Social Media in a Family Literacy Program

May 21, 2011

Yesterday I was in Edmonton for the Food for Thought conference put on by the Centre for Family Literacy. A group of 42 literacy coordinators, practitioners and other professionals packed the workshop room to learn about how to use social media in a family literacy program. We talked about:

  • How to set up a Facebook page
  • What to put on your Facebook page
  • How to use Twitter including how the “@” and “#” or hashtags work
  • How to use Hootsuite

I gave a live demo of Twitter and Hootsuite. I showed how to mention other people and how to use hashtags to find topics you’re interested in. We also shared tips on how to use programs like Hootsuite to schedule updates and tweets and make social media more effective.

We also had a wonderful discussion about how to have a Facebook page without having it tied to a personal Facebook account. That was new for me. I have a couple of Facebook pages for different things that I do, and the only way I’ve ever built them was through my personal account.

For me, it was great learning to know that there are newer options available that don’t require an individual to have an organizational page tied to their name.

Here are the juiciest tips I shared from my own experience using social media:

Top Tips for using Social Media in a Literacy Program

Use social media as a way to reach more learners

There are some learners, particularly younger ones, who are digital natives. They have grown up with technology and may even be turned off by the idea of “old school” reading and writing. By stepping into the world of social media, you can meet those learners where they are today. You won’t reach all learners that way, of course. But it does open the doors to reaching those who might otherwise dismiss traditional literacy programs because they don’t relate to them.

Decide where you want to be on the “privacy continuum”.

Different people have different needs and comfort levels with posting personal information on the Internet. It is OK to be private… or even fib just a little bit, while still being authentic. We talked about how to figure out where people fit along the continuum and that no matter where that is, it’s OK.

Post regularly

Using a service such as Hootsuite can help you to streamline your social media activity, so it takes less time. I shared that had scheduled a number of Tweets before I left Calgary so that I was covered until I got home.

Think about sharing and helping others

We talked about how to use social media as a way to give and share resources. We looked at pages from a variety of literacy organizations. I pointed out how social media is meant to be a social, and reciprocal, activity. I recommend that people “like” pages of other organizations they support.

Avoid the “Incessant Ask” or “push”

One mistake non-profit organizations make when they use social media is to post a constant barage of requests for funding or donations, or just post about their own programs. The idea of social media is to engage with others, not push information on them, or worse yet, push unending requests for money at them. Re-posting, re-tweeting and sharing others’ information is a good thing!

Create conversations

Social media is just that – social. It’s a place to engage with others… talk with them. Ask questions. Be interested. Keeping a good balance between giving and taking, as well as giving and asking, are key points to keep in mind.

Say “Thank You”

I showed how to track “@” mentions and why it is important to say thank you when others re-post or re-Tweet your material. You may miss the odd one here and there, but overall, making a concerted effort to show appreciation when others like and share what you do, goes a long way in creating positive relationships and making you a good digital citizen.

I just loved working with this group. They’re passionate, engaged and ready to help one another out at a moment’s notice. Thanks to everyone who attended the session, shared and engaged with us!


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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