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How can Catholic schools make use of social networks?

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8 tips for educational institutions 

To Infinity and Beyond (Hasta el infinito y más allá): this is the name of a recently updated publication Catholic Schools of Spain created as a communications manual for educational institutions.  The goal of the guide is to make it clear, as they say in the introduction, that “everything and everyone is on the net, and educational institutions must not be an exception.”

Consequently, with the goal of helping schools have an appropriate and active presence online, the guide proposes methods and provides information and steps to follow so that schools can use the internet to their best advantage, following sound didactic principles. The authors summarize their advice in eight tips for Catholic schools to use social networks properly:

1. Start with an initial study to see what people say about the school on the internet.

First of all, you should analyze the current status of the institution’s online presence. This involves searching for what people say, what information is available, and where, and actively listening to what the students, parents, professors, and the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) members who are most present on digital media say about the school.

2. Prepare a communication strategy.

Based on the diagnosis obtained from active listening, determine how the school wants to be perceived, and how that differs from the current situation. This is the starting point for then establishing objectives, in accordance with the institution’s communication plan, and creating a strategy to achieve those goals. The school’s directors and staff should feel comfortable with the communication policy. “You have to be calm, respect your habitual pace and schedules, and communicate logically, without rushing and without interruptions. You should have a simple but efficient strategy that brings you closer to your public and that gives them information that is sufficient,  relevant, and interesting; neither too much, nor too aggressive,” the manual explains.

3. Name someone to be in charge of social networks.

This person will be in charge of building and managing an online community created around the institution. This person, also called a “community manager,” should be strongly committed to the institution; in very good communication with the board of directors; very patient, balanced, and calm; and should know the school very well. If there is a team working in this area and not just one individual, it is important that their work be very well coordinated.

4. Decide on content and draw up a calendar of publications.

Select your content based on the internal activities of the school that could be of interest, as well as external content that is relevant but also sufficiently different from your original content.

5. Build or renovate the website.

The website should be managed by professionals, and it should be consistent with the institution’s goals; the website is a way to present the institution to users who probably aren’t familiar with it yet. The name of the website should be the same or very similar to the institution’s name, so that web users who search for it can identify it quickly. The name you use can favor the positioning of the site in search engines and should also be optimized for social networks. The website should contain all the basic information so that people can learn about the school and locate it easily.

6. Consult the key principles for presence on social networks.

According to the manual, these are the key principles:

  1. – Choose the name well.
  2. – Keep the school’s profiles open to the public.
  3. – Select the profile picture and cover photo carefully.
  4. – Post quality original content.
  5. – Include photographs in your publications.
  6. – Keep a positive and familiar tone in your messages.
  7. – Plan and schedule your publications.
  8. – Encourage debate and the sharing of content.
  9. – Be patient, because the results will grow slowly.
  10. – Create synergy among all the institution’s accounts so as to obtain followers and visits to all your content.

7. Begin with Facebook and Twitter.

These two networks are recommended as the principle places to start having an online presence beyond your own website. Facebook is the quickest tool for  interacting with users. Twitter is a channel for sharing information and a “great tool for directing traffic to your website.” There are specific techniques to follow on each network to achieve your institution’s goals, explained in the manual; many guides are also available online.

8. Increase your presence on other networks according to your institution’s specific objectives.

Besides Facebook and Twitter, the manual explains the best way to use other social networks on which it recommends that institutions have a certain presence. YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, Pinterest and Linkedin are the most important. The manual also recommends using online tools within the organization, such as Slideshare, Issuu, and Spotify.

The authors remind readers that sometimes going to infinity and beyond has its risks. Consequently, institutions must “accept that there will be a segment of the public that will disagree with you; as in real life, you can’t please everyone.” For this reason, the manual specifies how to avoid a crisis of communication on the internet that could make the institution lose prestige.

For example, the school’s social media administrators must be constantly attentive to what is being said about the school and reactions to the content being published, so as to detect possible crises early on and react in a timely fashion. When problems emerge, they must be handled with calm and with emotional distance, and any reaction should be in line with the school’s standards and identity. It’s also important to remember that as quickly as a problem can arise on the internet, it can also disappear, as the internet community’s attention is often fickle and easily distracted. The institution must show concern and listen to criticisms, but the situation must be kept in perspective. In addition to these general principles, the manual provides more in-depth, step-by-step methods for dealing with internet crisis situations.

These ideas from the manual show that social networks can become allies of Catholic schools. After its section of advice, it includes some testimonies. To quote just one of them: “There are still many doubts and fears, many questions, and the occasional bad experience we can learn from, but school by school, we are getting on the internet. It unites us, it nourishes us, we share, and we are able to shape a message; a message which needs to be heard on social networks. A message based on our identity, a message that educates, that spreads the word about our project, that evangelizes, reaching all corners of the world,” says Mar Martin, director of pedagogy for the team of directors of the Company of Mary in Spain.

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