With each passing year, it becomes increasingly difficult to find either an adult or an adolescent, who does not use any social media platforms. According to recent studies by the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of adults report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of them access the platform daily.1 For parents, Facebook offers a community where they can share news, spread ideas, and crowdsource recommendations. It should also be no surprise that teens and adolescents are among the highest users of social media platforms and sharers of content, opinions, news, and information. According to a report by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), over 60 percent of 13 to 17-year-olds have at least one profile on a social networking site, with many spending more than two hours per day on social platforms.2
It is not just social media sites that are giving parents and students a platform to share opinions and respond and react to one another. Parents and adolescents produce blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and other online content to offer a more dynamic and broader platform to share opinions and life events. What do parents and teens discuss, share, and post online? Everything, from the minutia of their daily lives to significant life events, to opinions on global topics and moments of frustration that can influence a brand—or a school—in the eyes of their followers and friends.
Today, your district’s online reputation is more than your district website. Because there is so much content being shared among students, parents, and community members, you might feel as though your school or district’s online reputation is out of your control. But it’s not! There are manageable steps you and your staff can take to monitor and manage both positive and negative comments made about your school, school district, faculty, and staff. By taking a proactive approach to online reputation awareness and management, you’ll be ahead of the game. Follow the guidelines ahead and you’ll be well on your way to keeping your district in a positive light!
How to Monitor and Manage Your Online Reputation
Part One: Reputation Monitoring
Step One: Treat Your School Like a Brand.
Your school district is a brand. It has a mission, a vision, and a reputation among students, parents, and the community. You can utilize social influence to help bolster your district’s reputation. If you are hesitant to get involved in social dialogue, consider how responding can benefit your district. By becoming an active part of such discussions, you protect your school’s reputation and the efforts of your faculty and staff who work to uphold your school’s values.
Step Two: Get the lay of the land.
Did you know that 90% of people will Google a brand or company before deciding to do business with them? And, 65% of people see online search as the most trusted source of information about people and companies.3
If you are a private school or a public school that offers open enrollment, parents are most likely to conduct an online search of your school by name. They’ll probably start with your website to make sure that it’s professional looking and then move onto read recent news, reviews and other information, beyond what your district’s website offers. The best way to manage your school’s brand is by knowing what opinions, news stories, and potential misinformation are present on the Internet. The easiest way to accomplish this is by conducting a Google search. Enter the name of your school, your school district, and even your administrators and key faculty members on a regular basis to see what information prospective parents will find when they conduct a similar search. If there are news stories, parent blogs, or information shared by other entities that do not accurately depict events that take place at your school, you need to know about them and respond.
Step Three: Set Up Google Alerts.
Google alerts are a great way to make sure that you won’t be caught off guard. Google allows users with a Gmail account to sign up for Google Alerts, a service that provides you with a once daily, or as-it-happens email alert when Google identifies any news articles or newly published content that references your established keywords. Set up Google Alerts for the name of your school district, your schools, and your administrators so that you can stay on top of any publication that references your district.
Step Four: Sign Up for a Social Media Monitoring Service.
Social media monitoring tools are designed to give brands and public entities greater insight into social sphere discussions. If students, parents, community members, or the media are tweeting, posting, and sharing content such as videos or comments about your school district, schools, faculty, or staff, you can be notified via a social media monitoring service such as Hootsuite, and respond quickly.
Part Two: Reputation Management
Monitoring your online reputation is only part of a successful strategy to protect your brand. To safeguard your online reputation, you may need to respond to negative publicity and implement proactive communication strategies to create your own positive press and social dialogue regarding the valuable work your district is accomplishing to improve students’ academic performance and lives. Adding positive news to the Internet not only gives parents and students on social media the ability to share and respond to your stories, but it can also help you keep search engine results pages full of positive stories to be seen by prospective parents searching for information about your school district.
Step One: Understand Your Rights.
While everyone is entitled to their opinion, criticisms should never be personal. Understand the difference between a critical perspective and libel or slander. Libel and slander are written and spoken (respectively) forms of defamation that cause harm to one’s reputation or livelihood. In cases of defamation, you may have legal recourse to protect the reputation of faculty or staff. Your legal counsel can guide you further.
Step Two: Take a Proactive Approach to Refute Unfounded Criticisms and Untruths.
While most community members focus on positive interactions, some use the veil of social media to voice unsavory opinions that have the potential to harm your district’s reputation. So what should you do? Choosing not to respond to criticisms can inadvertently imply that the information is accurate, or that your district does not see value in responding. If your social or online reputation monitoring efforts reveal negative or unfounded criticisms about your school district, faculty, or staff, respond in a matter that is proactive, sincere, respectful, and collaborative.
For example, if a parent makes a public complaint via social media about your school, an appropriate response might be:
“We appreciate that you have shared a concern about [event/process/situation]. Our district welcomes your feedback, and we encourage you to submit an official complaint via our website (link), (phone number) or (email).”
This approach takes the discussion offline and into a more constructive and structured setting. It also ensures that followers of the critic see your administration cared to respond and address the concern. If you find there is general social chatter about an event, policy, or situation within your district, you may consider taking a more indirect response approach by using your social media accounts to post a comment explaining your school’s position, or linking to your website for official policy documentation. Here are more tips for creating a social media policy for your school to help guide in these responses and reactions.
Step Three: Establish Policies for Social Media Use for Faculty and Staff.
If it is not your district as a whole, but a specific class or teacher coming under public criticism, he or she may be tempted to respond. Such digital dialogue can often feel personal and become heated or hyper-critical. Create and enforce social media policies to protect your faculty and staff’s online reputations as well, as they are stewards of your brand and members of your school’s family. It should be your district’s administration, and not individual teachers, who respond to criticisms and take steps to take discussions offline to more private, constructive settings.
Step Four: Build Positive Relationships with Local Media Outlets.
While the media are responsible for reporting the facts, and doing so from a neutral perspective, an overly sensationalized story where only one-side provided comments to a reporter can lead to negative headlines topping search engine results pages. By building relationships with local media, they will know who to contact for responses to news stories that impact your district, which allows them to communicate your side of any issues fairly.
Step Five: Share Positive News Stories with the Press.
Your school district helps to educate the next generation of our nation’s leaders and shape young lives. Make sure you share all of your positive initiatives with your community. Dedicate a staff member to issue press releases to the media about new programs, positive student body accomplishments, athletic achievements, staff advancements, and all other positive stories. Search engines like Google view online media outlets as having high ranking authority, which means when the press picks up your news, those stories can have a positive influence on your search engine results by appearing at the top of the search engine results page. In this way, you can help control the story of your school that parents find when searching for information online. Share the articles on your website and district-managed social media accounts as well to amplify the reach of your messages further.
The Internet and social media platforms provide valuable opportunities for schools to share news about their accomplishments and achievements, but it also offers a platform for anyone with any concerns or negative thoughts to share their opinions. By monitoring and managing your online reputation, you can focus your district’s narrative around the positive work it is doing to building future leaders in a positive, student-focused environment, as well as protect your school.
1. Smith, A., & Anderson, M. (2018, March 01). Social Media Use in 2018. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/03/01/social-media-use-in-2018/↩
2. AACAP. Social Networking and Children. Retrieved from https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-and-Social-Networking-100.aspx↩
3. Erskine, R. (2017, September 19). 20 Online Reputation Statistics That Every Business Owner Needs To Know. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/ryanerskine/2017/09/19/20-online-reputation-statistics-that-every-business-owner-needs-to-know/#19ade44ccc5c↩