Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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The more I talk to administrators, present to school boards, and persuade educators that we can no longer ignore social-networks the more I am understanding that what schools/districts need is a new position. Now I’m sure in this current state of economy we find ourselves in that this won’t happen for a lot of schools, but I do believe private schools and those who are in highly competitive areas (like here in Bangkok) can not ignore this position any longer.

The Position is called an Online Community Manager and it’s not a new position. In fact the Wikipedia article about the position has been around since August 2008, so don’t think what I’m proposing here is a new position….it’s just new to education.

At the recent EARCOS Leadership Conference (Conference for International and Overseas Leaders) I had two packed sessions talking about how schools need to start moving into these spaces. I believe the sessions were packed as leaders understand where their community is getting more and more information from about their schools and they are trying to understand how to engage a community in a new social-networked world. I believe there are two reasons this position and schools in general need to have someone managing their online communities:

1) Protect their identity: Private international schools have a large transient population which means there are always new families looking for the right school. More and more people are relying on the Internet and reviews from others who already go to the school. I’m sure the same hold true for most private schools in other parts of the world. Schools need to be in these social-network places so that they can control what prospective families are being told.

2) Engage their community: I think this goes for all schools today. More and more we’re expecting information to find us and want to spend less and less time searching for or going to one more place to get the information we seek. Therefore, schools need to start engaging their school community where they are and stop expecting them to come to where you’re at….that’s a change we’re seeing on the Internet in large part to social-networks such as Facebook where you can “Like” something and have new information show up in your news feed (finally mass adopting of RSS).

According to Jeremiah Owyang there are four tenets of the community manager:

  1. Community Advocate
  2. Brand Evangelist
  3. Savvy Communication Skills, Shapes Editorial
  4. Gathers Community Input for Future Product and Services

Originally these were written for the business world, so I’ve remixed them as a starting point for educational institutions:

1) A Community Advocate
As a community advocate, the community managers’ primary role is to represent the school community. This includes listening, which results in monitoring, and being active in understanding what community members are saying on both school ran and external websites. Secondly, they engage school community members by responding to their requests and needs or just conversations, both in private and in public.

2) School Evangelist
In this evangelistic role (it goes both ways) the community manager will promote school/district events, student accomplishments and updates to community members by using traditional marketing tactics and conversational discussions. As proven as a trusted member of the community (tenet 1) the individual has a higher degree of trust and will offer help and support.

3) Savvy Communication Skills, Shapes Editorial
This tenet, which is both editorial planning and mediation serves the individual well. The community manager should first be very familiar with the tools of communication, from forums, to blogs, to podcasts, to twitter, and then understand the language and jargon that is used in the community. This individual is also responsible for mediating disputes within the community, and will lean on advocates, and embrace detractors –and sometimes removing them completely. Importantly, the role is responsible for the editorial strategy and planning within the community, and will work with many internal stakeholders to identify content, plan, publish, and follow up.

4) Gathers Community Input for Future Product and Services
Perhaps the most strategic of all tenets, community managers are responsible for gathering the requirements of the community in a responsible way and presenting it to the leadership team. This may involve formal recommendations from surveys to focus groups, to facilitating the relationships between the school/district and school community. The opportunity to build stronger relationships through this real-time live focus group are ripe, in many cases, school communities have been waiting for a chance to give feedback.

This of course is just a starting point and each school/district needs to look at these four tenets and mold them for their own school and community.

After reading through Online Community Manager job descriptions I’ve created the following job description as a starting point for schools (adapted from here).

Online Community Manager

Job Specification

The Online Community Manager will implement the School’s Online Community Strategy, managing, engaging and interacting with its larger school community, as well as foster community spirit with students, parents and the community at large. This role coordinates with the Communication and Marketing teams to support their respective missions, ensuring consistency in voice and cultivating a strong community around the school.

Responsibilities

  • Implement an online community strategy, coordinating with stakeholders across the school to ensure its effectiveness and support to our school community with the help of various online communication tools
  • Work with the Communication and Marketing teams to ensure the community is kept up to date, as well as influence the roadmap of new tools and services the school should be using to engage the school community
  • Generate content and competitions to engage the community in a fun and meaningful way around education and school initiatives
  • Moderate all User Generated Content (Wikipedia), liaising with the Legal team where required
  • Manage and engage communities located in social networking sites including Facebook, Twitter, and other similar social media sites
  • Act as an advocate of the school and as the advocate of the community within the school, engaging in dialogue and answering questions where appropriate
  • Monitor effective benchmarks for measuring the growth of the community, and analyze, review, and report on effectiveness of new initiatives
  • Regularly feed back insights gained from community monitoring into the Communication and Marketing teams, to help them evolve their strategies in a timely fashion
  • Monitor trends in online community tools and applications. Engage the community in new forms of communication as they become mainstream

Requirements

  • Creative, diplomatic, cool under pressure and fantastic interpersonal skills
  • Strong project management or organisational skills
  • In-depth knowledge and understanding of online community platforms and their respective participants (Forums, Blogs, Photo Uploads, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, etc.) and how they can be deployed in different scenarios
  • Knowledge of the school and educational institutions
  • Ability to effectively communicate information and ideas in written and verbal format, and build and maintain relationships
  • Team player, with the confidence to take the lead and guide other departments when necessary
  • Good technical understanding and can pick up new tools quickly
  • Willing to take risks on new tools and new ways to engage community participation

If anyone is thinking of putting this position into place in their school….give me a shout and I’d probably apply!

Update: This same process works for iOS 4.2.1 the latest version for the iPhone

Finally….after 3 years of searching for a good plan that short timers that come to the US for business or pleasure can use with their iPhone and take advantage of all it has to offer is here.

Now…of course they don’t make it straight forward as in purchase a SIM Card, drop it in the phone and you’re good to go. No, that would be to easy for the good old phone companies of the USA. They need to make it a little more difficult than that, but it’s not too bad.

First let’s talk about the Pre-Paid Plan.

In October of this year (2010) AT&T launched a new GoPhone service that finally makes sense for short time visitors to use their service while in the US. Their new $2 a day plan for unlimited talk and text is a great deal. Basically as soon as you make or receive a call you are charged $2. But then the rest of the day you can call or text as much as you want for that $2. There is also a Pre-Paid monthly plan for $60 ($2×30)…which is basically the same. But if there is a day you don’t use your phone on the $2 plan then you come out ahead.

Here’s the break down in the new Pre-Paid plans as of October 2010 (download full brochure here):

Now, for those traveling for a short time in the states like I do this works out great. Not the cheapest in the world…but after crunching some numbers it is actually going to be cheaper than my wife’s Pre-Paid plan with T-Mobile that she pays per-minute on.

So Step 1 is to walk into a AT&T store and ask for a GoPhone Plan. You can put money on your account based on how long you plan to stay in the US. Here are the different options:

Now I chose to put $100 on my phone and push it out to a year so that I can keep the same phone number year after year…which is what I’ve been looking for. So I have $100 to spend between now and Oct. of 2012….on the $2/day plan that’s basically 50 days in the next year I have to be in the States. Seeing that I spend a minimum of 60 days in the summer (June/July) in the states this made sense for me and for my family and friends that I’ll have the same phone number year after year.

Step 2: If you want 3G data on your phone so you can be connected when away from WiFi areas then you will also need to add the $19.99 100MB data plan to your account or pay the 1cent per kb used option. (You’ll have to do your own number crunching on this one based on your own use of data)

This again comes by the month. So you can pay for it the month you are in the states. If you are only in the States for a week and you choose to add data then you have 100MB of data to use in a week. For a heavy iPhone user that’s pretty easy to do. For your everyday average user this should be enough data to get you through a month. Just don’t stream to many YouTube videos and you’ll be fine.

Now once you get your SIM Card and you get all connected up I wish I could write and say you were done….but you’re not. AT&T does not technically support unlocked iPhones on their network. It’s not that you can’t set it up to work on their network, their system just won’t auto configure the iPhone for you like most systems do. But thanks to Apple and some resources I found on the Internet you can have this set up and working in about 10 minutes.

Getting AT&T GoPhone Data to work on iPhone/iPad OS4.1

1. Download this iPhone Configuration Utility from Apple’s website. Yes…this is a legit Apple product! PC or Mac

2. Next head over to the blog Blancer.com and follow the steps for creating a new configuration profile for your iPhone.

3. When you get to the point where you need to enter the APN information (Step 4 on the Blancer.com blog) use the information below:

APN: wap.cingular
Username: WAP@CINGULARGPRS.COM
Password: CINGULAR1

(Thanks to unlock-tmobile blog for this info)

and leave everything else blank and proceed with the instructions on the Blancer.com blog above.


Now you’re done! On your phone under Settings – General you will now see a new option that says Profile that has the AT&T information you need. When you return to your home country just go to Settings – General – Profile and click Remove. That will remove the profile from your phone and allow you to use other SIM Cards from other countries.

I hope this helps you out….as I know many people who have been frustrated with American carriers and there non-support for True Unlocked iPhones worldwide.

Well….maybe not yet, but in the coming year if you are a private or international school you better be monitoring and using these new social tools to engage new students and families.

A Bloomberg report came out earlier this week titled: One Bad Twitter ‘Tweet’ Can Cost 30 Customers, Survey Shows.

A negative review or comment on the Twitter, Facebook or Youtube Web sites can lose companies as many as 30 customers, according to a survey by Convergys Corp.

Word of Mouth (WOM) is enigmatic - fairly straightforward and simple to understand yet elusive and difficult to engage, spread and sustain. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting
Word of Mouth (WOM) is enigmatic - fairly straightforward and simple to understand yet elusive and difficult to engage, spread and sustain. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting

Now…that’s the business world and if you work in a public school this might not affect you, unless you’re in a district that allows student choice…then it might be an issue.

But if you are a private school competing with other private schools this is an article that should have you thinking!

A customer review on one of the sites reaches an average audience of 45 people, two-thirds of whom would avoid or completely stop doing business with a company they heard bad things about, Convergys said, citing its own survey.

So let’s take an international school in, I don’t know, say Bangkok, Thailand. You start where most do at Google and do a quick search for Bangkok International Schools. Which returns you 10 results. You then click on the link that Google gives you that says “Local business results for International schools near Bangkok, Thailand” and you’re given a different list with addresses on Google Maps (Here’s the first issue…I know there are at least 50 international schools in Bangkok and only 10 show up on this list. Strike 1 for some schools).

There are no ratings, no comments, not much to go on here except links to the schools websites (missed opportunity not having comments or a rating on your Google Search results). Of course every school website looks great and can give you a broad overview of what the school is about. But as a parent, or a new student….you want more. You want to know what that schools like. So you head to YouTube, where a quick search for Bangkok International Schools, gives you a list of  5 star rated videos to watch.

One video I watch has the following comment:

Oh how I hate this school! == They’re just persauding people its not REAL!!!!

and it was left a month ago, I click on the user to find out that this is the only comment this user has made. In fact it looks like this person made the YouTube account just to leave the comment. Now…I start to worry about this school (strike 2!).

Social media is changing the way organizations communicate with their audiences. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting
Social media is changing the way organizations communicate with their audiences. Flickr ID: Intersection Consulting

I click on another 5 star rated video that has been viewed over 1,000 times. The video is a pretty cool production by students at the school. You can watch it for yourself here. Not only that, but the comments are pretty good as well. You can tell that many were written by what I can assume to be students at the school. Now I’m liking this, students being creative and I have just narrowed down my search for a school.

Of course I’d then head to Facebook and do the same search and see what I find there, continuing to narrow down my search for international schools in Bangkok until I find what I feel is a good fit for me as a student, or for my son or daughter if I’m a parent.

Here’s what private schools and international schools who are in a competitive environment need to understand. Parents and students will come to your school website for an overview, but they are going to be influenced by what they find in social spaces as well. When I can talk directly to students at a school via Facebook, or watch a production on YouTube and read comments, that is going to play into my decision…and any administrator or school that doesn’t think it will….will find themselves, in short time, loosing students.

Take control of your online profile or someone else will!