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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Three Keys to Teaching People to Use Social Media Responsibly

23 Jul 2013

written by Chris Syme

Three Keys to Teaching People to Use Social Media Responsibly

Social media is used by almost 100 percent of advancement offices to run campaigns, raise funds, increase donor awareness, build brand advocates, and broadcast news, according to the fourth annual study on higher education social media use spearheaded by mStoner.  Despite facing issues such as understaffing, lack of expertise, and difficulty measuring ROI, schools know that social media has power to turbo charge marketing, recruiting, and donor advocacy.

But the meteoric rise of social media use can spell disaster when channels start popping up all over campus. In a 2012 study I did for the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), I found that only 26 percent of campuses required registration or training for social media channels that represented the campus brand. I sat down with a client last month who told me he had no idea how many social media channels were active in his own department. Sound familiar?

Just less than half of the crises studied by Altimeter in a 2011 report were caused by bad social media behavior.  Irresponsible use of social media sabotages the positive work done by university channels trying to build loyalty and advocacy. Public relations offices have to deal with rogue professors, unbridled student-athletes, opinionated student groups, cyber stalking, and a whole gamut of operational emergencies. One solution is creating a culture of responsible use, and it starts with training.

Institutions sometimes operate under the notion that integrity and courtesy are common values shared by all, but they are not. We expect it, but we don’t always get it. We have manuals of style, social media branding guidelines, logo rules, and even color restrictions. But we don’t have any common guidelines for showing people how to use social media responsibly.

Practice Safe Social cover  Three Keys to Teaching People to Use Social Media ResponsiblyThis dilemma motivated me to write a new manual based on the popular workshop I facilitate called Practice Safe Social. It was designed with athletic departments and higher education advancement in mind, but the applications quickly grew to business, high schools, businesses, nonprofits, and even personal brands. Virtually everyone that uses the media needs to understand the benefits of responsible use and the consequences of irresponsible use. So let’s look at the three teaching keys that can help you build your own training.

1. Teach Them How to Protect Privacy:

Personal brands (presidents, administrators, athletes, coaches, student ambassadors) need to know how to protect their privacy. Facebook alone has over one billion active monthly users and 13 million of them have never touched their privacy settings, according to recent research done by Marketo. There is a vague understanding of where the settings are, but a seeming ignorance about what they actually do. In a recent piece in the Spokesman Review where teens were interviewed about which social media channels were best, they answered they all like Twitter because it was more private than Facebook. In truth, it’s the opposite. Facebook can be very private and focused. Twitter is public unless an account is protected. Worldwide in 2012, only 12 percent of Twitter accounts were protected.

Privacy training needs to include discussions on how to use the settings themselves: what the traps are, tagging, location-enabling, setting posts to public, sharing too much profile information, and using wisdom about who to friend to name a few. It should also include a look at some of the most dangerous applications such as Snapchat and others.

2. Teach Them How to Build and Protect Reputation:

This is my favorite section—the place where you get to show the good, the bad, and the ugly. And you won’t have to search far to get examples. The internet is loaded with screenshots of the bad and ugly. I like to show how one bad tweet can plummet a reputation and how maintaining a positive and engaging social stream can build trust—kind of like filling a well you can draw from when times are tough.

What happens when people trust you? According to the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, when a company is trusted, 51 percent of people will believe positive information about the company after only hearing it one or two times. Only 25 percent will believe negative information after hearing it one or two times.

But what if you are not trusted? According to the same Edelman report, 57 percent of people will believe negative information about a company they do not trust after only hearing it once or twice. Only 15 percent will believe something positive about the company after hearing it one or two times.

This is also the section where you tackle the tricky subjects and taboos—when to sit on your thumbs.  Also, talk about how to listen, how to apologize, and what kind of positive subjects to talk about online.

3. Teach Them How to Build a Personal Brand:

Social media is today’s resumé. In a survey of employee recruiters, Reppler found these interesting stats:

  • 91% use social media to screen potential employees.
  • Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the major channels screened.
  • 69% have rejected a candidate because of what they saw on social media sites.
  • The major reasons for rejection were because they lied about their qualifications, posted inappropriate photos, posted inappropriate comments, posted negative comments about a previous employer, and demonstrated poor communication skills.
  • 68% said they hired someone because of what they saw on a social networking site.

Some college coaches are going public to let prospects know their social media was a factor in rejecting them. And the admissions officers across campus are employing the same screening tactics, according to a recent survey by CareerBuilder.

In my training manual, I listed several preferred profiles that people should set up if they want search engines to show information that they can control. It’s true you can’t delete the bad stuff, but you can build a searchable presence online strategically. Teach people how to be their own media.

The manual also includes tips on hiring an outside agency if you are short-staffed but have a little spending money to bring someone in to facilitate training. Creating a culture of responsible social media use will not only lower your risk of an online crisis, it will help you build loyalty and advocacy through your social media channels.

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Chris Syme

Chris Syme has over 25 years experience in the communications industry and is principal at CKSyme Media Group, a consulting firm in Bozeman, Montana. Her agency specializes in reputation and crisis communication services including online monitoring and social media training. She has a BS from Montana State University in English and a MS from Eastern Washington University in Athletic Administration. Her new e-book, Practice Safe Social, is available on

This post was written by Chris Syme

  • Mike Ekey

    I used to teach an college orientation class for incoming Freshmen. One of the days we spent talking about responsible social media use. It was interesting how many students never had taken the time to even think about or look at privacy settings.

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