There are now over 2.8 billion people around the world with a Facebook account, sharing 3.3 million posts each minute. In that same minute, 450,000 tweets are being posted and 66,000 pictures are being uploaded to Instagram.
Every large company, charity and politician is using social media to engage their communities – and people are increasingly relying on it as their main source of news and advice.
Given this background, it’s vital that all schools consider the benefits and risks of social media, and take reasonable steps to ensure that they’re using the right platforms in the right way to help their school meet its overall objectives.
Research comes first
The first thing to do before setting up your accounts is to carry out research among your current and future parents and guardians. What social media platforms do they use and how do they use them? Surveys, parent councils and searching for your school on major social media platforms are the best ways of finding out.
Most primary schools will likely find that parents are using Facebook, and increasingly Instagram and Twitter to share opinions, ask questions and find people with similar interests, which are all real opportunities for your school. They’ll also be using those services to raise complaints and concerns, which is a potential threat that you’ll need to monitor.
Once you’ve decided which platform(s) you need to use, there are several key questions to answer – how do you set up the accounts, who will look after those accounts, how often (and with what) should you update them, who will monitor their use and reply to comments, and how will you safeguard your students and staff throughout the process?
How do you set up accounts?
The process is different for each social media platform, but usually very simple. You’ll typically be asked to supply an email address or mobile phone number as your main contact, and then create a profile page populated with pictures and your other contact details.
Make sure that you’re using the school’s contact details at every stage, so that you can maintain control when staff leave and easily monitor comments.
Registering on Facebook involves a further step of creating a specific school page – click the triangle at the far right of the homepage, select ‘create pages’ and then set up a ‘company, organisation or institute’. This allows you to set controls for moderating comments. I’d recommend also setting up a ‘message button’, so that people can ask you questions directly.
Who will look after your accounts?
There are three skills needed here. Your social media manager needs the technical ability to manage the process, the communication skills to properly engage with others where needed and time to regularly monitor what’s happening online.
The last of these makes it difficult for a teacher to take on the role, so in most primary schools it’s best to find and train someone in your admin team. Multi Academy Trusts have been known to hire social media managers to run several schools accounts – if that applies to you, it’s important to keep the individuals concerned updated with accurate key information.
When and how often should you post updates?
Different social media platforms lend themselves to different update patterns. Facebook should be updated between once a day or once a week, depending on the size of your school and the amount of information you have to share.
Twitter needs daily updates, or else your posts will be lost among the large volume of tweets that many people see every day.
Tools such as Buffer let you schedule social media updates in advance, so you can post them at the best time for people to read them. For parents, the times around their daily drop-offs and pick-ups work well.
What should you share?
Aim to post a mix of useful information (such as reminders for parents about upcoming INSET days and trips) and good news about your school.
Social media platforms have become increasingly photo- and video-friendly over time, and can obviously be updated from anywhere, so it might be worth investing in a school smartphone that can be taken out and about.
Consider training a couple of members of staff on using it to take pictures or videos and upload images.
Looking to the future, livestreaming of events online is becoming ever more easy through additions to existing platforms, such as Facebook Live and dedicated services, such as Periscope. Imagine being able to share your assemblies and school celebrations with all your parents in real time!
How can you monitor what’s being said about you online?
Social media sites need monitoring at least daily, so that you can help with enquiries and identify any potential areas of unhappiness! There are some excellent online tools at a range of price points that will allow you to do this, including Hootsuite, SocialMention and Tweetdeck, or you can simply log into your accounts and look for ‘mentions’.
How should you respond to comments online?
Comments can generally be classified as positive, negative and neutral (the latter usually questions). Thank people for positive comments and make sure to record them for potential use in your school’s marketing messages. Answer neutral questions as accurately as possible – if you’re not sure what to say, ask around internally.
If any negative comments are posted, you’ll need to address the issue quickly. If the post is abusive, remove it from your page if you can and report it to the social media platform straight away. If it’s a genuine complaint, try to engage with the person posting face-to-face as soon as possible. As part of the discussion, ask them to remove their post.
How will you safeguard everyone involved?
You need to make sure that your staff and students are protected at all times. That means following school policies on identifying students, and reminding parents not to ‘tag’ pictures with student names or use abusive language.
Staff need to be aware of policies around contacting students on social media, and ensure that all posts be reviewed by senior management on a regular basis.