Under Pressure

What must education do to thrive in the Social Age?

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Babbitt

“Change happens only as the result of insurmountable market pressure.” — A World Gone Social’s Law of Change

CREDIT A World Gone Social Coine BabbittIn the business world, social media has proven to be an insurmountable market force, changing how business innovates, collaborates, serves customers, hires and develops team members, displays character, and demonstrates accountability. This monumental change isn’t change for the sake of change like other trends and fads that came before. This is real, systemic change. Human change. Global change. Welcome to the Social Age.

No more waiting for parent-teacher conferences, surveys or school board meetings. Stakeholders are on social media right now saying exactly how they feel.

So far, our education system – K-12 and higher education – is on the outside of this movement, looking in. Education wasn’t exactly early an adopter of social like the marketing teams of big companies. They didn’t embrace social as newer companies like Zappos, Jet Blue and Tangerine Bank did. And education hasn’t really changed their method of communication; for the most part, teaching is still done as it was in the Industrial Age: by talking at students, at parents and at stakeholders.

So how can education catch up to the social tsunami – and adapt to new expectations of students and parents (K-12) and customers (higher education)?

They must follow the precedent set by those businesses and non-profits doing amazing work in our new economic climate: they must go social. Here’s how:

Actively Listen

At no time in history have customers been able to raise their voices – independently and collectively – as they can today. Exceed the expectations of a student or parent, and watch the praise on Facebook and Twitter swell into positive momentum. Disappoint or fail on a large scale, and you may be witness to – or a victim of – a social firestorm.

And at no time has a vendor – whether a business making widgets or an institution dispensing education – had the opportunity to actively listen; to hear what stakeholders really feel about them, in real-time. No more waiting for parent-teacher conferences, surveys or school board meetings. Stakeholders are on social media right now saying exactly how they feel.

The role of education in this new reality: listen.

Don’t try to control the message, as we’ve always done in the past. Don’t assume one-way “communication” is an acceptable form of engagement. Don’t use your two ears and one mouth disproportionately. Listen. Then think. Then act.

Build Trust by Building Community

In the Social Age, a community is not bound by structure, rules or authoritarian leadership – it is fueled by two things: 1) belief in a common mission and 2) trust. Organically, members of a community work together to improve situations, meet challenges or solve problems.

By default, education is built around a common mission: the safety, welfare and knowledge of the student. And 9 out of 10 of those students, and-or their parents, are already on social media; they are already communicating with each other. The question is: do they trust educators enough to invite them into the dialogue?

Social – through effective and open communication – enables us to build trust. Start a Facebook page. Build a Google+ circle. Create a school-branded hashtag. Spark discussion. Extend conversations. Abandon the role of administrator, and become “Chief Facilitator.” From there, build trust and then community.

Get Small, Be Nimble

Those companies – even the largest enterprises – that excel in the Social Age have learned: small and nimble wins. Quicker decisions are made. Teams move faster. Creative thinking becomes the norm.

Education – regardless of the baggage and bureaucracy that might exist – must emulate this trend. So they can adapt quickly, K-12 must cut through TWWADI (the-way-we’ve-always-done-it) syndrome and create innovative learning solutions. Higher education must compete – and send real-world ready graduates into the workforce – by implementing the 21st-century needs of their customers with a far greater sense of urgency.

The alternative: remain weighed down by tradition and old-school thinking – and run the risk of becoming obsolete.

Be OPEN

In A World Gone Social, we dedicate an entire chapter to the ultimate catalyst of success in the Social Age: OPEN.

The OPEN (short for “Ordinary Person | Extraordinary Network”) concept is simple: one person – no matter how talented – can only do so much. Bring in community members and invite experts from personal and professional networks to take on a challenge, however, and real change – and true innovation – happens.

For schools to adapt and thrive in the Social Age, they must abandon their command-and-control leadership style. They must be willing to relinquish control. They must embrace OPEN.

Education may not be counted among the early-adopters of social media. One school, district and campus at a time, however — they can be master emulators. They can change.

And they will. Because that insurmountable market pressure is coming.

Mark Babbitt is CEO and Founder of YouTern, a social community for college students, recent graduates and young professionals that Mashable calls a “Top 5 Online Community for Starting Your Career” and Forbes has named to their “Top Website for Your Career” lists in 2012 and 2013.

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