Taking control of your school's profile: Where to start

So I woke up this morning to find that my post last night on school’s taking control of their profiles has started a little conversation. I gave a talk on this topic to educators and administrators at the EARCOS conference in March that scared a few, made a few jump into action, and others left shaking their heads not knowing what to do.

So where do you start? First you need to understand that I work at a private international school. At the end of the day we are serving customers and need to understand where our customers are coming from and where they go to find information about our school. This is the reason why I think my talk at EARCOS hit home with so many. There are over 100 international schools that belong to EARCOS. We are all private, we all have customers, and in many cases we are completing with other international schools in our cities for those customers.

So the image of our schools might be different then those of a public school. Although I would argue that a public schools image has a lot to do with how students ‘feel’ about school to begin with.

In the comment that Doug Johnson left he asks what steps I think schools should take, where should they start?

The long and short of it: Start where your customers (students) are! You need to start shaping your school’s profile in those social-networks that your students use. Internationally, that mean Facebook. I encourage you to go to Facebook and start searching high schools that you know (this is more of a high school thing).

Why Facebook? Internationally that’s where our kids are. In a presentation earlier this year to the high school student body I asked them how many had a facebook page. Easily 95% raised their hands. That should be a dead give away to the school that this is where the students are, this is where they find, and look for information. Ask the students at your school. What is the “hot” social space for them…and then get there!

Case in point. This comment written on the wall of a group started by students.


(Taken from an open group on facebook without permission)

Step 1

High Schools especially should start by creating a group on Facebook that they can control the content on. Then invite their students to join. Not sure if you have noticed or not, but teenagers like to belong to groups. Most schools have a PR department or a communications department. These spaces I believe should fall under their responsibility. We expect the PR person to work with the media including local television stations, newspapers, etc. Their roles need to be expanded to understand these new media landscapes.

Why start a new group?

You can’t stop students from making groups on Facebook about your school, but what you can do is make a group that future/present/past students will join and try and make it the most popular group. Why? So when a person on Facebook searches for your school your group…the one that the school controls comes up first. If the person can tell that this group is ran by the school they will be more trusting of that information then of the information found on student groups (in theory anyway).

A great example of this is the International School of Kuala Lumpur. Their Alumni members started a group on Facebook as a way to connect students. It is ran by the Alumni Coordinator, a woman by the name of Toni who I met while doing my EARCOS presentation in KL. I used ISKL’s site as an example of what can happen when schools take control of this area.

The group has over 1,300 members. All are past or present students and staff. Personally I think using Facebook as an alumni site is a fantastic idea.

  • Connect current students with those who have graduated and are in college
  • Connect past students to each other
  • Connect past teachers with students
  • Organize reunions, parties, etc in one simple place that gets the word out to your student community.

So now when students go to Facebook and look for groups at ISKL the first one they come to is this Alumni group, ran by a person who has a vested interest in the school.

Now, we haven’t even talked about teachers. With more and more international teachers (and people in general) creating Facebook accounts what a great way for an international school to connect with future teachers during the recruiting process.

You can’t stop students from using Facebook, but you can create a group that is the number one site when they search.

Step 2

Search Often: Schools should run searches on all major search engines to know what people will find when they are looking for your school. Using these results from different search engines a school can do its best to control the content on those top sites.

Use RSS Feeds: Using RSS feeds from sites such as Wikipedia allows a school to track changes on their school’s page. Mark Ahlness talks about this in the comments on the last post:

I created a page for my school on Wikipedia a couple of years ago,
follow changes regularly via rss – you know, the stuff a responsible
open wiki contributor would do.

Using RSS feeds from search results as well as using the RSS Feed from Technorati (you never know who will blog about the school…some of our parents are bloggers!). The RSS Feed from a Google Search on the school’s name. A Yahoo search, a Google News Search and a Google Blog search. Why not? You set up the feed and then can browse it every morning. You know what’s being said on the web and who’s saying it.

Know your audience: Signing up for a simple tracking program like Google Analytics
and install it on the school’s home page. This can give a school great
data. Know what key words get people to your
site, know what they are looking at, how long they are staying and what
seems to be the most popular. From there a school can create an online
profile that gives people the information they want.

Understand Students: Understand students today. Be connected to them, listen to them, where are they at online? What are they talking about? Where should the school be?

Doug Johnson asks this questions:

How does one make changes on privately controlled online spaces like
personal social networking sites, newspaper blog posts, “rate your
teacher” sites, etc?

The first thing you need to realize is you can’t control it. But you can have conversations about it. I have talked to a couple of our students who have started social-network groups/sites and talked about how the space is affecting their personal profile. Forget the school…hit them where it counts. Their personal profile. I’ve talked about this here and here.

As for Rate My Teache
r
. What could a teacher do about this? Is this part of a teacher’s online profile? Have any teachers talked about this, used this site in a positive way?

Here’s the scary thing. I’ve looked up pass teachers on the site and would say that the kids have it pretty much right! Is that something to be scared of? Or an honesty that we should recognize?

So to Conclude:

Understand you can not completely control a school’s online profile, but you can do your best to make sure that the right information is at the top.

Understand and talk to your students. I do all the time in the hallway. Had a talk with kids today about why they aren’t in Wikipedia fixing the information. It’s THEIR school that this is being writing about. Put them in control, show them how they can be in control. Give them the power they want. Treat them like the tech savvy kids they are and allow them to help you….not work against you.

Put someone in charge and take control of your school’s profile. If you don’t do it now…tomorrow might be to late!