Studio owners share social-media policies that work.
Keeping up with the constant changes in social media may seem impossible. Even if you could remember the differences between pinning, snapping, tweeting and vining, you can’t possibly monitor every single post studio employees, students and parents make.
So what’s a busy studio owner to do? As burdensome as it may seem, the key is to take the time to create a social-media policy that protects your students and teachers from the worst of social media while still allowing for all the good things it has to offer. To help you create up-to-date and legally sound guidelines that fit your studio’s needs, DT spoke to three studio owners who have implemented successful policies.
Friends Without Benefits
Rejecting a friend request on Facebook or a follow request on Twitter can seem like a digital slap in the face—but it’s also something that Michelle Dawson encourages her staff to make a regular habit. “Our policy says that no staff member should be contacting any student under age 18 via social media,” says Dawson, who co-directs The Academy of Dance by Lori in Pittsburgh. “We ask them to direct their students to the studio’s Facebook page that everyone can friend.”
Dawson sets an example by not friending students or their parents on her personal Facebook page, even those she’s friendly with outside of the studio. “As close as I feel to these kids, I still have to remind myself that this is a professional relationship,” she says.
Sue Sampson-Dalena, owner of The Dance Studio of Fresno in California, has a similar policy, and for teachers who are reluctant, she says it’s helpful to compare the situation to high school, where students would never expect to be Facebook friends with their teachers. “I know some of my younger faculty think I’m old-fashioned, but there just has to be a line there,” she says. “If they step back and remember that we are educators just like a math teacher or school principal, they’ll realize it’s the right thing to do.”
One of the inherent problems with social media, however, is that it’s nearly impossible to keep tabs on, so it’s easy for staff (especially those with private accounts) to bend the rules. Even if you wanted to, employers are not legally able to fire employees based on whom they contact on social media, regardless of in-studio policy.
Staff members are more likely to follow the policy when they truly understand why it’s in place, and when their employer is flexible and open. Dawson says keeping an open dialogue makes teachers more willing to come to her when they have an issue with the policy. “When teachers approach us about specific situations, we’ll think about it,” she says. “For example, I have staff members who are Facebook friends with their young kid’s friends to monitor their own child. And I also have a teacher who’s good friends with some studio families, so she’s made a separate ‘teacher’ page for those parents who want to friend her, which is separate from her personal page.”
To Post or Not to Post
As far as what employees post on personal pages, the law, enforced by the National Labor Relations Board, says you may ask employees to be courteous and reflect your business in a positive light, but breaking these rules may not necessarily be grounds for lawful termination. Focus on helping your staff realize that they’re representing both your studio and themselves. And, of course, it helps to hire a staff that you trust to keep an open dialogue.
Sampson-Dalena worries more about what her students are posting, so she has her teams sign a code of ethics at the start of their season. “It says they will not post anything inappropriate, demeaning or provocative online, especially if they’re wearing Dance Studio of Fresno swag,” she says. “I’ve only had to call in a dancer once to ask if she was prepared for me to show her parents what she’d posted. It became a teaching moment about how the outside world, including future employers, will see her.”
Perhaps the biggest downside of social media comes when posts from students (or even the occasional parent) involve nasty comments, unflattering images or brutal private messages. Studio owners agree—a no-tolerance policy for bullying is absolutely essential. David Ahmad of Port Perry Dance Academy in Ontario, Canada, recalls an incident of improper social media use: “That child lost her solo and membership in a group routine for one year,” he says. He’s had no incidents since.
For Ahmad, students or staff posting video of studio choreography is another big no-no. “We make it clear that’s material owned by the studio,” he says. Studio owners may also want to remind students—and their smartphone-wielding parents—to ask permission of those being photographed or recorded before posting online. While not technically illegal, posting without permission can cause unnecessary upset. Dawson sets a privacy-keeping example by leaving students’ last names off any posts by the studio. DT
Rachel Zar is a frequent contributor to Dance Teacher.
Social-Media Cheat Sheet
You’re probably familiar with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but do you know the difference between a pin and a vine? Where can you find a subreddit or create a tumblelog? If all this social-media jargon has you confused, here are some of the hottest sites today—and what you should know about them.
1. Instagram This photo-sharing site allows users to create profiles and post images and videos that are either shared with approved followers or public and searchable. Hashtags (#), used to group similar content, are huge on Instagram—as are unfiltered and often inappropriate comments.
2. Snapchat: Users message, or snap, each other directly and put a time limit on how long their pictures or videos last after they’re opened. But even after the message disappears, know that the recipient may have a screen shot of it—so this is not a risk-free way of sending something private.
3. Vine: Users post six-second video clips, called vines. By default, these (and comments on others’ videos) are public but can be made private. Many of the public videos are inappropriate for young eyes.
5. Tumblr: It’s a cross between a blog and Twitter. On custom-designed pages, or tumblelogs, users post text, photos, videos or audio clips. Posts on Tumblr are often reblogged—copied and shared to other tumble-logs—so even private posts can become public.
6. WhatsApp: WhatsApp allows users to send text or audio messages, videos or photos to each other with no message limits or fees (making it a great way to stay in touch when out of the country). WhatsApp is restricted to users 16 and older, although many younger teens find loopholes to join.
7. Reddit: Users submit links or text, which are voted up or down by other users. Highly ranked content appears on the front page. All posts are organized into categories, or subreddits. Reddit can be a fun way to find the latest news in a specific interest area or have your voice heard by like-minded users.
8. Yik Yak: Posts only show within a 10-mile radius, and since there are no profiles or followers, messages are anonymous, making it a possible haven for cyber-bullying. (Some schools have banned it.) —RZ