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Facing Negativity

6 Tips for Handling Your School's Reputation Online

“...and that is why I will never trust the welfare of my child to this school AGAIN!!”

Your school just received a negative comment somewhere online, like Facebook or Twitter, for all to see. Here’s a multiple choice question for you: 

How will you respond? 

  1. Ignore it and say nothing
  2. Delete the comment
  3. Respond and engage the person publicly online
  4. Respond and attempt to engage the person privately

The right answer? It all depends on the situation and your school social media policy. 

How do you envision the impact of negative comments on your community’s perception of your school? In this blog, we’ll provide some informative tips to help you take action to protect your school’s reputation online via your school blogs, website, social media, or other online sites.  

Tip #1: Recognize the value of putting your school online.

In today's world, effective school marketing involves using popular, accessible means to better reach your students and their families. In case you’re wondering whether it’s worth using social media and online school communications to help market your school, consider this recent story shared about a family in Arizona and the powerful marketing tool for schools known as social media. 

If you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of opportunities of social media as well as the ins and outs of it all, check out this free How-To-Guide for your school’s presence on social media

But don't stop at social media. Many schools are experimenting and having success with school blogs. It's a time-consuming activity, but it opens up a dialogue with your community. Two-way communications (i.e. dialogue) is an important element in your school PR efforts. A blog gives you a voice in your community; a voice to which your community can respond by commenting. Need some inspiration? Check out these principal blogs

Tip #2: Don’t run away.

In a great scene from Disney’s movie, Moana, the Polynesian princess peacefully approaches Te Ka, a huge fiery monster who feels she has been robbed. Moana is confident. Te Ka? She is burning with rage. Undeterred by Te Ka’s anger, Moana engages in the challenge, and the outcome is as beautiful as it is surprising.  

Don’t let your trepidations about setting up a school social media presence keep you from the benefits of using social media. Your school wouldn’t dream of leaving your phones unanswered during business hours. And you certainly wouldn’t neglect to return voice messages. With 21st-century education, it’s necessary to practice 21st-century communication and treat our online outlets the same as you would your phone lines. Your school social media activity plays a valuable role in your school communications. Posts, tweets, hashtags, or online commenters who directly involve your school merit a similar level of attention from your staff. 

The best advice is to equip your staff with tools for community and parent engagement. Then if your school is confronted with upset stakeholders burning with rage, your staff will be able to respond clearly, courteously, and confidently, turning a potentially volatile situation into one with a peaceful and respectful dialog. 

Tip #3: Solidify your overall approach to negative comments.

In order for your staff to stand their ground with confidence, arm them with the proper procedures to respond to negative comments. Responding to negative comments in a professional manner is a healthy ingredient in public relations for schools. 

It’s true that these online platforms are great ways to put your school’s best foot forward. However, the same platforms also open up an opportunity to naysayers (merited and not so much). It is easy to lash out online. So how should your school respond? As with most things, it helps to have a plan! Keep reading for the best practices your school should consider incorporating into your plan.

Tip #4: Define some ground rules with your community.

In the long run, your school community will benefit if you lay out your rules of engagement from the get-go. So, in addition to training your staff on proper responses, you can brief your stakeholders about what you expect from them by developing a “Public Commenting Policy.” Such a policy can either be simple or detailed. Here is a simple example: 

Simple Policy Sample

[School Name] is proud to share the great things happening on campus and upcoming events. If you would like to share a concern, please contact the office.” 

This policy simply lays out the purpose of the school’s social media presence and advises the appropriate place for concerns. The following is a more detailed policy: 

Detailed Policy Sample 

We welcome you and your comments to the Facebook page for [School Name].

Our intent is to inform and engage with the parents, friends, family members, and our local community.

We encourage you to submit comments, questions, and concerns, but please note this is a moderated online discussion site and not a public forum.

Once posted, [School Name] reserves the right to delete submissions that contain vulgar language, personal attacks of any kind, or comments we deem offensive or disparaging.

Further, [School Name] also reserves the right to delete comments that:

  • Contain spam, advertising, or solicitations or include links to other sites
  • Are clearly off topic or disruptive
  • Are obscene, vulgar, or sexually explicit, including masked words (***), acronyms, and abbreviations
  • Are chain letters, pyramid schemes, or fraudulent or deceptive messages
  • Promote particular services, products, or political organizations or campaigns
  • Infringe on copyrights or trademarks
  • Advocate illegal activity
  • Violate any school policies

Please note that the comments expressed on this site do not reflect the opinions and official position of [School Name].

Post your social media policy on your school social pages, or link to the policies on your school website. 


Tip #5: Understand your options on various online channels.

As a school facing a barrage of comments online, it’s good to know what your options are on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook. 

Twitter

Twitter is rapidly becoming a “customer service platform,” according to social media experts. Your school’s followers reach out to you using Twitter because they hope for a rapid response. According to the experts, if there are complaints, questions, comments, and other interactions of the sort, you should answer them—no excuses. 

If someone sends you a tweet and you wish to reply, think about whether it is a matter that should be addressed publicly or privately. If the tweet could tarnish your reputation, reply to acknowledge the tweet, but suggest the conversation be continued privately via a DM (Direct Message). This approach takes the conversation off the public platform and still addresses the issue. On the other hand, if someone poses a query you wish to answer publicly, just reply directly and professionally.

Facebook

Here are a few things to know about Facebook: 

  • You may customize your page setting to allow comments, review comments before they post live on your page, or delete comments completely. Reviewing comments before the post is a good practice for schools. It keeps unsavory comments off your page and allows you to address them privately.

  • There is a review feature you can leave on or disable. Facebook reviews by either ratings (a simple one to five star rating) or by a review that contains a star rating and a written statement. 

  • Remember, if you do receive a negative review, don’t panic. One negative review or rating will not permanently damage your image.

  • If you receive a negative review (not a comment), you can click “I don’t like this review.” If it turns out to be spam or without merit, Facebook may remove it.

  • You can reach out to the reviewer by commenting on their review post or by sending them a private message. The preferred strategy? Publically comment something like, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ll send you a private message to discuss the issue.” Private message the reviewer to discuss it. If you are able to resolve the issue and restore positive feelings, you can let them know you’re going to reply to the review and even ask for the reviewer to remove or edit their review. 

  • You can challenge negative comments with Facebook, but it's tricky to get them removed. However, since reviews are treated like comments, you can (and should) reply.

  • Remember, not everyone who posts negative comments is crazy. Be understanding, sympathetic, and willing to take your lumps. Consider negative comments and reviews as a little FREE consulting to improve some weakness or customer service issues.

A few more thoughts about Facebook… 

Seek out positive reviews to offset negative comments. Reach out to your parent ambassadors, staff, etc. Facebook innately displays the “most helpful” reviews. These are the reviews with the most interaction. (Like, love, and comment on your positive reviews to boost their visibility.) This is also why we recommend reaching out privately to negative reviews to avoid boosting the negative review by opening a conversation and creating the potential for other people to join.

Tip #6: Don't allow negative online comments to overpower your positive efforts of school branding.

Positive school communications, formal or not, can be a great way to fill the Internet with more of the good going on at your school. For example, school storytelling is a powerful motivating tool that chronicles the positive as well as strengthens your school brand. Storytelling for schools can be a positive response that speaks volumes to the community. School blogs are a great place to chronicle the good things happening at your school. Blogging for schools can be a great tool to put the good out there. If marketing your school is a tricky task to add to your faculty’s list of to-dos, School Webmasters has a helpful option for your School PR needs

Conclusion: Live Confidently

Think about your information consumption habits. Many of us defer to the comments or ratings section and allow the word of mouth opinions of the public to influence our decisions. For this reason, and others, social media for schools can often seem intimidating.

Dealing with negative feedback, much like Moana standing up to Te Ka,  particularly the public criticism online, is something all organizations face. Staying silent in the online age can be more than a little detrimental to your school. As you engage online, responding in particular to those negative comments, remember to have a plan of action, and to use various means and their options to get the good word out about your school. You may even be surprised as you face the initial naysayers instead of ignoring them.