Successfully engaging with your school community, including your students, parents, and residents means using various communication channels to reach as many people as possible to inform, receive feedback, and hold constructive dialogue. Unfortunately, every communication channel that includes a response or feedback mechanism could be an avenue for criticism. Sometimes, it can be productive. Sometimes it can be disparaging. Social media is one communication channel that tends to empower people who feel strongly about a topic to comment or engage in dialogue. When the feelings of such impassioned people are unfavorable, however, the result can be comments that are negative at best or libelous at worse.
As a school leader, where do you draw the line between welcoming feedback and a wide range of thoughts and opinions and protecting your faculty, staff, and students from potentially emotionally harmful disparagements and criticisms? The answer is not to avoid social media. It is to learn how to find opportunities for constructive dialogue in the melee of opinions and respond to criticisms in a way that shows respect for your community and earns it in return.
How School Administrators Can Best Handle Negative Feedback on Social Media
Step One: Develop a Social Media Policy
This first step is critical to giving you guidelines to separate what is criticism and what is harmful and the grounds to keep your account and your students and staff safe from any digital discourse that could be dangerous.
Step Two: Keep a Watchful Eye
The most successful social media strategies for any industry or entity are those that foster engagement. To keep your followers and stakeholders interested in your updates, you must regularly share and post to your accounts. Understand that in doing so, you’ll be likely to receive regular comments. The more you share, especially if you are providing updates on policies, programs, and topics that may be controversial in your district—such as whether or not you will be cutting your schools’ art programs to accommodate budget restrictions—the more you should expect to receive comments, not all of which will be favorable.
Even topics that seem benign, such as news that your high school boys track team won the state championship, could garner a negative comment. Perhaps it is a parent who feels their son was not given an adequate opportunity to earn a starting spot and is using social media to take aim at the coach and accuse them of favoritism. Knowing this, and being prepared to address anything negative quickly, is crucial to ensuring that negative feedback does not begin to overtake your comment section.
With the likelihood for feedback and comments on nearly every post, you will need at least one social media administrator, but ideally, two, who have the capacity to monitor profile dialogue vigilantly and immediately address any negative comments.
Another thing you can do is to make sure you have profanity settings high on social media platforms such as facebook. This way these comments won’t even appear on your stream.
Step Three: Do Not Hide from Negative Comments
Social media provides a valuable way to engage parents, faculty, staff, students, and your local community on school initiatives, student accomplishments, and program updates. Your social media administrators should respond to all relevant comments, whether they be acknowledging praise, responding to questions, or addressing concerns. One of the biggest mistakes that brands and entities make when managing their social media profiles is ignoring negative comments. It may feel tempting not to address criticism on social media, but in reality, everyone who has a concern or complaint—as long as it is not hurtful or defamatory—has a right to be heard, acknowledged, and to receive a response from the district’s leadership.
It may feel risky to engage in dialogue about a controversial topic or point of criticism; however, by ignoring negative comments, you inadvertently send the erroneous message to those with viable questions or concerns that your district’s leaders do not care about their feedback. This misguided impression may reinforce adverse feelings toward district leadership.
Depending on the comment, you should address it in one of two ways:
- If the concern applies to the greater school community, respond to it publicly. If one person has a question or issue, others likely share the concern. By answering publicly, you show your followers that your district cares about all stakeholders and their feedback. You also publicly address a question or concern that may impact a significant segment of your population. For example, perhaps a parent comments on a social post to criticize that your district has put off a vote on a budget decision. Publicly responding allows you to explain the reason for the delay and calm concerns among all those who want the reassurance that the district will make a decision that will affect their taxes and their children’s educational opportunities.
- If the concern is specific to one individual or student, respond publicly to let the commenter know that you will follow-up with them to answer their questions outside of the social media comments directly. By publicly responding that you will follow-up individually, you show all followers that you care about every individual question and concern and are committed to an appropriate response. By taking the conversation offline, you also ensure appropriate levels of privacy for anyone involved in the dialogue.
For example, suppose a parent comments with a concern that a specific teacher is, in their opinion, not properly preparing their child for standardized tests. In that case, you should take any conversation around criticism relating to one particular teacher, classroom, and child into private discourse, just as you would if the comment was received via email or phone call.
Final Words of Advice
Social media is a visible, impactful, and dynamic communication channel that should be part of the community communication strategy in your district. By welcoming dialogue, you—and every brand or entity that uses social media—must accept the possibility of criticisms expressed in a public forum. While it can be concerning to feel that your critics have a shared channel to issue complaints and negative comments, it also allows you to strengthen your positive interactions with your stakeholders by proving your responsiveness, openness to feedback, and willingness to answer questions and concerns. When proactively monitored and treated carefully, even negative comments can improve the perception of your district leaders among your key followers.