We see it on social media ALL the time. Someone posts something that seems innocent enough, and before we know it, the post or tweet has gone viral as a misstep. The thunder rolls in and a social media storm develops.
This fall our district dealt with a social media storm when we least expected it.
When we changed from carton milk to bagged milk, we tested it in several schools the year before. We implemented it this year. All seemed to be going well…until one day. We posted about one of the local media stations doing a story on the new milk, and the storm hit! The district became inundated with comments of parents unhappy with the decision to change and rumors began to fly.
- Listen to your Audience
The great thing about social media is the two-way communication. If you are on social media, you should be willing to take that feedback, evaluate and make changes if necessary. For us, the situation was something that wasn’t on our radar as a concern. After hearing from the public, we took the opportunity to take polls and hear more from our community about the issue.
- Know the Difference Between Misrepresentation of Facts and a Difference of Opinions
It is important to know the difference between misrepresentation of facts and a difference of opinion. Not everyone is going to agree with a district decision, and that is OK (snow days). If someone has concerns, we would rather they involve us in the conversation than take that conversation elsewhere. If there is incorrect information – take the opportunity to give them the correct information.
- Educate Your Audience
With any situation, rumors tend to fly quickly. Take the opportunity to tell your audiences the facts. Make sure they hear them from you, which leaves less room for misinterpretation.
Transparency is key. Throughout the whole storm, we remained very transparent. People had a lot of questions and concerns about reasons for the change, nutritional facts and the taste of the milk. We answered all their questions in multiple communication methods, shared the nutritional facts and even had our Board of Education taste the milk at a public meeting.
- Vocal Minority
Look at the commenters. Is a small number people posting multiple times or is it a large number of people posting concerns? Many times it is a vocal minority.
- Admit Wrongdoing – Correct the Problem
If there truly is wrongdoing, admit it! Sometimes the best thing to do is apologize, show your audience that you are learning from the issue and fix it.
- Build Trust With Your Audience Ahead of Time
No matter what the issue is, follow these steps prior to any storm – social media or otherwise – and you will build trust with your audience. Building trust helps to minimize social media storms ahead of time.
For many, when they experience a social media storm, their first instinct is to shy away. The way we handled this storm showed the value of schools using social media. We give our community the opportunity to provide feedback, we listened and evaluated what we were doing. We included our audience in the whole process. Ultimately, we didn’t change what we were doing, but I believe our community feels like we listened to their concerns and took them into account when making a final decision. That’s invaluable.
Guest blogger Kala Morrissey is the Communication Specialist/Webmaster for the Papillion La Vista Community Schools. She is currently the President of the Nebraska Chapter of NSPRA. Kala has presented at the local, state and national level on the role of social media in education. She was named to NSPRA’s 35 under 35 list in 2012 and a NSPRA Front Runner in 2014-15.
Find her on Twitter @kmorrissey23
Special thanks to Kala for allowing me to share her valuable insights here. Her post first appeared on the Social School Public Relations blog, published by the National School Public Relations Association.