With the massive growth of online communities and circles of influence Nurseries, Schools & Colleges cannot ignore what stakeholders, influencers and others are saying about them online.
Research suggests that a networked generation of prospective students and parents are now more inclined to trust the opinions of anonymous peers on the Internet rather than official communications.
Nurseries, Schools & Colleges must respond proactively to this, doing far more than ever before to manage their reputations both on and offline, openly addressing concerns and criticisms and managing the news and the imagery that comes out of their institution.
Here are five things all Nurseries, Schools & Colleges should do to help protect their reputation online:
1) Dedicate more time and resource to Social Media
To protect your institution’s reputation online you must immerse yourself in the platforms and channels your wider community use.
You cannot be responsive to comments and posts on Social Media if you are not on the relevant platforms and channels or familiar with them.
Find out where your audience and communities are active and join them there. If you haven’t got the resources to make this part of a member of staff’s job, find a volunteer to do this for you… a member of staff, a senior student (or group of student ambassadors), a parent, an alumnus.
Staff looking for a promotion, or with a keen interest in Social Media themselves, may be willing to take on a role like this.
Whoever takes responsibility for this, give them training and support. By investing in training you will not only improve your general communications but also benefit from enhanced ‘listening’, improved engagement with target audiences, better reputation management, growth in awareness etc.
2) Develop a Social Media policy
It is better to allow students to post honest negative feedback (albeit adhering to guidelines on privacy, appropriate language etc) than to try to limit critical comment, risking accusations of censorship.
Attempts to intervene or limit free expression in a Social Media era shows a lack of awareness and undermine credibility, and may prove futile anyway.
Establishing an official protocol or policy for the use of Social Media (not only by students but by staff and other members of the community too) and a process for dealing with negative comment can clarify expectations and consequences, reducing the likelihood of abusive comment and messaging.
Set-up some guidelines about respectable Social Media behaviour, outlining your Social Media rules and protocols. Ensure these are distributed to all staff, parents and (where applicable) students and ask them to sign a copy if appropriate.
Consistency is key when dealing with members of the community who overstep the boundaries. And remember to follow your own guidelines!
3) Show you are listening
It is important to show you are actively listening and willing to take feedback.
Acknowledge and (where appropriate) respond to messages and comments.
Address questions and concerns as soon as they arise. Always document correspondence (including taking screenshots) so that you can refer back if needed.
Use a friendly, reassuring tone in all communication. In the event of problems escalating always retain a passionless voice.
Remember the world is watching and potentially judging your every move.
Understand that once you publish something online (whether on a website, blog, in Social Media etc) it may be impossible to retract it… someone somewhere could have a copy and re-publish it.
If you handle these situations well they will immeasurably contribute to your brand’s positive reputation.
4) Nominate someone to lead media management
The more planning you do when things are quiet, the better you can manage media when a story is breaking or when a crisis arises.
Start by clarifying who will take the lead… ensure that there is a nominated media spokesperson to take charge should a crisis arise and have a second and third person ready to step in should the nominated person be unavailable.
Ensure they have the necessary training and experience, guidelines and understanding… also that they have access to the support they will need.
Crucially important… give them access to the Social Media accounts (possibly managed through a tool like Hootsuite) otherwise they will be unable to act if the normal Social Media manager is unavailable.
The lead does not have to be the Head or Deputy Head – a member of the Senior Management Team or Marketing/Communications team may be the best choice, or another trusted member of staff. You could even ask staff to self-nominate and interview from there.
Having one point of communication or press enquiry for a School or College makes things easy for the media wanting to get in touch, as well as ensuring that the message is always ‘on-brand’, consistent with the institution’s mission and philosophy.
5) Work with parents
In a School community, and to a lesser extent a College community, your parents are your eyes and ears.
They are attending your events, sports matches, trips etc. They are party to what is being said within your community and also by the media and others externally offline and by different parties online. Consider setting up an ambassadors programme and asking them to participate.
There is often a lot going on at Schools and Colleges and one person cannot be everywhere at once… so create clear channels of communication and ways to gather news and comment and ask your parents and others to keep you informed.
Parents can quickly and easily send you photos of events, real-time fixtures results etc… which can then be easily uploaded to Social Media platforms and streams such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
As a result of showing how much you value their contribution, parents will feel they are an important source of information for your online community, and will have a vested interest in showing activities and news in a good light.
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