When the Thunder Rolls…Dealing With A Social Media Storm

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.

The backstory:
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.

Now that the clouds have dissipated and the storm has passed, here are a few things we were reminded of during our social media storm:

  1. 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.
  2.  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 then take that conversation elsewhere. If there is incorrect information – take the opportunity to give them the correct information.
  1. 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.
  1. Transparency
    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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.



In a world where OMG, LOL and IMHO have become part of the social media vernacular, and as we constantly look for that next great shortcut, IFTTT should be part of your daily routine.

By using IF ThisThen That, you can automate many tasks in order to save time and keep you better connected. IFTTT is a free service that allows you to connect many different online services so they deliver news and alerts directly to you.

By using pre-configured recipes or building your own, you can automate repetitive tasks. With more than 200 services lined up with IFTTT, it’s easy to find or construct recipes that will work for you. As an example, a recipe I built in about 30 seconds monitors Facebook, and whenever a photo is tagged with my name, the file is saved in my phone’s photos folder.

IFTTT can easily be used to take care of news alerts and new postings to your favorite blogs and sites, and it adds additional functionality to many apps you might already be using. Users publish their recipes, which are sorted by different channels.

All the details are available at ifttt.com.

Can I Get A Like?

A Facebook or Twitter post not connected to strategy means you’re missing an opportunity. That said, why are you even on social media? What do you want to accomplish? How does the image you project online square with what’s happening IRL? And who’s even listening?

Social media gives your district’s mission an opportunity to play out online. These are answers you should know when crafting your district’s social media strategy:

Know Your Audience. Amassing new fans who can’t help you meet your goals is an exercise in futility, especially when they live hundreds of miles away.

Understand (And Reinforce) Your Brand. If your district has made a case for changing the way school is “done,” then showcase those innovations! This is your moment to tell your district’s story…over and over again!

Set Goals. Need new partners to help you reach your goals? Post to highlight existing partnerships and encourage new ones. Your social network may connect you with opportunities you never knew existed.

Protect Your Credibility. You may be headed for a #brandfail when your community doesn’t believe the claim of your district having a great _______, especially when everyone (and the data) knows it’s not. A social audience is a savvy one and will be all too happy to correct the record for you.

Celebrate! Remind your network of what you were trying to do and how you accomplished it. When you build a strong social network, your publics will share in your celebrations and share them — after all, that’s what social media is for!

As a public relations practitioner, you have a unique opportunity to guide your organization into a social media strategy that relies on more than just likes. If that’s all that’s motivating you, you’re missing out and that’s definitely a thumbs down.

Lists, quizzes, surveys: Make engagement fun!

We all love a good list. Well, except maybe a to-do list. But a good list can brighten our day. C’mon, who doesn’t want to know the 10 Most Misspelled Words, or the Top 5 Ways to Get Your Toddler Dressed in the Morning? Beyond lists, who hasn’t clicked through to find out What Disney Princess You Are, or What Movie Best Describes Your Marriage?

And while some may argue that the appeal of reading lists or taking silly quizzes might damage our intellectual abilities (my husband thinks I can only read social media content that is numbered), the truth remains: A good listicle will attract readers to engage with your content. Which is what we all want, isn’t it?

So I did it. I published my first listicle for Bastrop ISD using riddle.com, a resource for interactive content tools: 12 Bastrop ISD staff members who are making a difference! And boy, has it been popular! In its first two days, it had more than 600 viewers and more than 135 shares. Talk about engagement!

So let’s look at what makes a good list:

  • Get their attention. Just like any news article, your title is critical to grabbing attention. Be funny. Or intriguing. A good title will get more people to click on your list.
  • Don’t waste their time. Of course, the 25 Best Ways to Get Your Child Out of Bed in the morning might appeal to your 30-something audience of mothers on the go, but do you think they’ll have time to read all the way through it, much less want to share it when they are done? Probably not. Keep it short and to the point.
  • Consider your art. A good image will tell a great deal about the list item it goes with. Use artwork, photos, and images that will attract a reader’s attention and help them understand or engage with your content, and give a good image to your district.
  • Share it! Nothing is worse than making a list, getting your humor just so, finding all the perfect pictures to go with it, and getting it buried in the rest of your department’s content. Make it front and center. Share it on social media and share it with staff. They’ll appreciate the few minutes they get to laugh, learn something about their school, their colleagues, or a topic they can discuss with their friends, and you will be a hero!

Start writing your list today. Who knows, your community might need to know the Top 5 Ways to Stay Sane in the Car Rider Line! What topics do you think would be widely read by your audiences?

How 40404 Changes Twitter

If you use Twitter regularly, you already know it’s a rich source of information and a powerful tool for engagement. But if you already use Twitter, you’ve also heard people give reasons why they don’t use it … it’s intimidating, it’s confusing, it’s too complicated. Getting used to a new social media platform takes time, especially in a space like Twitter, which can feel like it’s filled with people who were born understanding the language of hashtags, RTs and H/Ts.

And even for the initiated, trying to keep up with a Twitter timeline can feel like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.

Enter 40404, which allows anyone to subscribe to specific Twitter users and receive their tweets as SMS text messages on a mobile phone. It requires no Twitter account, no computer, no login. For example, text Follow @nspra to the phone number 40404, and you’ll receive all of NSPRA’s tweets as text messages. Do the same for your superintendent or other district voices, and you’ll be able to keep tabs in real time on what is being pushed out.

In my district, our high school activities director manages a Twitter account that includes scoring updates and schedule changes — the information that students, families and fans want. Encouraging these people to subscribe to tweets with 40404 helps them get the information they want. But a subscription also means they also will receive the information that’s important to us, such as a reminder for online enrollment or request to contact legislators.

The 40404 function isn’t new — in fact, it’s been around since 2010. But as Twitter becomes an ever-more effective tool for school districts to communicate with different audiences, it makes even more sense to engage audience members in a customized, direct way that feels comfortably familiar.

Amplify Your Communications Reach with School PR Liaisons

A small school communications office can’t be everywhere, telling every story. That’s why I believe the future of our roles will involve a lot more training, coaching and empowering others in our districts to tell their own stories.

That’s exactly what the communications team at Arlington Public Schools (APS) in Arlington, Virginia has done with their school PR liaisons program.

The program was originally started in 2004 with volunteers from each school. After 10 years, there was only a meager average of one story per school being submitted to the communications office by the volunteer liaisons every other month. The program, as it stood, was not growing.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the superintendent supported a new effort to pay a small stipend to each of the liaisons, at a total cost to the district of $51,000, less than the cost of adding a full-time employee. School PR liaisons now have to fill out an application and be chosen by their school’s principal. Further, they sign a contract that outlines the performance objectives they have to meet.

The APS communications team supports the liaisons with a kickoff training, iPad minis, quarterly meetings and weekly emails to suggest hashtags to use and campaigns to promote.

The results from implementing this structured program are astounding. The number of APS Twitter accounts — representing schools, departments and staff — went from just a few dozen to more than 500 in less than a year. Twitter reach district-wide went from 100,000 to 1 million viewers per week. Readership of district publications skyrocketed.

So that others may replicate their success, the Arlington Public Schools communications team has generously provided the entire overview and documentation of this program, for which they won an NSPRA Golden Achievement Award.

Download the APS School PR Liaisons Program Overview and Documentation. This document includes:

  • School PR liaison job application
  • Quarterly goal/task evaluation form
  • Content tracking form
  • A link to the PR Liaison Training Manual
  • Sample weekly emails to PR liaisons
  • Agendas for kickoff training and quarterly meetings
  • A sample editorial calendar

If you are looking to amplify the reach of your district’s communications, especially on social media, it will be easier if you don’t have to do it alone.

Think like a parent: when NOT to use social media

Social media is a good tool for spreading news in a hurry. But when a personal touch is needed, social media should take a back seat. Two recent incidents drove this home for me.

Two weeks ago, a school bus carrying middle school students hit a pedestrian on a busy highway. The pedestrian was seriously injured, and the 20 students on the bus were shaken up after witnessing the horrible accident.

First we took care of the kids. A school counselor and the vice principal personally accompanied the students on the remainder of their bus route with a different bus and driver.

After that, our first communications priority was to have the principal and vice principal personally phone the parents of the students who witnessed the accident. We wanted parents to hear this news first from us, not from the news media or via social media.
The phone calls took awhile, but when I explained to the reporters and other community members who called that our first priority was taking care of the students and personally notifying their parents, they were willing to wait for details.

A second incident happened last week, while students were en route to school. Police reported that a man with two guns was running through the neighborhood near one of our schools. During the police pursuit, the man ran past three buses of elementary students, colliding with a side mirror and breaking a window on one of the buses. While no one was hurt, the children were shaken up by the incident.

This time we quickly put a basic message out by email and social media to all parents in our small community:

This morning at approximately 7:20 a.m., there was police activity near Kraxberger Middle School. Police resolved the issue without incident. There is no threat to students, and schools will operate as usual today. Once we have all the facts, we will provide you with more information.

Again, our communications priority was to have school staff phone the parents of the children on the school buses. After that was accomplished, we followed through with our promise to provide detailed information via social media and email.

Phone calls are not the fastest or easiest communication strategy, but they are the most personal. In both incidents, our first thought was, “if my child was in this situation, what would I want to happen?” Taking that approach has built a lot of trust in our schools.