By now nearly every educator has some access to the world of social media. It has changed everything we do on a daily basis. The good news is that this is the time to leverage this period of social media growth and use it to your advantage. Whether you run a college program or consult with a high school ensemble, managing your social media outlets can be easy to do with minimal effort. Just like learning the 26 standard rudiments of drumming, practice makes perfect and there are pitfalls to avoid.
At the end of the day, social media activities are just another method of communication. It is another way to tell people the what, how, when and why of what you are doing, affording you the opportunity to spread your gospel in your own way. Everyone is using social media in different ways: music educators, state music educator chapters, industry manufacturers and artists. While we are each finding the most appropriate ways to use this medium, there are certain essential “rudimentals” that you should know.
Sit down with your Board of Directors, your school administration or the senior leaders of your organization. Come to an agreement on the following questions:
This exercise is necessary for a few reasons:
Your answers to the questions above should be in line with the values and mission of your organization. If not, re-assess your social media plans. Remember that what you put out on the web tells everyone what you believe in while giving a “face” to what you are trying to achieve.
So write it up – and don’t forget to put these details into your marketing plan. As you or your organization changes, your social media plans should evolve, too. Be sure to review it once a year and update as needed.
Do you remember the last time you read a post that felt forced or trite? No doubt it did nothing to endear you to the poster. While social media makes connecting much simpler, it requires authenticity. If your posts are not open and honest, you’ve wasted both your time and the time of those who follow you. Even worse, you risk turning people off, alienating students and potentially turning away future students or collaborators.
Determine how you (or your organization) wants to be contacted, and make it easy for people to figure this out. But the true goal here is to get back to people right away if and when they do contact you. If you post an email address on your organization’s Facebook page, decide who will be checking that email and how often. Make sure that if that person is on vacation or leaves the organization, someone else handles that responsibility. Not getting back to people in a timely manner presents the risk of losing that connection.
Allow many people to contribute content. This also helps the leaders to understand the medium and the potential it has to help or hurt the organization. Involving multiple people spreads the burden rather than expecting one person to do it all, and it gives stakeholders an appreciation for the time and effort it takes to manage your presence well.
There are some people and organizations who feel it necessary to post all the time (you know who you are), while others not so much. You will find the happy medium for you and your organization over time. Some days you’ll post a lot and other days not at all. Your audience will tell you by their actions what frequency is best. Trust what their behavior tells you, even if it is that less is more.
Know that the intermingling of personal and business information is almost impossible to avoid. Social media instantly opens up your life and the lives of the people in your organization to the world, warts and all. It creates an association between you and the organization you run – whether you like it or not.
Most posts or photos can be tagged by anyone, and make their way (quickly) to your boss, your students, or (perhaps worse yet) your students’ parents. Many organizations have assistants who are not much older than their members. A parent could be very (and vocally) concerned if they see their kids’ teachers “whooping it up” at a local bar or on a wild weekend in Vegas. While the argument can be made that what people do in their free time is their own business, there are numerous stories of professionals who have paid for social media gaffes with their jobs.
Many institutions and organizations have social media policies. Make it a priority for you – and your staff – to be informed and conversant with yours.
Choose the most open form of profile. For example, make your Facebook group a “Fan Page” or set your Instagram to “public.” Unless you are creating a closed group for only certain verified members to view, do not make it difficult for people to join. If the goal is to tell your story to as many people as possible, then allow everyone access to that information.
Errors in spelling or grammar will make you look unprofessional, as can the use of shorthand, emoticons or slang. Be aware that the language you choose is a statement about your organization. If your primary audience includes those over the age of 40, err on the side of caution and use more professional language. Not doing so can make your organization look young and immature.
If the school has rules about logos and links – which is likely the case with many universities – you need to be careful to follow the proper procedures. Check with your department head to ensure you have the right logos, brands and trademarks, and that they are being used consistently across all mediums.
As a teacher – if your students are under the age of 18 – becoming “friends” or “followers” through your personal social media profile can be a dangerous decision. Some online safety groups have expressed concern that it facilitates inappropriate teacher-student conduct. Other experts argue that it is unrealistic to expect teachers not to engage with their students in an environment where students spend the majority of their time and attention.
Regardless of which side you agree with, be aware of your school board’s most current thinking on the topic. Many have issued social media policies that explicitly forbid it, or guidelines strongly discouraging it.
If the school does not already have such a policy, assume that they will in the near future. If formal or informal guidelines exist, be sure to adhere to them. Your success will depend on your ability to work within the guidelines. To help advocate for your cause, be clear and open to your superiors about your goals. Keep them aware of your success and your future plans. Be a role model for other departments at your institution.
Don’t just post variations on the same content all the time. Mix it up. Plan your posts, and be sure to blend in new material regularly. Be different. It gets old if everyone is posting about the same thing. Be unique and tell your own story in your own way.
If you work at a school of music, your audience is already quite large, with current students, alumni, potential donors, instrument manufacturers, music dealers, educators and prospective students all checking in on you. It can be a challenge to resonate with such a wide variety of listeners every day with the same message. Each of these audience segments has different needs and wants, potentially requiring different methods of communication and tone of voice. Use what you know about each audience to reach them. For example, utilize separate channels – Facebook for other educators or Instagram for current students – to reach distinct audiences or invest in targeting key posts. There will also be times your message will be universally appealing.
Not everyone is going to like what you say and some people may tell you this (possibly quite vehemently!) on your blog or Facebook page. Be prepared for this and okay with accepting the criticism. If you are going to put yourself out there, be willing to hear and accept opinions other than your own. Politely correct important inaccuracies by providing access to data or original source material, but avoid debating opinions. The worst thing you can do is get into a public flame war. No one wins these battles.
Work as a team with others in your city or state to promote events wisely. Get to know the other music education chapters, drum corps, indoor ensembles, universities programs that are in your circle of influence in order to optimize your communications. Coordinate the use of Twitter hashtags and other tools to help each other. The power of social media lies in the ability to harness who you know.
Look at others around you in your activity. Who’s doing it right? Who’s doing it not so right? Make note of that. Good ideas are just that. Use them to your advantage. Talk to others too about how to share and collaborate online. Figure out how to use social media to the benefit of everyone. If you do, it will catch on and you’ll be successful.
I’ve mentioned this already, but it bears repeating: Your history is now visible online to anyone who looks. Not just your official organization social media accounts, but your personal ones too. If you are “friends” with your boss, school administrator or band director, they know everything about you, even that time back in 1987 when you went to the prom. What a night that was! Your posts and tweets are now public information. Use the security features available – and common sense – to restrict what is in the public domain. And remember: what you do may be used against you.
Not sure what to post? Check your calendar. Events are great fuel for social media posts – timely, relevant and action-oriented. Here are just a few ways that you can use your event calendar to spice up and make your content relevant:
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Digg, blogs, Flickr . . . and more. It can be a lot to manage. There are many great tools out there to help you manage multiple sites and networks through one central application. Use them so your message is current, relevant and consistent across all mediums.
You can also set all your social outlets to come to you via one outlet. Some folks use a select email account for pooling it all in one place. This will help you organize what you are doing, thereby keeping all the conversations more manageable.
Ask other industry professionals about your social media activities. Get open and honest advice. If you work with an indoor group, ask the parents about the group’s social media activities. Be open to criticism and make changes where necessary – it can only help.
Share as much as you can, including links, blogs, photos and videos. The power of social media comes through sharing content from associated organizations with your audience. If your content targets people under the age of 18, be cognizant of where these associated links are being directed. This can affect how your organization is perceived.
Think about how much time you can afford to devote to social media, and stick to your plan. It’s easy to find yourself obsessively checking your engagement statistics, or crafting one more tweet. Keep yourself in check, so as not to let it get the best of you.
If you are new to all this, start small and see what works for you, your organization or school. See what others are doing first and revamp it to fit your own style. This is not a race. Take your time and do it right.
This is what it all comes down to – communication! It’s not about having people read your Twitter feeds all the time, but rather it is about engaging people whom you have never met in a conversation about music, education and life. If you can do this, then you are doing it right.
This can be as simple as counting the number of Friends, Fans, Followers, Tweets or linked associations you have. There are also more specific analytics for measuring engagement – for example, converting readers to buyers of tickets. There are a variety of analytical tools that are available to help you. You can also try different approaches with the same content (like two different flavors of Tweet on a subject) to test how your audience responds to each. What works best can be determined by the analytics. Measuring results will help you better tell the story of why you are doing what you are doing – and identify whether your effort is having any impact over time. At the end of day, if you can’t measure what you are doing, you may not know if you are putting your time and energy in the right place.
Good luck with your endeavors in social media!