PR professionals always have an ear to the ground. Issues anticipation is about sensing and understanding public opinion, then using what you learn to navigate strategically and transparently through times of change and challenge.
Twitter and Facebook are essential tools in this work, providing windows on the world into the concerns and priorities of school district parents, students, employees and community members.
Five easy strategies can help you take the pulse of your community on a regular basis:
- Broaden your friend base:
Besides growing your school district’s fan base, cast a wide net to expand the circle of Facebook friends on your personal page. Friend district partners, involved parents, community leaders, neighbors, staff members, Board members, Education Foundation board members and volunteers. Be sure to protect your personal privacy by setting up different groups for personal vs. professional contacts.
- Lurk and listen:
Pay attention to what’s buzzing in your community. Watch for complaints, debate and controversy tied to education. When they mention schools or kids, what are people wondering about or worried about? Which education or political groups are they tracking on social media? Are coalitions forming for or against a proposed school district change? Resist the urge to post or comment, and just listen.
- Invite private messages:
Be sure to invite fans of your school district Facebook site to message you privately about any issues or concerns. Respond promptly to resolve issues, provide information or direct them to the right district expert. This is a good way to resolve individual issues around grades, health, bullying, employees, or discipline without compromising student or staff privacy.
- Post a survey:
When a hot issue bubbles up, try an online survey. If a protest group has achieved critical mass, post it on their site. Community members will be glad you’re listening, and by using open-ended questions, you may well find some workable compromises or innovative strategies to resolve the issue.
- Share what you hear:
Many district leaders do not follow social media, so let them know what you’re hearing, especially in turbulent times. Copy key conversation threads into an email, so they have a feel for the community’s priorities and concerns. Remind them that it doesn’t matter how much you are listening if the district does not act on what it hears from the community.