One idea that keeps popping up on the NAIS Communication Listserv is allowing students to have posting access to independent school Instagram accounts. At Cheshire Academy, a co-ed boarding and day school for grades 9-12 & PG in Connecticut, we have allowed students to post to our Instagram account for the last three years. I often reply directly to the NAIS threads; however, I also wanted to create a post that answers some of those frequently asked questions.
Q: Do you have an approval step where an adult or administrator checks student photos before they are posted?
A: No. Our students have the school's username and password and post directly to the account. In our office, we are a pretty connected bunch, so we usually see an Instagram post within minutes (if not seconds) of it being posted. We have only had one incident of inappropriateness in three years, and even then it was just a mildly inappropriate joke about the school's Wifi. It came down quickly and we spoke with the student who posted it.
Q: Is there a formal posting guide for students?
A. While we don't have a formal posting guide, before students get access, we talk to them about what is appropriate for the Instagram account and what is not using specific examples. Many of the students come to our office to talk to us directly before getting access, and we discuss appropriateness at that time. Then, we follow up with written instructions and reminders. The major guideline I stress with students is to PPP (please post positively). PPP means that each post should show the school and their experience here in a positive light.
Only ten or so students have access to our Instagram account, and they are students in good academic standing. We ask them not to share the password with anyone for any reason. If at some point it becomes necessary to remove a student's access, we speak with the student in person, change the password, and re-send the password to approved account users.
Q. How do you know who posts what?
A. Great question! When we first opened our Instagram account to students, we had no idea who was posting what. It was a major challenge for administration. We came up with the idea to ask students to #firstname their posts in the captions. This has worked really well, both for allowing our Instagram followers to see which student posted the photo and for us in terms of contacting students about pictures they've posted.
Q. What happens if a student posts something that is questionable, wrong, or inappropriate?
A. Students who post photos that are questionable in terms of tone or content for the school (like photos that don't have enough context to understand how they relate to the school) are spoken to individually and given tips for how to improve. If a student posts something inappropriate and we don't know who posted it, I change the passwords and email everyone with access to let them know the passwords have been changed and to ask who posted it. Each time this has happened, the student comes forward quickly with an apology; usually it's an accident and they meant to post on their personal accounts.
I reach out to students who aren't following the posting guidelines on a picture-by-picture basis. For example, if a student doesn't #firstname their post correctly, I will reach out to them and remind them of the correct way to post. I follow a "compliment sandwich" style, where I'll thank them for posting, point out the error, and then follow up with letting them know how much parents and students enjoy seeing their posts. Since posting is voluntary, I want to make the value of their participation clear and keep their enthusiasm going.
Q. Have you tried other methods, like having students email you photos or having students tag the school in their posts for you to repost?
A. Yes, we have tried these methods. Unfortunately, we seem to get less participation from students with these extra steps. Getting students to reliably tag us is challenging, and I think also students like to feel that their Instagram accounts are somewhat private, even when they're not. It might feel like an invasion to have the school "repost" a photo meant for their followers. While faculty and some students do email us photos that our social media manager then posts on the appropriate forums, we find that allowing a few trusted students to post to the Instagram account directly helps keep our content fresh, interesting, and relevant to the student experience of Cheshire Academy.
If you're thinking about opening your school's Instagram account to students or if you already do have students posting to your school's Instagram account and have additional tips, share your ideas and questions in the comments!