Departmental Accounts – why you should be cautious!
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a sharp rise in departmental social media accounts, especially on Twitter and Instagram. Despite being an effective way to promote the work happening within a department, it has many drawbacks which could cause serious reputational damage to your school.
On the one hand, it may appear relatively innocuous to have staff members, particularly Heads of Department, tweeting updates about their departments and sharing content with students. However, there are some serious things to consider about this trend before you agree to allow this practice in your school.
Who has access to the account?
It is essential that leadership teams know who has access to the social media account, minimising the number of people with access. If too many people can post to the account, it dilutes the accountability of the responsible persons. It is also worth considering where these people are accessing the account from – is it their own phone, iPad, etc… or is it only from their work laptop? Unlike emails sent from a school account on the school’s server, you won't have access to any metadata about these accounts and therefore no accountability in the instance of a problem.
If the staff member has access on their personal device, you need to consider the risk of blurring professional boundaries. It is all too easy to accidentally post the wrong image to the wrong account; even with the best of intentions, slip ups or unintentional sharing of personal information or opinions can have dire consequences. This could lead to misunderstandings or conflicts with students, parents, or colleagues, which may impact the individual teacher's professional reputation - as well as the school’s.
Does the content align with your school values?
Your school or Trust will have specific brand guidelines it adheres to, either officially or inferred. These guidelines are used on all official output from the school, so why not on social media too?
When teachers have their own school-associated social media accounts, there is a risk of the school's online presence becoming fragmented and less cohesive. Each teacher's individual account may showcase a unique tone or style that does not align with the school's overall communication strategy. This lack of consistency may confuse students and parents and dilute the school's brand identity. Maintaining a unified voice and clear branding across all school communication channels is crucial for establishing a coherent and recognisable image.
Is the content appropriate?
Sharing appropriate content on social media is critical – this may seem obvious, but did you know that you are not allowed to publish live coursework online? We have seen numerous schools sharing live coursework on their social media channels, some resulting in action from JCQ. This sort of action can (and has) result in reputational damage, as well as a negative impact on the outcomes of the students under the school’s care.
A key example of this occurred recently, when an Art department shared images from one of their classes. In the background was a charcoal sketch of a nude woman, which had been produced by a sixth former in a live drawing session. The staff members in charge of the account didn’t notice the background, but the post went viral amongst the children and parents, some of whom raised complaints to the school. The reputational damage done at this point was very difficult to come back from.
Does this give more credence to one department over another?
When one department has their own account, but others don’t, there can be an overemphasis of one department over others within the school community. While it is essential to promote academic departments and the work being done within each one, focusing too heavily on a single curriculum area may create imbalance and undermine the overall sense of unity within the school. Other departments may feel overshadowed or undervalued, leading to potential conflicts and divisions among the staff and students. It is important to find a balance in highlighting individual areas of expertise, while still maintaining a cohesive and inclusive school environment.
Did you know that you can’t completely turn off direct messaging on Instagram pages? This raises potential risks to staff and children using the platform. This goes back to the earlier point regarding which staff members have access to the accounts – can you be 100% confident that every member of staff with access to this account is using it responsibly?
How up-to-date are your photo permissions, and do staff know where these are - and how to use them? More importantly, are they using them? All of the instances of photo permission breaches we have seen have come from departmental accounts where staff have become complacent or not known how to check… but have posted anyway!
What happens to this account when the staff member leaves? There is one school in our local area with three accounts for the same department; this has occurred because staff members have set up an account and then either moved on to another school or no longer found the need to use it, meaning that a new member of staff doesn’t have access to the page…and then creates a new one, and so on. When your community and stakeholders are looking to follow your page, how will they know which one to follow?
The practice of teachers having school-associated social media accounts offers various advantages, including enhanced communication and academic niche focus. However, it also comes with drawbacks, such as diluting the overall school brand, overemphasising certain departments, and potential safeguarding and consistency issues. Teachers and school leaders must carefully consider these pros and cons before embarking on the journey of having subject-specific social media accounts. By weighing these factors, schools can make informed decisions that ensure effective communication, inclusiveness, and professional boundaries, while still maintaining a strong and coherent school identity.
For more information about how to effectively manage your school's social media, please get in touch: info@mitchelldigitalmedia | 01249 588228