A number of people were worried though by the negative side of social media - what happens if customers use social media to criticise your products to their friends and contacts on Twitter or Facebook? The same issue arises in schools. Schools are aware of the need to control their reputation and this can make them wary of social media - schools marketer Louise Hitchin tweeted a link to the great cartoon at the start of the blog reflecting her recent experience taking to some school leaders.
However, it's really important to realise that social media hasn't invented the concept of negative parental views of schools. Word-of-mouth comments about a school have been passed around the school gates for years. My son goes to a great school, but from the school gate I'm well aware that it's not perfect! In this context social media can actually be seen as an advantage - a savvy school can see what is being said (good and bad) about it and can take action to correct negative impressions.
How do you do this?
1. You need to monitor the social media your parents and students use. This isn't difficult to do, especially if you've set up your own social media channels. If you're not sure how to do this, I wrote a quick introduction last year. If you want some expert advice, check out this article by Brendan Schneider.
2. If you do come across an abusive comment (which in my experience is rare), you need to get it taken down - by contacting the platform host. Following the recent controversy over threats on Twitter, I'd expect social media platforms to move quickly. If the abusive comment has been made by an identifiable student or parent you need to discuss it with them and apply relevant policies and sanctions (as well as reminding them that a number of people have gone to jail for posting abuse on social media!)
3. If you find a one-off negative comment that reflects someone's personal experience of a school don't dismiss it. You need to acknowledge it, find out the issue behind it and try to solve the problem in just the same way as if you became aware of a problem through a written complaint or parental gossip*! This will usually involve talking through the issues - face-to-face is best. The good thing about social media is that if the problem is solved you can then post the resolution on the site (or at the very least ask the complainant to take their post down).
4. If you find a theme in online negative comments you will need to look seriously at the policy or practice that is causing this. Research shows that most people will not complain about poor service, so social media can give you an early heads-up if something is going wrong. At the very least you may need to re-explain why a decision has been made.
5. Whatever you do, don't follow the example of Goodleigh Church of England primary school in Devon. The Daily Telegraph reported that it responded to messages posted by one family on Facebook by sending a letter to all parents making accusations that some parents were 'seeking to undermine the reputation of the school'. What was one incident involving two people suddenly became a national issue!
(*There's an interesting concept in marketing that solving a major customer service problem often makes a customer more loyal than one who receives a good level of service - I remember this from my MBA because of the name of the researcher behind this - W Earl Sasser Jr. Perhaps something for another blog but you can find out more in the Harvard Business Review).
As always, please add your comments...