The social media conundrum; post with speed or post with polish

This is Part II of SCN’s interview with Kristin Magette, author of “Embracing Social Media: A Practical Guide to Manage Risk and Leverage Opportunity.”

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 9.38.00 PMKristin’s book belongs in every school communicator’s reference library. It’s saturated with practical advice and inspiration about using social media to fortify and expand your school community. (And if you missed Part I last week, it’s right here.)

School Communications Director Kristin Magette kept an eagle eye on her school district’s Facebook page for days after news broke about a local teacher being arrested for inappropriate contact with a child.

This was the talk of the town in Eudora, Kansas (population 6,200), even though the teacher’s arrest was out of town and the victim lived elsewhere.

Kristin Magette

Kristin Magette

“I kept watch on our Facebook page, expecting controversy to explode,” said Kristin, now in her ninth year with Eudora Schools. “There wasn’t one comment for me to respond to until months later — after the teacher entered a plea.”

Because the district had not posted anything on Facebook about the charges (which resulted in a prison sentence), the commenter alleged district officials were more concerned about the system’s reputation than children’s safety.

Parents of students in the school where the teacher worked had been promptly notified of the arrest by telephone and letter, Kristin wrote in her Facebook reply.

“No community-wide posting was deemed necessary because the the incident didn’t happen in Eudora and the child wasn’t from Eudora,” Kristin said. “Then I encouraged the commenter, if they had knowledge of a Eudora incident, to immediately notify Eudora police so they can investigate.”

There was no further comment.

Maybe that’s because this commenter wasn’t a local person and didn’t really care.

Kristin’s answer met the challenge head on, which probably clipped the discussion. It summarized the district’s response, explained administrators’ rationale, and directed anyone with incriminating information to law enforcement.

“Transparency inspires trust,” Kristin said. “Even if people are really angry, an unemotional, well-reasoned response usually calms everything down.”

How quickly a potential powder keg was diffused isn’t what amazed Kristin. She was surprised that there was no drama – or discussion – in the district’s social media until the accused pled guilty.

That’s because she expects occasional negative and misinformed comments.

Like a town hall meeting, social media is two-way communication. Comments made online must be attended as carefully as complaints made in person so emotions won’t escalate, she said.

“Our supporters are very loyal and sometimes they respond before I can,” Kristin said. “They help keep the tone civil and productive.”

If a firestorm of public opinion is anticipated, school officials might be tempted to shut down social media commenting. Kristin considers that a mistake. Potential benefits of a carefully envisioned social media presence outweigh the possibility of a mean-spirited discussion, she said.

Here are more tips from Kristin on effective use of social media.

  • Social media is not the right venue for every piece of bad news.
  • Balance content on social media to reflect what the whole district values, from kindergarten registration to baccalaureate.
  • Social media is effective at getting bad news out quickly, but negative posts should catch the attention of your audience because it’s different than what’s usually posted.
  • Resist temptation to make social media the place you air pet peeves or politics. Even friends lose interest when all you talk about is what makes you mad.
  • Intervening when nasty or misinformed comments are left on personal pages can ignite a backlash. It’s usually better to follow up privately with the commenter.
  • Encouraging friends, fans and followers to contribute content will increase community engagement – and generate more shareable content than the page manager could alone.
  • Remember that you’re not just building a web page. You’re using a web page to build a community.

Speed vs. quality

Super Red !Social media users value the timeliness of a video post above a polished product, Kristin said.

In other words, lightly edited video posted online within an hour or two of an event trumps tightly edited video of the same event that’s posted a day later.

One of the most widely shared posts in Eudora Schools history was a spontaneous “shoot from the hip” video that Elementary Principal Amy DeLaRosa took of her students lining the sidewalk to cheer and wave as the school bus containing the boys basketball team drove past. The team was leaving town to compete for a state championship.

“Amy almost didn’t post the video was kind of blurry,” Kristin said. “But it got shared because it captured a quintessential small-town moment.”

Viewers will forgive poor quality images that are also highly unique.

However, readers show no tolerance for text with misspellings, wrong word choices or poor grammar, she said.

While clear communication takes time to craft, often there is an advantage on social media platforms for being quick to the task, Kristin said.

For example, Kristin and Superintendent Steve Splichal were both in their offices late on a Thursday afternoon in February when Gov. Sam Brownback announced current-year funding reductions that would force Eudora Schools to eliminate $81,000 in planned expenditures.

Normally, one or the other would have been out when the bombshell was dropped and they would not have collaborated on a letter to teachers, parents and community members until the following morning, Kristin said.

Instead, they wrote the letter right away and, after sending it to stakeholders, Kristin also posted a link to message on the district’s Facebook page.

The letter went viral.

  • There were 37,412 visits to the message page on the district’s website. (Other high-traffic pages — the calendar and the lunch menus — typically draw 2,000 visits in a month.)
  • The link boosted reach of the district’s Facebook page in that week to 100,000. Typical reach is about 2,000, about one-third of Eudora’s population.
  • In addition to these metrics, there were almost 400 shares from separate links posted by two state-wide education advocacy groups.

Being built for speed helped inform and shape subsequent public discussion about the funding shortfall.

“As school communicators, we are in a unique position to move the ball down the field on using social media to tell the story of our schools,” Kristin said. “It’s an awesome tool, but school districts must have a policy, procedures and professional development framework to support its use.”

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