A few tips can help educators tackle social media.

With social media networks ubiquitous in American life, it’s time to shift the debate from whether it’s a good idea for educators to use this new medium to how to use it wisely and well. Here are 10 tips to help get you started in social media for school communications.

1. Use social media networks as a research tool.

To quote a well-known advertising campaign, “Get out there.” Social media are easy to use, and most sites don’t charge a penny. If you do nothing else, find out what others are saying about you, your school(s), and your profession.

2. Do your homework first.

Find out if your school or district has any policies or guidelines regarding employee use of social media. Make sure everything you do online is in keeping with these and other pertinent policies and procedures, as well as state and federal laws or regulations governing school personnel and acceptable use of technology.

3. Start with one site and go from there.

LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, TeacherTube: Pick one and start posting. Update at least once daily. How much time can typing 140 characters take?

4. Make it official.

Use social media outlets as an extension of your professional life and as an additional way to share important information with key audiences and stakeholder groups. Create an official page. Include your school and district logo, as well as links to your organization’s websites and official social media sites.

5. Be transparent.

Identify yourself as a school employee on your site or when responding to others. Note that any opinions expressed are your own, and communicate in a professional and appropriate manner.

6. Make sure you keep your personal life separate from your professional life.

Don’t friend students and parents, or connect them with your personal page. Do allow students, parents, and colleagues to follow your professional postings online. Anything that’s not appropriate for the classroom or the evening news is not appropriate online.

7. Have a friend check your spelling and grammar.

Educators are held to higher standards when it comes to grammatical and spelling errors, appropriate word usage and choices, and other key elements of communication. Make sure you are representing the education profession well—and in a manner that inspires others to support public schools and public school children.

8. Write like a parent or ordinary person, not an educator.

Social media networks offer a great opportunity to humanize and personalize scary folks like public school teachers, social workers, counselors, principals, and superintendents. Keep your tone conversational, and avoid using jargon like “differentiated instruction” or “authentic assessment.” Say what you mean using everyday words and simple, declarative sentences.

9. Show you care.

Parents and other education stakeholders want to know that you care about kids. Don’t be afraid to show your passion for the work that you do and the children you serve. Social networks use terms like “friend,” “fan,” “like,” “poke” and “connect” for a reason. The idea is to connect people in new and non-threatening ways.

10. Safeguard others’ privacy.

Telling stories about real students and real classroom, school, and district challenges doesn’t mean you have to tell people personally identifiable details, such as their full names, job titles, addresses, phone numbers, pay, or other information protected by state and federal privacy laws.

Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.