At Beaver Country Day School, an independent school in Brookline, MA, social media plays an increasingly important role in marketing and communications and in the classroom. Jan Devereux, BCDS director of communications, said that the school’s laptop initiative and significant investment in information technology and professional development has accelerated the momentum for these (and other) online communications.
In contrast to the social media activity at Worcester Academy, most of what an outsider sees of BCDS’s social media is targeted toward prospective families, alumni, and other external constituencies and is produced and managed by school staff. Behind the scenes, though, there’s much more going on. Devereux said, “In our classrooms, teachers are using all sorts of Web 2.0 applications as learning and teaching tools—blogs, Ning groups, wikis, YouTube. etc. This effort was piloted in 2008-09 and is now active in every class.”
Devereux said that she began exploring how BCDS could use social media more effectively in its marketing and communications activities when planning began for a relaunch of BCDSchool.org in 2008. “A goal of that redesign was to make the site more interactive,” she said.
She’s encountered no obstacles to rolling out an array of social media initiatives. The school’s administration was very supportive: “We are lucky that our administration has been very supportive and trusting of our experimenting in the social media arena without a drawn out trial and approval process.”
She added, “At Beaver, it’s in our DNA to ‘try new things.’ Peter Hutton, our head of school, says, “We’re going to make mistakes but we’re going to make excellent mistakes.”
Devereux is clear about what BCDS is trying to accomplish with social media, at least for now. “Its purpose is two-fold: to promote connections with and among members of the community (hopefully resulting increased financial support and school spirit) and to enhance our brand image (hopefully boosting admissions),” she said.
Social media in action at BCDS
BCDS social media initiatives include the following:
Facebook: Devereux said, “We have a fan page where we post photos, videos, and brief news items designed to keep in touch with our 413 (and growing) fans and to promote school events. We also have a private alumni group (currently with 146 members), which we use primarily as a platform for alumni to (re-)connect with each other. Here, we post alumni events, but not news.” She added, “There are also a couple of class-specific group pages started independently by alumni.”
BCDS is a WhippleHill customer and uses the company’s Facebook Connect feature, which allows visitors to BCDSchool.org to share news to their Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts.
Twitter: BCDS has a main Twitter account @BCDSchool and a second, @BCDSweb, which used by the communications staff. Devereux explained, “We post to the main account a couple of times a week—sports scores, news of guest speakers, a photo now and then. We try to keep it lighthearted and upbeat, and are somewhat wary of bombarding our followers with every little thing.” @BCDSweb is used primarily to network and share info with other school communicators and education marketing/media folks.
@BCDSchool feeds directly into the school’s portal, making the tweets accessible to non-followers.
LinkedIn: As far as LinkedIn is concerned, Devereux noted, “We created a Beaver group on Linkedin where current and former faculty and staff can connect with each other and alumni. We have not used it to post job openings at the school.”
Classroom activity: Various social networking tools and applications are used in all BCDS classrooms as a part of school’s 1:1 laptop program which began this year. Some of these sites are linked to BCDS’s mashup.
Devereux and her communications colleague Matt Clobridge manage the Twitter Facebook accounts. BCDS’s alumni relations director, Shira Lewin, also works with them to update Facebook. Lewin has reserved @BCDSalumni but hasn’t started tweeting from that account yet. Deveruex said, “We’re not sure there’s a separate audience for alumni-specific tweets.”
Finally, A new page pulls various social media and social network feeds into BCDS’s website giving current and prospective families a window on how social media are being used as teaching tools.
The biggest challenge? Finding the time!
So far, the biggest challenge in putting social networking into practice, Devereux said, is time. “Managing social media could be a full-time job,” she remarked. “In general, the online side of our jobs is taking a huge amount of time—and it’s getting bigger. In five years, the balance has shifted to doing just about everything online.”
She observed that social media has become an organic process. “We do it as it happens—we don’t ‘plan,’ but respond to opportunities because there’s always something going on on campus.” But it’s not as if it’s random. “We keep in mind what we want people to know about us: today, we had four kids who were recognized by National Merit Scholarship. We want people to know about this so, we posted it. The next tweet might something about sports or a guest speaker.”
The immediacy of social media appeals to Clobridge. “Yesterday, a singer-songwriter came to an English class, so we took a Flip video camera and covered it as a web news story.”
Clobridge came to BCDS from a public elementary school and appreciates the fact that his current environment provides many more opportunities for him to take action without overthinking them or seeking approval.
Although Devereux joked about the risk of making mistakes on their social media activities, she said, “There haven’t been any major gaffes.” And there haven’t even been snide wall posts or negative blog comments. Clobridge said, “People have been respectful and haven’t done it.”
At BCDS, Devereux noted, “There’s a culture of respect and tolerance that carries through everything Beaver does. Teachers talk to students about how their online identities are a reflection of who they are and the importance of being respectful in a public forum.”
Note: This post is the result of research and interviews for an article on innovations in social media by independent schools. It will appear in the January 2010 issue of CASE Currents. There are four related posts:
Michael Stoner Co-Founder and Co-Owner Was I born a skeptic or did I become one as I watched the hypestorm gather during the dotcom years, recede, and congeal once more as we come to terms with our online, social, mobile world? Whatever. I'm not much interested in cutting edge but what actually works for real people in the real world. Does that make me a bad person?