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.