Embracing social media can be a daunting concept for schools. Opening a doorway from your school to the wider world might seem counter-intuitive. I’ve met headteachers who see social media as something dangerous – something to be avoided and only used when necessary. Others I’ve met are bursting with excitement at the possibilities of building more engagement online.
Facebook in particular can set alarm bells ringing, but the key thing about Facebook is control – it’s your page and you decide what content goes on there. It’s such a great platform for sharing positive stories and promoting your school and a fantastic place to reach and engage with parents. Chances are most of your parents are already on Facebook, know how to use it and therefore will be instantly more likely to engage with your page. Don’t try to deal with complaints on Facebook – divert them to an appropriate channel and don’t be sucked in or disheartened by trolls. Take parents’ comments seriously, but also ensure that they understand what is appropriate to talk about on social media and what would be better discussed via phone, letter or email etc.
Of course social media has its ups and downs and there will always be problems that need to be handled, but overall the pros far outweigh the cons. Schools have told me how using social media has helped them build relationships with parents, their local community and journalists, improved attendance at open days and other events and actually helped to diffuse some grumblings among parents. And there is a reason for this – when you have an online presence and people know you are there they are less likely to talk about you in a negative way because they know you will see it. I’ve seen social media help schools with staff and pupil recruitment and I’ve seen staff excited about embracing a whole different dimension of communication, advertising and content sharing that they hadn’t tried before. Parents (if they have given permission) also love seeing updates and photos of their children in private Facebook groups. I know I love seeing updates and photos on my son’s nursery Facebook page.
When I talk to schools about using social media I will more often than not advise them to give it a go, but I will tell them to start small and make a plan. It’s important to decide why you’re doing it and who you’re trying to reach. This will determine the social media channel you use and what type of content you post. Content is key! There’s no point having a social media channel if you’re not going to share valuable content your target audience will engage with. This does not mean spending hours and hours a day drafting and sharing content. Once you have the hang of it you’ll find that you have an abundance of organic content from your school that you can utilise. Of course, don’t forget about monitoring. There’s no way around this – someone must monitor any social media accounts you create, but you can set up emails or alerts to ensure this is a manageable job.
When I’ve seen social media not go particularly well at other schools, it’s when ground rules have not been set and staff have been given access that they probably shouldn’t have. While I’m a huge advocate of social media, the person overseeing content must have a good understanding of using it and a bit of common sense. A good golden rule to remember is consistency in tone, style and messaging. When you’re creating content to be shared on a school’s or any organisational channel – that content must always represent that voice and not the voice of individual persons that work for them.
So remember, start small, give it some thought, set some ground rules and assign at least one or two digitally-savvy staff who will have responsibility and oversight of the channel or channels (this will include ensuring your tone of voice and messaging are always on point), and ideally seek advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about and just give it a try. At the end of the day, if it doesn’t work there are no contracts when creating a social media account! You will probably find that it is not quite as scary as you think.
If you’d like to talk to me about using social media at your school, please get in touch.