Social media give school leaders an opportunity to interact with parents and other constituents on a more informal and interactive basis, but they should take care to remain professional.

Social media give school leaders an opportunity to interact with parents and other constituents on a more informal and interactive basis, but they should take care to remain professional.

Once primarily the purview of high school and college students, social media use is growing exponentially across all demographic groups, including senior citizens.

With social media use becoming more mainstream, principals, teachers, parent volunteers, and other adults affiliated with public schools are frequently using social media for networking and communication purposes. But while social media give school leaders an opportunity to interact with parents and other constituents on a more informal and interactive basis, don’t let the informal tone fool you.

A new superintendent who boasted online that he slept until 10 a.m. and surfed the internet on his first day under contract with his new employers recently became the subject of intense mainstream media scrutiny.

As this superintendent discovered, humor—however well intended—often backfires, especially online or in print when body language, facial expressions, vocal tone, and other cues are missing.

Even though the district offices were closed, employees, parents, school board members, and taxpayers generally don’t appreciate hearing that their new leader thinks he’s now on easy street. Most new superintendents face a tough enough job without shooting themselves in the foot before they even show up at the office.

Legitimate concerns regarding federal e-Rate dollars and Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) regulations aside, avoiding social media isn’t the answer.

According to the Pew Research Center, 86 percent of young adults ages 18 to 29 use social media networking sites.

Use has nearly doubled for older adults during the past year, with 42 percent of adults ages 50-plus now using social media network sites. Pew Research data also show that 20 percent of adults 50 to 64 years of age connect via these sites on a daily basis.

With social media use nearly universal, school districts need to develop guidelines to help employees navigate this new terrain successfully. Here are some tips to avoid committing major social media gaffes:

• Develop guidelines for use and share with your staff. Update your acceptable-use policy as well as personnel policies to reflect the district’s position on appropriate use of social networking sites. For ideas, check out the Social Media Guidelines for Schools wiki (http://socialmediaguidelines.pbworks.com). Many of the ideas presented here are adapted from this resource, which is meant to be shared and expanded as new information becomes available.

• Create an official site for your school or district. To protect others’ privacy, set it up as a fan page so people can post comments or become a fan without giving you access to their personal pages. Commit staff time or resources to daily updates. Keep the tone conversational, but represent your organization and your position respectfully and responsibly. According to Pew Research, “44 percent of online adults have searched for information about someone whose services or advice they seek in a professional capacity.”