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Most of us have a favourite social media platform, such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, as our way to connect with family and friends. We "go on Facebook" to catch up of births, relationships and deaths (what our parents may have called "hatches, matches and dispatches"). Families and friends are ever more spread around the world making dropping in for a cup of tea and a face-to-face chat more difficult than ever before.


The recently released Horizon report states that the most popular social media platforms together have over 6.3 billion accounts shared by the over 2.7 billion people who use them. How many social media accounts do you use? Facebook alone is reported to having over 1.2 billion accounts. This is a large proportion of the current estimate of 7.2 billion people on the planet. Also, the use of social media is no longer for the young, since the fastest growing categories are in the 45 to 54 and 55 to 64 age groups (Facebook, Google+ and Twitter).


Concerns for policy makers include the rise of cyber bullying and privacy. Since institutional staff and their students both use social media in their personal lives, what can be done to protect people when online? Policy makers at institutions need to draft and communicate guidelines that help to explain the advantages of social media along with its risks and downright dangers. The legal risks and possible measures of protection also need to be communicated.


Whatever your attitude toward social media, it is now in the mainstream and is already in your classroom (if you are a teacher), or in your institutions (if you are an administrator). It is time to get your policy in place so that you are not caught out completely unprepared. The staff position of social media specialist is no longer a luxury. If something about your institution appears in the social media, you have only hours to respond before it gets out of control. The slow response of the news media is something of the past, so you need to know what is being said about your institution as it happens!


For reasons of personal privacy, risk to staff and students, as well as reputational risk, social media policy is a priority area for 2014.


Here are links to social media toolkits and a sample policy:


Social Media Security Toolkit


Social Media Toolkit


Sample Social Media Policy



Submitted on 18 February 2014. First published on AfricaEducation.org.

The impact of social media on our lives and on institutional policy