barrs the user from posting new messages to the Group.

The key part here is adding the users. A school will not know the names of parent's Facebook accounts and so it might actually be wise to kick off the Group in "Closed" mode. In fact  the Group MUST be Closed if you are going to add members that you are not friends with. 

After selecting to create a Closed Group, the school can then send the URL for the Group to the people it wishes to invite, possibly in a newsletter or text message. The URL will take them to the Group page, where they’ll see an Ask to Join the Group button (normally on the top right corner of the page). Once they click that button, the admin of the Group will see their request on the right column of the Group page.

To approve people who have asked to join the Group, the admin will use the section called Requests and will click the Add or Ignore link for each person who has asked to join the Group. Once everyone is in, the school can change the Group setting to Secret.

Once the Group is set to "Secret", existing members can invite new members but, using Facebokk Setting, the admin can approve or reject such requests.

This way the school is on control of who is in the Group and can even control what posts go live!

Would this work for your school?

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