Social networking provides ECCE services with a new set of tools to promote their business but providers need to weigh up the risks against the opportunities such sites can present.
The enquiries we receive into our office are a very good barometer of the issues that concern childcare providers throughout the country. Not surprisingly the past number of months has been dominated by enquiries about the ECCE free pre-school place and of course the inspections that are been carried out on early years services by the National Employment Rights Authority. However recently we have also experienced an upsurge in calls where childcare providers have fallen foul of social networking sites.
Social networks are websites that let people join, find their friends, and share information with each other. Most people use these sites to find friends they haven’t seen since school or stay updated on what their friends are doing in real time. Most people have heard of popular social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Bebo and Twitter. Facebook has been adopted more quickly than any other media source in history, much faster than radio or television. It was established in 2004 as a way for Harvard students to keep in touch. It now has over 800 million registered users.
So, social networks are here to stay and can be a great way to connect with customers and advertise your service cost effectively. More and more businesses, including childcare businesses are establishing their on-line profiles to attract attention and get their message out very quickly to a targeted audience.
Despite its benefits, there are also serious drawbacks to social networking. If you participate in social networks to promote your service you must remember that you have very little control over what is posted about you. Unflattering comments or indeed photographs can damage your reputation and business. Childcare providers should be savvy and aware about how they use social networking and monitor what is being said about them.
We have been dealing with employers who have been coping with serious problems related to social networking sites. For example employees who use their social networking page to post uncomplimentary comments about the childcare service with the result that when a potential customer (parent) searches for information about a particular service these comments pop-up.
Other problems such as employees using social networking sites to communicate with parents and discuss children and families openly must be addressed by having proper policies and procedures. Employers should also be aware that they could be held responsible if an employee leaves threatening or nasty comments on the profile page of a colleague if they don’t handle the issue appropriately. It’s easy to get too personal, or too off-topic, when social networking, Twittering, etc. You may divulge more information than you wanted to (or than you should), and once you’ve said it, you can’t take it back. The instant gratification factor also makes it easier to communicate without thinking things through; contributing to negative “Web wars” at times.
Employers should also keep a close eye on “discussion blogs”. These forums are often used to openly discuss businesses and there is a number of very active Irish forums. If you discover any defamatory comments about your business you can ensure that these are removed.
Have a clear and comprehensive policy on social networking linked to confidentiality policies
Ask employees to sign an internet and email policy agreement.
Monitor internet and email usage in the workplace (confirm this in your policy)
Ensure employees know the company’s bullying and harassment policy and that it extends to include online activities.
Tell staff not to share any sensitive business information online with friends or contacts, unless they have prior approval
Keep yourself up-to-date with the latest internet technology
Social networking provides ECCE services with a new set of tools to promote their business but providers need to weigh up the risks against the opportunities such sites can present. Childcare providers need to educate themselves on the latest technologies and their impact on the ECCE sector.