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Losing the Fear of Social Media & Using it as a Community Engagement Tool

Losing the Fear of Social Media & Using it as a Community Engagement Tool

When I talk to school leaders about how powerful a tool social media can be for engaging parents and their communities at large, common responses I hear are that they don’t want to open themselves up for even more criticism and that social media is more trouble than it’s worth.

When I talk to school leaders about how powerful a tool social media can be for engaging parents and their communities at large, common responses I hear are that they don’t want to open themselves up for even more criticism and that social media is more trouble than it’s worth.

I believe these comments come from a fear of the unknown and not understanding how to properly address online complaints, negative comments or other criticisms.

First of all, let’s look at just a few benefits of using social media:

  • It’s an easy & quick way to publicize positive news about your schools. Make no mistake–news media and public figures are on social media and are looking for education-related news.
  • Want to drum up support and excitement for a school event? Use social media to extend your reach!Most parents these days are on social media and check it regularly throughout the day.
  • Want to share photos or videos of activities going on in your schools? Parents LOVE this stuff! Even more, grandparents are creating accounts so they can keep up with what their grandchildren are doing and get a “behind the scenes” look at goings-on in their schools.
  • Social media is a great way to get important news out quickly. Are you closing due to bad weather? Many districts, in addition to alerting the news channels and posting on their websites, will post a notice on their Facebook and Twitter accounts to notify families. And because so many of us are on social media, these alerts often reach people faster than other methods.

But what about those concerns about the negative aspects of social media? We all know people do and will continue to use social media to voice their unhappiness and displeasure with a whole range of issues. And they’ll continue to do so whether you as a district are on social media or not. But here’s the kicker: if you aren’t on social media, you have no way of controlling the message. You can’t address or comment on the issue, and you can’t correct any inaccuracies that are posted.

Therefore, it’s incumbent upon school leaders to take charge and connect with the social media community to ensure that YOUR message is the one that is communicated, as opposed to “something someone heard.”

The key to addressing negative comments on social media is to first have a code of conduct posted on your Facebook pages. You can then refer anyone to it who posts slanderous material, profanity or other comments directed at specific individuals. Having this set of rules will also allow you to delete specific comments without someone thinking you are trying to hide something or prohibit someone’s free speech(This is the only time, though, that you would want to delete comments.).

You do not have to respond to each and every comment someone posts. However, if false accusations appear or you need to set the record straight, remember these things:

  • Be respectful: You may not agree with the person, but he/she has the right to his/her opinion.
  • Refrain from posting when highly emotional: If a comment causes outrage or is highly offensive, wait until you calm down to respond. Do not make the matter worse by starting a back-and-forth battle!
  • Offer to discuss further–OFF LINE: Some matters need to be discussed face to face, not online. If necessary, offer your contact information to schedule a meeting where you can sit down and discuss the matter more in depth.

The thing to remember when dealing with negative comments is that they are an opportunity to have a conversation and improve. Maybe something is going on in one of your schools of which you weren’t aware. Begin to look at social media tools as ways inform the public, involve your community, and address potential issues surrounding your district, and you might just be surprised at the increased engagement and trust you begin to see!

Please contact me if you would like to learn more about the variety of social media options that are available to you.

Sarah Julian

Director, Communications

Sarah serves as the Director of Communications for the OPSRC. In this role, she provides support, consultation and training on a variety of critical tools and PR functions, including communication plans, social media policies, crisis communications, media relations and website content.

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