If you are viewing this post using a web browser and slide down the screen a little you will find a number of things. Among the “ego badges” about Twitter followers and blog follower notices and above the links to other blogs you will find a new gadget. This gadget (I’m told that is what it is called) shows the latest activity on Microphone. What is Microphone? Well it is a Facebook application that Microsoft is using to try to connect to students. It has a wall similar to individual Facebook people walls for writing quick little notes. It has discussion forums where students can ask questions and where other students and Microsoft employees answer them. It’s really a conversation. Hopefully it is an educational conversation where all parties can learn from and about each other.

Many companies are using this sort of thing to communicate and to try to establish a more human face to their companies and products. Is it about marketing? Well in part yes. But at the same time it is about building a relationship – a two way more shared and equal relationship  - between individuals.  It can be scary at times – what if the students don’t like us? What if I tick someone off at the company – will that keep me from getting a job there? And on and on. Schools are dealing with the same fears of course.

With or without the rest of us, students are using these tools to communicate with each other. They are using forums, Facebook, wikis, IM, YouTube and more to keep in touch with each other and to make new friends. If you believe that “students are our future” than it makes sense to adopt some of their communications paths. Companies are doing that. Microsoft also has Channel 8 site which includes a lot of videos as well as conversation about those videos for example.

Some schools are following suit of course. Mostly in the higher education space but also in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools. Often though it seems as though private schools are on the leading edge. They, unlike most public schools, have to compete for students so looking for a easy to standout is a good thing. But I wish more schools would take a lead in this area. There are often alumni groups for schools on Facebook for example. Some schools embrace these groups and support them. Others do what they can to shut them down. Which activity do you suppose builds more good will? Some teachers are using wikis and videos to teach. Others actively work with their IT to block both kinds of sites from student eyes. Which do you suppose makes the students think the teachers are interested in getting though to them where they “live?”

Using social networking sites take a bit more effort at times but it sure can pay off.

If you have a chance and a Facebook account check out the conversations at Microphone.