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.

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4 thoughts on “Think like a parent: when NOT to use social media

  1. These are great points — and such great illustrations that you were willing to share. Thank you! My greatest conflict comes when community members, students and families are posting on social media about an incident to the point that we seem noticeably absent if we are silent. On the first example you give, did you wait to post in spite of chatter on social, or were you fortunate that there simply wasn’t a lot of talk before you were ready? Thanks again!

  2. Doing it over again, I’d talk my team into at least a preliminary message — that no students on the bus were injured — and tell them more information will be provided after we personally notify the families of the students involved.

  3. I was thinking the same on the 1st incident…get out there with a brief generic message to those impacted parents via phone/text and follow up with the personal phone calls. Our SchoolMessenger system is tied to our Transfinder bus system so we can call only the parents of the kids on a specific route. Sounds like a busy few weeks!

  4. Your emergency notification system can target just the parents on a specific bus route? That is a nice feature, followed by the personal call. Very professional.

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