Friday, April 17, 2009

Facebook Squatting and other thoughts from ISPRA

Yesterday, I presented at the spring conference for the Iowa School Public Relations Association on using web 2.0 tools to enhance public relations in school districts. A couple of interesting perspectives came out.

First, I was surprised to see, out of the 3 applications that I demonstrated (Blogs, Facebook, and Twitter), Facebook was the application that people were interested in coming into the presentation. In fact, Facebook was the application they were eager to start using (maybe just as soon as I told them it was okay to). And when I mentioned the Salem-Keizer public schools and their use of Facebook to help procure support for a bond issue, I swear I could see the salivation.

To better summarize, blogs were passe, and Twitter was yet undiscovered. But the people in the room were currently engaged in discussions trying to convince their board to create a Facebook Page. Which, given the lack of blogging by school district officials that is out there, it makes me wonder. Blogging perhaps isn't flashy enough? Not reaching the schools publics? Maybe blogging was a technology with so much promise and potential and little that came out of it. And this, of course, is troubling, given that I think all the web 2.0 tools have so much promise and potential.

Second, when showing the audience which local districts were using Facebook, there were some surprised audience members. Some who found out for the first time that they had a Facebook account. One that they didn't create.

This highlights the need for Facebook Squatting, the process where you reserve a Facebook Page even if you have no intentions of using it, because of the fear someone else will take it surreptitiously. The presentation changed course mid-stream (it felt like one of my language arts classes from years past) to a discussion about protecting your digital brand.

And, this is where the panic set in. How do we peruse the entirety of the internet, including Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and all the smaller networking tools, searching for imposters, vandalism, name-mudding? RSS and mashups are only part of the solution, it still takes a lot of manpower. It was a moment to illustrate the speedy world; people went in with the mindset that they maybe should start learning about some web 2.0 tools to better communicate, and left understanding they had to know about the tools just to protect the district. Once again, it isn't an option for schools to change on their timetable; schools are being forced to change by the realities of the world around them.

Third, despite the topic being jammed into "penalty time" (the presentation went 10 minutes over), Twitter was the eye opener. This was not surprising; I still feel this is the most underutilized communication tool out there for schools. There was general consensus among the group--they liked the potential of Twitter better than Facebook. It allowed for "one-way following". It takes less time to set up and can easily fit within the workflow. It is lightweight enough a technology to be perfect for schools. And the potential for vandalism and libel on the school's account is nil.

More to come from this topic...

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