Another school scandal …

Is it about your school this time? The sad fact is that it could well be and you might be the last person to know about it. Thanks to an ever-increasing choice of social media platforms, by the time you’ve read this article a negative news story about your school could have been shared and discussed on Facebook way beyond your school community and been re-tweeted hundreds of times on Twitter; as well as appearing on platforms you may well have never even heard of. Online communities are enormous and unbridled. A negative story can now be communicated within seconds and will gather momentum, being shared and re-tweeted twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Social Media in a crisis is like a wild animal. Left feral it can run rampant causing chaos and destruction, yet tamed it can become your biggest asset; allowing you to quickly and effectively cut short the flow of negative publicity and turn it to your advantage. The reason some bad news goes viral is that schools are unprepared and are not ready for an immediate response.

The death of Michael Jackson prompted 456 tweets per second worldwide. Just imagine what a fraction of this kind of attention could do to even a minor school crisis, allowing it to spiral out of control very quickly and making any kind of damage limitation extremely difficult to handle. As we all know “bad news travels fast”!

With mobile devices, we can all get access to news and information on the go. It’s wonderful to be able to find out directions, check the weather and keep an eye on the sports results as we travel about. What’s not so great is finding out that your child has been involved in a serious accident at school via social networking before the school has had a chance to inform you. The next thing you know, an incident that should have been dealt with locally, becomes a nationwide topic of conversation. Whether you are using social media for your school marketing or not you need to be aware it’s there, it’s being used and you need a plan in place to deal with it, should you ever need to.

Complaints on social media have proven to be really effective in getting things resolved quicker, so it’s becoming a popular way for disgruntled parents, pupils, and ex-staff to complain about schools. Truth or not – if it’s out there it can be powerful and persuasive. Whether from accusations of bullying, cheating, drug taking or sex scandals, the bad-news mongers could strike when you least expect it. Gone are the days where parents gossiping at gates were a school’s biggest worry. Complaints, especially those online and in the public domain can no longer be swept under the carpet but need to be dealt with swiftly and effectively before they get out of hand.

Like an outbreak of a deadly disease, it is critical that bad news is detected whilst it’s still in its early stages. Failure to act, or acting with an inappropriate response, can very easily exacerbate a crisis rather than avert it. Love it or hate it, social media is here and it’s not going away. If you have not dealt in considerable detail with online crisis as part of your crisis management plan I would suggest that you clear a space in your calendar today and call a meeting as soon as possible; otherwise, the next shocking headline could have your school’s name in it.