School Social Media Managers: A Calm Voice Amidst the Storm

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.