LMSD pondering expanded role of social media

Lower Merion School District’s Twitter handle is @LowerMerionSD. The board and communications staff members are looking into future possibilities for LMSD’s social media presence.
Lower Merion School District’s Twitter handle is @LowerMerionSD. The board and communications staff members are looking into future possibilities for LMSD’s social media presence. courtesy Lower Merion School District

Keeping up-to-date on school district news isn’t hard for Lower Merion High School sophomore Robbie Warsaw, who relies heavily on the district’s 1-to-1 laptop program.

“I go on Facebook, Twitter and Gmail once a day,” the 16-year-old student said. “I personally receive most of my LMSD information from their website” which is the automatic homepage for the 1-to-1 laptops.

These communication pathways are great for involved students like Warshaw, but how is Lower Merion School District staying ahead of the curve and bringing online and social media conversations to other community members?

The question is an important one the district’s policy committee is currently exploring. LMSD School and Community Relations Director Doug Young says the district is looking into new policies concerning social media as it gets ready to update its website. Initial guidelines were created under the district’s communication policy last year when the school launched its Twitter account.

“Social media is obviously a relatively recent development,” Young said in a phone interview. “We feel like now is the time to set forth some parameters and policies around district use of social media.”

When @LowerMerionSD started last year, the Twitter account was reserved primarily for various announcements about district activities, student activities and sporting events.

Young said the account has been helpful since a multitude of key communicators stay in-touch via Twitter; the district’s Twitter handle garnered 500 followers since its debut. The community relations director added that the number has plateaued somewhat, which is why the policies are undergoing review.

Aside from announcements, current policy bans abusive, defamatory and obscene messages, orders the upholding of students’ privacy regarding legal information and requires employees to refrain from making jokes.

Young said that if the communications department were able to use social media in the way it was designed – “enabling community members and participants to provide feedback and be part of an online community” – the district would have a more robust social media presence.

The first draft of the social media policy was read at the March 30 meeting.

The initial conversation included talks of launching a Facebook account for the district, but Young said the committee wanted to hold off that conversation at least until the next school year to give the communications department a chance to look at logistics relating to the major social networking site.

“Twitter allows us to push out links to stories on our websites, re-tweet stories that share content related to Lower Merion School District, alumni or people related to the district,” Young said. “There has been so much virality to some of those tweets that we’ll end up getting phone calls from media outlets or alumni who’ve seen something that found its way through the Internet via our initial Tweet.”

“Those are some of the basic kinds of social media benefits that we’re deriving from our use of Twitter,” the community relations director added. “To really get into that online community experience, we’ll have to make that move into Facebook.”

Young said that many students already utilize Facebook for school district-related purposes, such as event or news announcements regarding student organizations.

He said a big key to the district’s Facebook equation was managing posts and keeping them relevant, in addition to some concern about users’ ability to post inappropriate or offense messages.

“If you post on Facebook and then don’t post for five-six days, your page becomes fairly irrelevant…you have to use it in an appropriate and consistent manner,” Young said. “It becomes a full time commitment on some level for someone on staff.”

Young added that monitoring a Facebook page for derogatory comments, making sure no one is breaching privacy or posting inappropriate content is also a concern in terms of consistency. For example, when staff members are occupied with writing the curriculum or dealing with everyday duties for running the school district, Facebook maintenance could become a lower priority.

All these issues are currently being taken into account before Facebook is even an option for LMSD.

For now, Young said district solicitors are using feedback from the meeting to revise the language of the policy. No date for follow-up of this topic has been scheduled at this time, but Young said the social media policy will more than likely be addressed again before the end of the school year.

“We’re very much in the early stages of this, but it’s an important conversation for us to have and we’re having it,” Young said.

For now, those who aren’t a part of the 1-to-1 laptop program like Lisa Warshaw, mother of sophomore Warshaw, will stick to the basics for district news – the HSA Newsletter and current district website.