School communicators are often faced with pessimistic news and find themselves reacting to unfavorable stories and negative press. All too often the news of the day is focused on student misconduct, union conflicts, budget cuts, bullying incidents, personnel conflicts, or a frustrated stakeholder who voices their concerns to the media or across social media.
These negative stories seem to cling to the local news cycle for far longer than we'd like, affecting your school brand, and stretching the communications resources of every school district, large and small.
And whether it's negative social posts or negative reviews, school communicators need to be prepared to respond to negative comments and bad press while staying strategically focused on a positive storytelling program.
Here are five tips that are essential for handling negative news about your school and developing a successful brand storytelling program.
1. Respond to comments appropriately
Responding to negative (and positive) comments brings your voice into the conversation. Whether it's a follow-up to a comment on a social thread or responding to a negative review on Google, Niche, GreatSchools.org, etc..., acknowledging someone's frustration or poor experience helps bring sympathy to the situation and proactively works toward fixing the problem.
If there's a factual error or a misunderstanding, be personable and sympathetic, but clarify the error.
In this one example from Facebook, the page admin responds to one user's poor experience by acknowledging their feedback and politely asking them to connect offline to address their concerns. Readers would know that they're listening and ready, willing, and able to discuss their needs and see if there's a strategy to remedy the issue.
2. Let your mission drive your response
A strategy cannot just be bolted on to what you are already doing. You need to make sure your responses and your content are aligned with your school district’s goals and objectives. Here are some questions to think through when drafting your responses to negative news:
- Who are you trying to reach with your content?
- What value are you going to give them?
- What are the words, tone, and language you're using?
- Why is this important to them?
- What do you want them to do next?
3. Build a positive story pipeline
Sharing positive stories about your students, teachers, and programs is one of the best ways to develop connections with parents and school communities, and also build support for public education.
At the start of every school year, let your principals, department heads, and staff leaders know they can support your schools by sharing positive stories about student success and achievement. Consider extending this invitation to outside stakeholders like parents and community members. After all, who better to write a convincing story about why to attend your district than a parent or student already enrolled?
Once you get the word out, make it easy for stakeholders to share their stories with you via email, your website, or social media. To ensure contribution, make a commitment to them that if they share stories, those stories will get circulated in a variety of ways. Let them know how important storytelling is to the shared effort to build support for your district and schools.
Not only does Lake Washington School District have a robust district news page filled with official press releases, and school, student, and staff news, but it also has a story submission page on its district's site. Users can submit their own stories for special achievements, awards, or upcoming events that can further engage the LWSD community.
4. Engage your ambassadors
Developing a "'recovery" strategy can help alleviate the sting when negative news hits. Calling on your parent ambassadors to help spread positive testimonials, give 5-star ratings, and leave kind comments across your social platforms and review sites can offsite a slew of negative press.
Send a private message to a few trusted and revered parents and ask them to post a comment or two on Facebook or Instagram, or leave a great review on Google or Yelp. Be mindful to spread these efforts out over time — a sustained grassroots PR campaign will be more effective and feel more natural to users.
5. Maximize the use of digital storytelling tools
School websites, mobile apps, social media, and other communication technologies are digital storytelling tools that connect schools with parents and the community. Think of new ways to use these tools to deliver your positive stories on more than one medium.
For example, share a new blog your superintendent wrote on social media, include it in your newsletter, and make it front and center on your home page. Here are a few other ideas to help get you started with stretching your use of digital tools:
- Evaluate your website to see if it allows for social sharing and commenting to engage your audiences. Two-way communication opens dialogues that can result in more positive stories.
- Discover ways to deliver your stories fast and on the go by posting them to your website and social media from your mobile device.
- Consider using social media ads to boost your posts about positive stories and PPC ads to expand your reach.
Even a one-person communications department in a small district can build a positive storytelling program by focusing on these five elements. By designing a strategy that aligns with your goals, building a pipeline of stories with your network of storytellers, and using the best digital storytelling tools available, your positive stories can counterbalance any negative news and continue to build engagement within your community.
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.