You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

Much has been written (some of it in this blog) about growing your Facebook audience, increasing your hits, and building your followers, and those are laudable, quantifiable goals. The question is whether achieving those goals is doable and, more importantly, meaningful for your district’s particular situation?

It all goes back to the first part of the RACE formula: research. Only by researching the needs, wants and habits of your audiences can you develop strategies and tactics that will solve a problem. If you’re blindly following the lead of other social media practitioners, chances are that the outcomes you desire will be more elusive.

A case in point is a project my district mounted that employed QR codes in a publication. The premise was that the codes would deliver students to a web page where they could obtain additional information. By moving that information online, the cumbersome material could be left out of the print piece but still be available. The result? Very few people actually visited the pages and the important information went unread.

A series of focus groups (conducted after the fact, unfortunately) revealed that students had seen the QR codes, but either didn’t know what they were for or didn’t have the smartphone technology needed to access them. We made the false assumption that our audience would not only be tech-savvy but also have the latest technology at their disposal.

We may re-visit QR codes or delve into whatever new social media channel or technology emerges, but first we’ll take a moment to find out what we don’t know.

It’s Time to Get on Board with Facebook

If using Facebook for your school PR program still feels innovative and cutting-edge to you, it’s time to reconsider.

A few years ago, I gave a social media presentation. I told participants that if these new social media tools did not fit into their communication plans, they should not use them. “Don’t just get a Facebook page because everyone else is getting one,” I said.

The times have changed, and my mind has changed with them, at least where Facebook is concerned. I still very much believe that these tools should align with and support your communication plans. But I no longer think using Facebook is optional.

Today, there are more than a billion people actively using Facebook, and thousands of them live in your community. In fact, they represent your most important audiences.

About 40 percent of Facebook users fall between the ages of 25 and 44 – roughly the age of the parents you target with your communications. And almost 75 percent of mothers in the United States use Facebook.

Facebook is how many of your schools’ parents communicate and gather information, and many key stakeholders in your community are using it to tell stories about your schools.

They expect to be able to interact with you on this platform, just as they expect you to have a website. And if they don’t find your page, some of them are tempted to make one for you.

That’s why it’s no longer just the innovators and the early adopters who are using Facebook for school PR. We’ve moved on to the early majority.

So unless you want to be a laggard, it’s time to figure out how Facebook can support your communication plans.

Social Media Comments Really Aren’t That Scary

When I hear other districts talk about why they haven’t jumped into the social media world, it is most often because they or their district leaders fear the comments they might get. When we started, our district wasn’t much different. Regardless of this fear, we forged ahead with social media. Our philosophy was that we would rather have people tell us their opinions and concerns about an issue so we have a good pulse on the community, then talk about them in private.

To help ease the minds of our administration and protect our district at the same time, we published rules of engagement on each of our social media pages. If and when we have to remove a comment, we reference these rules, which can be found here. In reality it hasn’t been an issue for us. In nearly four years, we have removed less than 20 comments across all of our district pages.

Here are some tips in handling social media comments:

  • Develop response guidelines for your district. Ours were modified from the United States Air Force response guidelines and can be found here.
  • Not all comments will be negative. Most will be positive. Thank individuals for sharing their positive stories and comments. I save really good comments in a folder and use them to show the positive side of social media in education.
  • Know the difference between an opinion and blatant misrepresentation of facts. Opinions are not removed from our social media sites. Not everyone will agree with district decisions, and that is ok. Use social media to understand what individuals don’t like about a decision and see if their issues can be addressed. Make sure to let individuals know you have heard their concerns. If individuals are publishing misinformation, we take the opportunity to make sure correct information is out there.
  • Comments will monitor themselves. The truth of the matter is that in Nebraska, we occasionally have snow days. When we cancel school we place this information on our social media channels. Sometimes parents agree, sometimes they don’t. Often times parents who don’t agree with our decisions back down or remove their comments because other parents are praising our district for keeping kids safe.
  • Not every comment needs to be answered right away. Depending on the issue, wait and see if the issue monitors itself or if you need to jump in with a response.
  • If and when you do remove a comment, contact the individual. Explain to the person why the comment is being removed. In addition, if it is something that the district needs to address, like a personnel complaint or student concern, put the commenter in touch with someone who can address his or her issue.