About Emily Parks

Emily Parks is the Public Information Officer for Hutto ISD, in Hutto, TX. She is a member of the Texas and National School PR Associations. Emily is currently chair of the Celebrate Texas Public Schools committee and has served as the chair of the Annual Audit committee for TSPRA. She was nominated as the TSPRA Rookie of the Year in 2011 and selected as one of NSPRA's first National 35 Under 35 recipients.

How to recover from a social media mistake

Mistakes happen to all of us. Sometimes they are inconsequential. Other times, a major disaster. They happen at work, in our personal lives, and on social media.

So, when you inadvertently misspell “magic” or accidentally post the wrong date or time on Facebook, how do you fix it? Sometimes it’s as easy as editing a post or uploading a new photo. But what do you do when you can’t fix it or when it’s a big one?

During our arctic blast in Texas last week, a neighboring district made a mistake. They tweeted that school was closed the following day. Then, a few minutes later, they tweeted that the initial tweet was a mistake – the decision had not been made yet. Oops.

Students fumed and raged. They creatively told the district what they thought about the mistake – in nice and not-so-nice ways. While this could have been a huge black eye for this district, they recovered from it nicely. It helped that they actually did cancel school about 30 minutes later, but a quick apology and continued ownership of the mistake made all the difference.

So how can you fix a boo-boo on social media? Here are some tips:

  1. Own your mistake. They happen: small ones like spelling errors or omitting a name and big ones like accidentally canceling school via Twitter. Just ‘fess up and take ownership. Apologize, correct the information and move on.
  2. Laugh about it (when appropriate). Humor can work in your favor in when a mistake happens. Recently, I responded to a student on Twitter and I spelled “magic” wrong. Oh, did our students have a heyday with me. A quick-witted response and correction gave them a good laugh. A few minutes later, when a student spelled his own tweet wrong, I ribbed him a little and gained some leniency with my own grammar faux pas.
  3. Give a little to those affected. Did your mistake directly impact someone? Maybe you posted the wrong time for an event or left a student off a list of winners. Give the event or the student a few minutes in the spotlight with their own post. Quickly explain (if you have space), and then put the spotlight on anyone or anything that might have been affected by the blunder.
  4. Go easy on yourself. Remember, mistakes happen to the best of us. None of us are immune, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Smile, laugh and move on – but take care to not repeat the same mistake again!

Want social media success? Stop what you’re doing (literally)

It’s a new year, and with that comes resolutions and commitments to make your life better, healthier, happier. It should be no different with your social media. Often, we like to set goals and lists of what we want to start doing to get our new year off right. But, what if we thought about this differently? What if we asked ourselves, “what can I stop doing that will make using social media to meet my school communication goals easier?”

So, let’s free ourselves of a few nasty habits this year, starting with these:

  1. Same content, different platform. This could be by way of auto posting, copy and paste, or whatever. Stop doing it. Do not post your 47-word tweet to Facebook because you can. Customize it for the appropriate platform. And on that note, do not post a link on your Twitter that will drive folks to your Facebook page (unless that is your goal).
  2. Practical, but unbalanced. You’ve got great content. It’s info your parents, community or students need to know. But you’ve just posted a dozen things in the last five minutes. On one platform. Unless you are posting scores to a football game, updating about a crisis or live-tweeting an event, you should balance your content. Over-posting can drown out even your own content. Take advantage of the scheduling feature and balance your content.
  3. Ignoring engagement. Did a parent post a question or comment to your Facebook wall? Did you get mentioned in a praiseworthy (or not so nice) post on Twitter? Don’t ignore it. Good or bad, respond to it. A quick thanks, retweet or answer to a question will go a long way with your followers.
  4. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Your cover, background and bio picture are visual cues to your followers and friends. Don’t show off old, outdated photos. I keep our profile pictures the same (our logo), but use the cover/bio/background photo to feature students, teachers, programs and more. Try it!

Always, always have a social media plan

Take a deep breath. Now let it out. It’s time to look at your social media plan for the year.

Are you on track? Have you put any of your plan in place? Do you even have a plan yet?

If you are part of a small office (like mine) you may not have yet taken to the time to evaluate your social media plan yet this year. So, let’s take the time today.

Your social media plan should be proactive, if you will. Often we find ourselves at the mercy of groups or clubs that want last minute posts about their event or fundraiser, or your coworker wants you to share a local business’ post about a discount that is going on today. How do you manage these last-minute requests?

Here are a few tips to ensure your social media plan is effective for both you, your schools and your community:

1. Schedule time for social media. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. I think it is crucial to a successful social media campaign (or just general use of social media for your organization) to plan and make time. So, make time for it. Spend 20 minutes a week and schedule a month’s worth of content.

2. Set standards. You should have criteria on what makes it on your page, when it goes up and how often it is posted. Stick to this. While those days come up that you need to share last-minute information, remind those eleventh-hour requesters that you can better promote their event, story or fundraiser ahead of time. Ask them to post to your page or share the info earlier.

3. Have enough, but not too much. You should encourage consistency within your organization. One school should not have separate pages for all groups while another only has one page for the entire school. Find out what works best, how those pages are being used and create some uniformity. If you have too many pages (one for each club in a school, and for the parent organization, and for the afterschool tutoring, and for…you get it), people won’t know where to go to get information or will miss information. Uniformity will help with this.

4. Share and share alike. You are busy. Your campus staff is busy. If you are going to post about your elementary school’s fundraiser, check out their pages. They have probably already posted the info. Look at the comments. Are there any questions that needed to be answered? Any other info that needed to be included? No? Share away. If so, share the status and include the answer in your post. And remind others they can share your content as well.

Customer service is key, even on social media

Customer service is the root of PR.

Do you know who your customers are? Are they parents? Students? Staff? When we deal with them, do we do so with a smile? Whom do they come in contact with when they come to our schools? Does that person treat them with respect and kindness? We need to ask ourselves these questions to ensure our customers feel a part of the system. More pertinent to this blog, how do we deal with them on social media platforms?

It is easy to change your tone or slack on your customer service skills when you are not having a face-to-face conversation. It is important to remember, even when commenting, tweeting or sharing a photo, your presentation and response once it starts spreading, is equivalent to great customer service. Be helpful, positive and courteous. Share your message, but listen. Thank your followers, posters, friends and likes.

Hutto ISD reached out to fellow school PR pro Brad Domitrovich, from Georgetown ISD in Georgetown, Texas, who got us thinking about what customer service means to us and taught us some basic lessons on customer service, which we have been careful to follow on our social media pages:

1. Keep customers the priority: It’s important to make sure your customers’ needs are being met, especially on social media. Be sure to respond thoughtfully and completely.

2. Over-deliver when possible: Tone can come across in writing. Be sure your customers can read the smile on your face while engaged with you on social media.

3. Offer choices: Help your customers with their questions or concerns by offering several ways to communicate, providing several solutions or asking others to help.

4. Be access-approachable: Being on social media is a great first step to being accessible. Be sure you are approachable online. Encourage customers to engage, be kind and courteous and helpful.

5. Use logic, not emotion: It’s just as easy to lose your cool online. Remember, every customer deserves for you to pay attention and follow the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Consider expectations when using social media

Last month, storms blew across central Texas, causing dangerous flooding and evacuations in part of our town. Because many people do not have land lines, reverse 911 was not as effective as the city hoped, so Hutto ISD helped spread the word about evacuations, road closures and shelters with our all-call system and social media. Because of the severity and possibility of the loss of lives, school district officials assisted the city, and I monitored social media throughout the night and into the morning, answering as many questions as possible and updating parents as often as I could.

When the rains returned three weeks later, there were no evacuations or life-threatening floods and very few road closures; however, I was surprised at the negative feedback we received on our Facebook page regarding what parents perceived as a “lack of communication.”

While I value the communication bond I have built with our parents and community, parents’ expectations can sometimes be quite high, especially with the instant gratification social media provides. Because of our diligence in the first disaster, parents now expected we would routinely notify them of any road closures and provide weather updates throughout the night and weekend, regardless of whether if it affected the school or not, and they wanted it on Facebook. At all hours of the night. I didn’t realize there was an expectation that I now be the one to share the information.

Rather than ignore the expectation, I decided to use social media to help me meet and manage it. I shared with parents why the district shared the information, and I gave them resources to find the information and explained what our typical role is in any emergency situation. The result? Praise. We were congratulated for working so close with the city to help the community. We were thanked for sharing links to emergency notices. I even had a parent approach me at a restaurant and thank me for staying up for 35 hours – she said my phone call was the only one her sister received. Her sister’s house flooded.

I learned a valuable lesson when the rains came down. When sharing information, be mindful about whether it is your information to share. If it isn’t, be sure to clearly explain why you are sharing the information, lest you create unmanageable expectations from followers.

If you do create that expectation, try and figure out how to meet it. In this situation, the city was unable to reach affected neighborhoods and asked for the school district’s help. The result? We kept people safe and informed. And we identified a communication gap that our social media helped fill. I plan to work in partnership with the city to outline both of our avenues of communication and share that with parents.

Have you clearly outlined what parents can expect from your communications department? Are expectations impossibly high? Is it possible to work collaboratively with neighbors (city, fire, police) to meet the expectations of those with whom you communicate?

It’s okay to be picky about social media

Headed into my district’s fourth year of using social media, some days I wonder why I dove into this pool all alone. With no staff to help manage the world I’ve created that my community and parents rely on, sometimes I can feel like I’m drowning.

So how does a one-person PR office manage a social media network (or three) for an entire school district? Easy. I’m picky. And purposeful.

Here are my tips to keep from drowning in the sea of social media.

1. Get on board. If your community and parents are there, you should be too. Do your research. In fact, take a survey, or ask on whichever platforms you are currently using.
2. Get off the boat. If that Instagram account you set up has hundreds of photos and few to no followers in the two years it’s been active, consider moving away from it. Don’t focus what little time you do have on a network that isn’t giving results. Don’t be on a network just to be there. It wastes time and isn’t useful.
3. Go with the flow. Spend your valuable time on the networks that work. If you are seeing dozens of new page likes and even more comments on your Facebook page every day, stick with it. If Twitter is picking up steam, spend some time there.
4. Row, row, row your boat. Once you establish the networks that work, be purposeful about engaging your audience. Know what engages them and use it. Follow an editorial calendar to schedule posts, and aim to post content that increases interaction. Don’t harm your networks that work by neglecting your audience.

With so much going on in our schools and communities, don’t waste time on social media networks or content that don’t bring value. Be picky.

Time to Remind: Spreading the Word on Social Media

You may post to your school Facebook page dozens of times a day, send the most creative and useful tweets, and have the most active Instagram account of any school district around, but that doesn’t mean that your community knows that. With new parents coming in and a summer lull about to end, it’s prime time to remind folks you are on social media.

Here are some tips to spread the word:

  1. Publications. Find ways to print and post details about your accounts. Our district will print its first back-to-school guide that will be given to parents at registration. I’m including an entire page on what social media we use, how we use it and ideas on how parents can use it.
  2. QR codes. This will target your younger, more techy crowd, but it will get them to your page. Include a QR code on your district brochure, the front door to your school, the back of your football tickets, etc. Put a catchy slogan with it to entice passerbys to scan it.
  3. Email signature. Include a link at the bottom of your email that links to your Facebook page or Twitter feed. Mine says “Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @HuttoISD.” Super simple!
  4. Like, follow and tag other well-read pages. The Hutto community reads a blog called “What Happens in Hutto.” And now they read the Hutto ISD page, because I frequently tag “What Happens in Hutto” in status updates, tweets and photos. The administrator of that page will share it out and spread the word!
  5. Use built-in tools. At the top of your Facebook page is a button that says “Build Your Page.” Click it. Then choose how you want to boost your likes. Hutto recently sent out an email to parents by importing a contact list. Simple.