Last week, we talked about how to use email—specifically distribution lists—to help you communicate with other home schoolers (and groups of people in general). This week, we’re going to look at how to use Facebook to boost your home school group’s online presence.
Now, I just realized I wrote half of this article without even thinking to define Facebook. So I’m going to pause for a paragraph to explain exactly what I’m talking about. Facebook (aka “The Great Social Experiment”) was started by a young Harvard student—now a young Harvard dropout—in his dorm room. It quickly caught on among college students nationwide (we got it at John Brown University in 2004, just a couple of years after it started—it’s that new). Today, Facebook caters to more than just college kids wanting to talk to friends; it’s a multi-billion-dollar corporation that appeals to families, businesses, non-profits, missionaries, marketing firms—anybody and everybody who wants to stay in touch with friends, sell a product, or attract followers to their philanthropic cause. In the last year, businesses have begun stepping up their Facebook presence, because they know it’s a good way to market themselves without spending an arm and a leg on Superbowl ads or primetime TV spots. You and your home school group can put it to use for this same purpose, albeit on a much smaller scale.
That said, I’ll move on to exactly how Facebook can help you.
Now, I don’t know much about your home school group; some groups do field trips, seminars, and classes with students; some have monthly meetings; some are just loosely-based internet-groups that barely have any personal contact. Regardless, the activities your group takes part in are going to affect whether or not Facebook is going to be useful to you. Here are some tips to help you determine if this is something your group can use:
First, does your group have members (parents or children) who use Facebook? If the answer is “Yes,” then you can proceed.
Second, does your group take part in at least one or more group-related activities (electronic or otherwise) each month (excluding summertime months or holiday seasons, perhaps)? If so, then you can definitely use Facebook.
Third, do you and the other members of your group want a fast, convenient way to communicate with the whole home school group? Think about this one for a second. I’m not talking about the kind of communication that’s quickly resolved with a phone call from one person to one other person; I’m talking about open discussion with the entire group—like conversations about curriculum providers, announcements about activities and events, and dialogue about anything and everything related to home schooling. If so, then Facebook can help.
Fourth, do you ever need a quick way to notify people about home school issues? Some people only need this type of tool once or twice a year—like last March, when we were sounding the alarm about a bad home school bill that the legislature was considering. This is one of those things that, when you need it, you really need it. Tools like Facebook can make this a breeze.
Finally, do you want to promote your home school group to other home schoolers in your area? Chances are somebody in your group has a friend or family member who home schools, but is not a part of your group. Facebook can help them become acquainted with your group before deciding whether or not they want to join.
If you answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, Facebook is for you.
OK, so you’ve established that you want to use Facebook. Now what?
Well, the first thing you need to find is a person who knows how to use Facebook. If this person happens to be you, great; if this person happens to be your 12-year-old nephew, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Regardless, find someone who knows Facebook, and get them to help you.
Next, establish what you would like to be able to do with Facebook. This may be a little tricky if you’ve never used Facebook before, but I’ll try to help. Use the following checklist to determine which uses appeal to you:
 I want to post some static information about our group.
 I want to limit who can or cannot be part of our Facebook group.
 I want our Facebook presence to be somewhat generic—more of a place where fans of home schooling can meet rather than something specifically for our group members.
 I want to be able to write summaries for events we’re holding, invite Facebook users to them, and find out who plans to attend and who does not.
 I want a combination of generic and interactive information about us on Facebook.
 I want to be able to update our information regularly.
 I want to be able to send mass updates (i.e. messages) to people on Facebook about what our home school group is doing.
 I want to post regular messages in chronological format.
 I want non-Facebook users to be able to read content we post to Facebook.
If you only checked the first four items off the list, then you want to set up a Facebook Group. If you checked any other items, you should consider setting up a Facebook Page.
Facebook Pages (aka “Public Profiles”) are more interactive and can do most of the things on the list above very effectively, but they tend to require more maintenance. Facebook Groups are little more limited, but also lend themselves to use a more “set it and forget it” format. Pick the one that meets your needs, but understand that Facebook Pages—while very easy to set up—do require a slightly-more-tech-savvy user (don’t worry, though; I really believe anybody can get a Facebook Page going in a matter of minutes if they just take a moment to read the instructions Facebook provides).
Alright, so you’ve decided what type of Facebook presence you want (Group or Page); now it’s time to get down to business. Get your tech-savvy helper, if you have one, find a computer, and go to http://www.facebook.com.
The first thing you need is a Facebook account. If your assistant has one already, use it. Otherwise, set one up; it doesn’t take long, and is a very straightforward process.
Alright, now begin setting up your Group or Page. For Groups:
For some reason, Facebook’ developers have decided to make it hard to find the page that lets you make groups. Go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/create.php. It has the forms and instructions you need to get started.
Fill out the form on this page, and click “Create Group.” Remember: This information is going to be very static, and is somewhat difficult to change.
Invite your friends on Facebook (i.e. the other members of your home school group) to join the group you just made.
Once again, the place to get started is not easy to find. Here is a link to it: http://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php.
You need to establish what type of page you want to create (local, business-related, etc.). Remember that Pages are much easier to edit later, but it’s easier to get it right the first time.
Follow the instructions on the pages that follow; you’ll need to publish your page before anyone can see it. Once it’s published, it will appear on Facebook’s search engine, so if someone searches for “Crossett Home School Group,” your page will show up (provided your part of the Crossett Home School Group).
There are plenty of ways to deck out your Facebook Page, but I don’t have room to cover them all here. Suffice it to say there are more than enough websites out there that can help you; Google is your best friend, here. Get on the search engine, type “Facebook Page Tips and Tricks,” and see what you get.
That’s a (very) cursory overview of Facebook and its uses for home schoolers; next week we will consider blogging, and other forms of social networking.