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School Social Media Managers: A Calm Voice Amidst the Storm

Using your school social media posts to help your community cope when tragedy strikes

Social media used to deliver hope

I was relieved when I logged in to Facebook this morning to see that a friend of mine had checked in as “safe” from the Wildomar Wildfire, a fire that was actively threatening the area where she lives. I wasn’t sure of the details, but I knew she was safe, and that was comforting. Throughout the recent, almost unrelenting string of newsworthy tragedy after tragedy, from devastating natural disasters to senseless violence, our social media feeds have been abuzz with news articles, personal encounter stories, links to fundraising efforts, and yes, “check-ins” from across the map. People in Texas, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, and California have been using Facebook’s new Crisis Response feature to communicate with loved ones—even if only to say, “I’m okay.” 

Social Media: A great tool when you use it well

Every day, I strive to help schools partner social media with their school websites to improve their online communications. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are an important part of meeting your audience where they are and telling your school’s stories in a more engaging way than a school website can on its own. That said, I know that social media sometimes has a bad rep when it comes to the way it affects how people interact with each other, and not without reason. In a perfect world, these platforms would only enhance healthy, interpersonal relationships and bring people from opposite sides of the world closer together. The reality is, not everyone using social media has the best intentions. From fake news to cyberbullying, there’s definitely room for improvement. But some recent events have brought to light another prevalent and much more encouraging trend; that is, we might just be learning how to use this tool to help build up our communities. 

What I’ve noticed—as I’ve been privileged to share posts on our social media clients’ pages about blood drives, donation opportunities, and clean-up efforts in response to disaster—is that social media platforms can be a place to publicly display acts of kindness, generosity, and even heroism. For schools across the country, social media should be a way to provide not only important information leading up to and during an emergency, but, maybe even more importantly, a calm voice amidst the storm. Social media is providing community members with a real-time, interactive way to check in with each other—even if only to remind them, “we’re okay.” It’s the kind of reassurance people need when tragedy strikes, and your school community is no exception.

Make School Social Media More Meaningful

In the days leading up to Hurricane Irma, I spent more time than usual with one particular school social media management client. As staff, parents, and students at Bayshore Christian School waited for the storm to make landfall in Tampa, Florida, it became more important than ever for me to become invested in the events taking place far away from my home in Gilbert, Arizona. In addition to exchanging regular e-mails with Tara, my always-helpful school contact there, I found myself glued to the news channels and searching for online resources that would help me get a better understanding of how Tampa was expected to fare. And once the storm hit, when I knew it would be difficult for them to provide me or even their own school community with updates, I knew I could, at the very least, provide a voice of comfort from their Facebook and Twitter pages for them. After all, as we’ve learned from past events like this one, people today tend to turn to social media to gauge how their friends, family, and communities are managing. While you may not have electricity, if you can get a cell signal, social media allows you to check on many people at once. When your family member or friend posts a picture of a downed tree, you’re relieved because, though there’s destruction to report, they were well enough to post the picture, and that brings comfort and hope. 

Knowing what was going on in the Bayshore community that week did more than change how I crafted social media posts for them; it changed how I understand my own responsibilities as a school social media manager. While I normally help their school tell school-related stories on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest—things like sharing classroom projects, teacher shout-outs, and fundraisers—I realized I was going to have to enter into a broader definition of the term “school community.” While school social media managers normally focus on the students, parents, and staff as our target audience, it’s important to recognize that the school itself is a member of an even larger community: a town, a county, a state, and so on. I got to thinking how important it is that we're making an effort to follow not just what's going on in our schools but also how events in their communities at large might be affecting the people we serve on a personal level. And so, I imagined myself in the shoes of the parents in that area. What kinds of posts might be most helpful? What words of encouragement would I need? 

In the days leading up to the storm, page followers got everything from a Pinterest board dedicated to emergency preparedness and shared local public safety resources to activities that might help keep the kids distracted during the storm.

During the storm, the time when everyone is least sure of how others are faring and how things are going to turn out, the school social pages could, at least, provide a voice of reassurance.

And after the storm had passed, we were able to share stories of heroism, updates on how the school buildings withstood the storm, and even some great images of the school community coming together to clean up the campus.

School Social Media Management Tips

School social media managers can and should go the extra mile when it comes to the thought they put into posts leading up to, during, or after a newsworthy disaster or tragedy that directly affects their community. If you ignore these kinds of events from your school social pages simply because you don’t think they qualify as school-related topics, you’re failing to take advantage of one of the biggest advantages school social media offers: meeting your community on a more personal level as approachable, caring people. Not administrators, teachers, and staff—just people. People who care about the community they live in and the people they serve. That doesn’t mean you have to comment on every newsworthy event across the globe, and it doesn’t mean you should allow your personal views into your posts (you must still represent the school accurately), but if a tragic event directly affects your school community, you can bet your followers are getting plenty of information and advice from their other social media connections. Your school should be one of the voices they’re hearing, and that voice should be one of calm reassurance. Rather than becoming part of the panicky noise that often rises up around a newsworthy tragedy, you’ll be providing your community with relevant, helpful posts. Here are a few tips:

  • Don't make assumptions. As soon as you become aware of a situation you know will affect your learning community, send an e-mail to your school or district administrator to understand and gauge the school's official response before you begin posting about the event. I cannot stress enough how important it is for school social media managers to have regular communication with school or district administration. I e-mailed Tara days before Hurricane Irma made landfall to let her know I was aware of what was coming and to ask if there was anything I needed to know about posting over the next several days. Her response helped me better understand how the community was being affected so I could post appropriately. You don't want to ignore an important conversation that might be happening in your learning community, but you also don't want to create an issue where there isn't one. 
  • Be sure you're following local news on your school's news feed. Monitoring local news is an important part of managing social media for schools. Most cities have Facebook pages for their local news channels or online newspapers, and watching those posts can help you stay current with how the community at large is faring. These community pages can also provide you with relevant news stories to share on your school's page where appropriate; just beware of the tone the media sometimes takes just to sell stories before you share on your school’s page. Panic may sell in the news, but it’s not at all helpful for school communities.  
  • Add positivity to the mix. There was plenty to post about the importance of emergency kits and sandbags, but we made a point to include games and fun activities for the kids while they were stuck indoors and, because this is a Christian school, we shared a few encouraging Bible quotes. Try to provide a balance between disseminating important information and being a voice of comfort and support.
  • Follow up. At a certain point, all communities will feel ready to start talking about something else after a tragedy, especially one that's all over the news. Touch base with school administration after you think things have calmed down, and stay sensitive to the fact that not everyone in the community might be back on their feet. Gradually get back to business-as-usual posts as appropriate. 

Social media managers for schools have a unique opportunity to engage parents and help the community get to know our schools on an even more personal level than they might if they were just viewing their school websites. In fact, if you had visited Bayshore's website over those two weeks, you would never have known any of this was happening! With everything that was going on, website updates were the last thing on their minds. School social media, though, pushes right to every follower’s news feed in real time; in a lot of ways, it’s where the real connection happens.

Ask an Expert: School Webmasters social media managers are here to help

If you’re managing your school’s social media pages yourself and need a little extra support, we’re happy to provide it! We make an effort to post shareable content on our own corporate social pages as a way of offering school social media managers post-worthy ideas. When you see a post you think is relevant to your own school community, please feel free to share. Whether it’s offering content that might help your communities cope with tragic events;

or offering advice on how to create a better partnership between your school website and social media pages;

we strive to give you the resources you need to make your online communications stand out. 

Even better, we can manage your social media pages for you! We specialize in building one-on-one relationships with our social media management clients that result in the kind of top-notch partnership we enjoy with Bayshore Christian School—and all of the schools we work with. It’s this partnership that made our exceptional communication during a very difficult time for their community possible. To learn more about our social media management services, visit our Social4School page or e-mail me directly.

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