When Your Story Gets Spoiled

We’ve all seen it happen — you’ve got the perfect feel-good story to share on your district’s social media channels, complete with images showing the smiling faces of your school community. But when you check to see how many likes it’s gotten, you quickly see that things have gone off the rails. 

The comments aren’t filled with heart emojis or smiling faces; they’re critical of you, your district, your programs or your staff. They might not even have anything to do with the story that you posted. Or, they might reveal a critical flaw in what you had thought was something to cheer about. Either way, your story has just been spoiled. So, now what? 

Dos and Don’ts

When the comments start flying fast and furious, there are a few keys to help your district weather the storm: 

Take a pause

Don’t make a snap decision out of emotion. Criticism can fire up our defensive responses, and make us feel pressured to act or respond immediately. 

Do take a moment to pause and consider the situation carefully before reacting or responding. Let your blood pressure go back down to normal, and face the situation with a cool head. 

Be a good listener

Don’t brush off, ignore, or dismiss comments just because they are critical or rude in tone. 

Do listen carefully to the concerns people have, and discuss them internally with the appropriate department or individual as needed. Criticism is feedback, and all feedback has value. 

Assess the situation

Don’t assume that every social media firestorm requires the same reaction. Allegations of a criminal nature are very different than someone who is frustrated that the cafeteria doesn’t serve their child’s favorite snack. 

Do evaluate what’s being said. Consider the following: 

  • Are serious allegations being made of wrongdoing on the part of a student or employee? 
  • Are the statements true? If not, does the district need to set the record straight, or is this something that’s likely to blow over on its own? 
  • Does this issue affect multiple people, or just one or two individuals? 
  • Is there an issue that needs to be corrected on the district’s end, or do you stand behind your practices on this matter? 

The responses to these questions can help guide the district’s response — if one is merited. 

Keep the lines of conversation open 

Don’t mute, delete, or turn off comments just because someone said something unpleasant, rude, or critical of the district. By the same token, it’s unwise to try to police the conduct of your social media audience in what is essentially a public forum. Your audience will likely not respond well to being scolded, and may remind you that their free speech is a protected right.  

Do ensure that your school community is directed to other, more appropriate channels for voicing their concerns. Keep in mind that people are less inclined to sound off on social media if they feel at ease raising their concerns in other ways. 

Take it offline

Don’t get into a war in the comments section if the issue is serious, sensitive, or complex. It is difficult to convey nuance in a single comment, and some issues will require a more depthful or thoughtful conversation than social media can accommodate. 

Do take the conversation offline to resolve sensitive or complex issues. For issues affecting a small number of people, a one-on-one phone call or in-person meeting is often the best way to defuse tensions and reach a mutual understanding of the situation. If the issue affects most or all of the school community, a community forum, school assembly or other large, in-person conversation might be merited. 

Whether it’s a minor dust-up over cafeteria food, or a major issue such as allegations of unlawful behavior, it’s important to respond to social media comments with the same equanimity and wisdom as you would any other concern that is brought to your attention. To find out more about how Nichols Strategies can support your district in its public engagement efforts, contact us today

Case Studies: Public Engagement