Social media can be a very effective and efficient way to get information out to parents and guardians quickly. For the most part, gone are the days of printed newsletters, email (for the most part), or even many written notices. This reality poses special challenges for child care programs.
Social media can be a very useful marketing tool (for example, a Facebook page for your child care program). It can be a quick tool for parental communication. It can even be a way to help families keep grandparents, aunt, uncles, etc. “in touch” with the children in your care. Social media can lead to a whole set of challenges, liabilities and unforeseen conflicts as well.
If you are going to use any social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Team Snap, etc.) you need to have some basic understanding and policies in place.
1. You need to fully understand the security settings. How do you “invite” people? How do you block people? How do you keep the general public creepos off your page and without access to your photos? How do you delete someone who has left your program or proven themselves incapable of following your policies? What is your process for employees who don’t follow your policies?
2. If you are using a website, it is a good idea if you have time to put into it and keep it current. It is very poor marketing if your “current” tab takes people to a calendar that is 2 years old…or even a year old. Websites are easier now than ever to set up and manage, but you must make yourself take the time to manage it. It can be a wonderful communication tool if you continually keep relevant and current information /updates there. You will teach your parents to use the website for the most important information, and they can access it any time day or night. However, if you let it get behind, it communicates to people that you are disorganized and/or it’s a useless tool. Neither message is good for business.
3. If you use social media and use photographic images of children in your care – you need to take great care in getting written approval from parents before putting their children’s images online. There may be individuals whom the parents do not want to have access to pictures of their children. There may be “no contact” orders in place – and potentially – you could inadvertently identify where children under protective orders are attending. A random example: I have a life-long friend who is a reporter and who lives in a foreign country. While visiting her and her family, I took pictures of various landmarks, her children (with my children), and other nice moments of our trip. I posted my musings to Facebook and “tagged” her. She immediately emailed me and asked me to take the pictures down and not to link her in future posts. She was working on a very delicate news piece that was ongoing for about 4 years in international media – and she had received death threats and threats against her family. I had absolutely NO idea! Anyway, suffice it to say, I took the pictures down immediately and have never linked her again. We just never know what might be going on with a family – even if we see them every day or have known them for our whole lives.
4. If you use social media that allows members of the page to make comments that are immediately “viewable” by everyone (like Facebook), you need to have a strictly enforced policy of respect and appropriateness in place – and require your families to abide by the policies. It will destroy your program about as fast as anything if you have a couple of parents calling each other names via your page.
5. You need to set parameters for your staff on who is allowed to post and when they are allowed to post to the site/page. Our policies are clear that it can only happen during classroom planning time – our staff are not allowed to have their cell phones on them during work time – and they can post to the page from the program computer, not from their cell phones. There are a myriad of reasons for this: a. I don’t want staff paying attention to their phones instead of the children in their direct care. b. If employees use their personal cell phones for work-related tasks there can be issues that arise. c. I require that their posts are approved prior to posting….spelling, grammar, content, etc. all very important when communicating with parents from an educational entity.
With all of this said….social media is the way of the future – at least for now.