“A complete joke of an amusement park…What a garbage and terrible experience,” reads one review of Disney World — aka the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH.
You can’t impress everyone, and these days everyone has an opinion.
Public relations in schools presents a double-edged sword — positive feedback is like gold, but a negative review or comment can spread like wildfire. And once the worst is out, bad press can lead to a potentially disastrous outcome for a school's public relations.
Through social media, online reviews, and forums, negative comments or feedback online can quickly tarnish your school’s reputation if you're not careful. And damage to your school's brand makes it infinitely more difficult to attract new students, retain current families, and recruit top-quality staff.
Therefore, it's essential to remain vigilant and proactively monitor and protect your school or district's online reputation. But what are the effective communications plans and branding strategies to support your public relations strategy?
Let’s look at the strategies for monitoring your school's online reputation, including establishing a reputation strategy, monitoring brand mentions, and planning a crisis management strategy.
Establishing a Reputation Strategy
To start, you need to establish your school’s reputation strategy. Include clear goals and objectives for your online reputation, such as improving the visibility of your school in search engine results and increasing positive online reviews. Once you have established your goals, you can create a plan to achieve them.
Here are some strategies to consider:
- Define your school's brand identity: Start by identifying what makes your school unique and what sets it apart from other schools. Consider your school's values, mission, and vision, and how you want to be perceived by your target audience.
- Set goals: What do you want to achieve with your reputation strategy? For example, you may want to increase enrollment, improve parent satisfaction, or enhance your school's reputation in the community with more positive news stories or higher reviews on niche.com, greatschool.org, or publichschoolreview.com.
- Identify your target audience: Determine who your target audience is, including current and prospective parents, students, staff, and the community.
Monitoring Your School's Mentions
The next step is to monitor your school's brand mentions online, which includes tracking your school's name, hashtags, and relevant keywords. You can use various online tools to monitor your school's brand mentions, including Google Alerts and social media monitoring tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social.
Even when your school’s name isn’t mentioned directly, a solid social listening strategy can help you monitor online discussions, people, or topics that involve your school. In the example above, Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District wasn't directly mentioned or tagged in this tweet, but they kept their eyes and ears tuned to relevant social media content which allowed them to celebrate and share the positive post.
Assembling a Crisis Management Team
Even with the best reputation strategy, there is always a risk of negative comments or reviews online. Therefore, it's crucial to have a crisis management strategy in place. This strategy should include guidelines for responding to negative comments, identifying the source of negative reviews, and responding appropriately to the situation. You should also train your staff on how to handle negative comments and reviews online.
A school's crisis management team should include a diverse group of individuals who have the skills, expertise, and authority to manage a crisis effectively. The team should consist of both internal and external stakeholders, including:
- School administrators: They are responsible for managing your school's overall response to the crisis, including communication with parents, staff, and students.
- The Communications office: They are responsible for managing your school's internal and external communication during the crisis, including drafting and disseminating statements, responding to local media coverage, and managing social media.
- Counselors and mental health professionals: They are responsible for providing emotional support to students, staff, and parents.
- Security personnel: They are responsible for ensuring the safety of students, staff, and visitors during the crisis.
- Legal professionals: Whether they are retained or you have internal resources, these legal professionals are responsible for providing guidance during the crisis and ensuring that your school's response is in compliance with laws and regulations.
- Technology experts: They are responsible for ensuring that the school's technology infrastructure is secure and that any data breaches or cyberattacks are addressed promptly.
Overall, your school's crisis management team should be well-prepared, well-trained, and have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities during a crisis. It's also important to regularly review and update the crisis management plan and ensure that all team members are aware of the plan's procedures and protocols.
Encouraging Online Reviews and Managing Poor Reviews
One way to improve your school's online reputation is to encourage natural and authentic online reviews from satisfied parents, students, and staff. Encourage parents to leave reviews on platforms like Google My Business, Facebook, and Yelp.
While you may try to avoid negative reviews, they will inevitably happen from time to time. Bad reviews aren't necessarily “bad” depending on how you handle them. 88% of users are more likely to overlook a negative review if they see the business has appropriately responded to the comment and 68% of consumers are more likely to trust reviews when they see a mix of good and bad feedback.
Take any necessary steps to address the concerns raised in the review. Responding promptly and professionally to negative reviews, like the one above, can help demonstrate your school's commitment to addressing concerns and resolving issues.
Creating On-Brand Content
Blog posts, videos, infographics, downloadable viewbooks — creating on-brand content that aligns with your school's brand and values can also help support your school's online reputation. High-quality content can also help improve your school's search engine visibility and help the “good” outweigh the “bad” if your reputation takes a hit.
Long Beach Unified School District's newsroom is a great example of quality, on-brand news content that’s delivered regularly. With stories covering student achievements, teacher awards, behind-the-scenes features of the latest art exhibit, and so much more, they’re building a deep cache of positive, mission-driven stories that solidify the district's brand.
Choosing Ambassadors Wisely
Finally, creating a team of ambassadors is a smart strategy. Trusted parents and fans can help like, comment, and share to boost social posts, leave positive reviews, and help market your programs online.
A supportive team of fans is important, however, it's critical to choose ambassadors carefully and ensure that they align with your school's values and reputation.
Protecting your school's online reputation is essential for maintaining trust with your school community. Creating a proactive strategy — and response plan— can improve and build a strong, positive brand presence and help repair a reputation when and if a crisis occurs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, storytelling, coffee, and creating content that connects.