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    Q&A: How to Survive a Social Media Fire: The Good, Bad & Ugly

    January 03, 2019
    by Rick J. Kaufman, APR |

    The following is a sampling of the questions and answers from this month's installment. Questions are edited for brevity. Feel free to email with a question or comment, and don't forget to check back regularly at for this and other great resources.


    My district recently dealt with a SM crisis which resulted in a firestorm on Facebook. What is your view on “hiding” inflammatory comments? It was a personnel issue surrounding a group of employees?

    Social media is a dynamic medium where information will spread quickly. It takes seconds for personal feelings to come out in negative vitriol. Often this is a “license” for others to pile on. When this occurs, organizations must act quickly to prevent an issue - particularly an internal one - from escalating into mass outrage and further spiraling out of control. First, acknowledge the issue and where the error, mistake or unfortunate incident went wrong. Apologize and work to resolve the issue.

    One of the more debatable steps in the SM crisis management world is whether to remove inflammatory comments. Some believe the question is not so much about allowing comments to remain, but how to respond to them. A willingness to accept critical comments supports the major hallmarks of social media marketing (which is why we use social media, right?) - authenticity and transparency.

    I strongly advocate school districts adopt a SM policy that address what is and is not acceptable comments and responses. Then adhere to those guidelines. If a post is a gross breach of your SM policy - offensive language, images or video, personal attacks and hate speech - then delete it. A policy provides the legal safety net should your actions be challenged.

    If removing a comment, consider posting the following: “We understand the strong feelings many people wish to express. As with all posts/comments, they will stand as long as they follow our social media policies. We do ask, however, that you remember profanity, spam (repeated postings of the same message) and personal attacks on other posters/commenters will be deleted.

    A few times, my school district has posted an official statement regarding an issue. Is there a way to turn off comments on Facebook? Should you even want to?

    Only group admin or moderators have rights to turn off commenting on a Facebook post in a group. Here are the steps:

    1. From your News Feed tap then tap Groups and select your group
    2. Go to the post you want to turn off comments for
    3. Tap ⋅⋅⋅ and then tap Turn off commenting

    On the question of “should you?” The answer is generally no (see rationale in previous answer). Additionally, the First Amendment protects citizens’ free speech from censorship by public entities. Turning off comments on a frequent basis may lead to legal issues. Here is a great legal perspective on the practice of deleting social media comments.

    An additional note, if your social media sites are being used for more than just posting positive achievements of students, staff and the district as a whole, then the likelihood of negative posts and

    comments are reduced. In other words, don’t turn your social media sites into platforms to air your dirty laundry.

    The webinar provided some examples of when to delete a SM page (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.) Does this apply to social media comments that are offensive?

    Schools use of social media platforms - predominantly Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - serve as a virtual bulletin board to post information about the achievements of students, staff and the district. They are also effective at providing timely information on school events, weather or emergency related closings and delays. You’ve created a public platform where your stakeholders are actively engaged by commenting, sharing and “liking.”

    The decision to delete a SM page is not one that should be taken lightly and only done so if your organization is prepared to no longer “exist” in one of the most powerful online communities where your stakeholders are active. Deleting a page is ceding control of messaging, information and the like to your stakeholders and prospective families. By taking this step your page is - POOF! - gone. And the conversation that existed on your page that drove the delete decision will continue to thrive on other community and special interest pages. The reputational damage may be irreparable.

    Our community has a Facebook “neighbors” page, which is a closed group so I cannot post as the district? Would you suggest posting a response on our page in the hopes that the commenters see it? What do you think about responding on your official page rather than engaging in a volatile community page?

    Your SM sites should not become a vehicle for debate or platform to refute content that exists on another site. You have taken great pride and steps to build a stakeholder base that is largely supportive, and relies on your content to inform, educate and entertain. There are no winners in online tit for tats, especially between two separate sites.

    I believe the most effective strategy is to build and maintain relationships with online influencers, so when the need arises, you have a wide range of stakeholders (e.g. key communicators, parent advisory members, etc.) who are better suited to engage in online discussions. Additionally, consider engaging with the closed group page’s admin or moderator to allow you a voice on issues involving the school system.

    When monitoring or posting on community post page, who do you post as? Your school district? Communication’s person?

    Often it is best to monitor and refrain from responding. Allow a discussion to play itself out. If your communication strategy is to rely on your online influencers (see previous response), let them handle the response. If you wish to engage to clarify or correct misinformation, it is best to be transparent and only post on a community page in your official capacity. Communicate the truth and do not behave in an arrogant, dismissive or argumentative manner.

    Any restrictions on employees posting work-related info online?

    Depends on your organization’s SM policy and Guidelines for Responding Online. Absent of either is an invitation to a social media crisis.

    We posted a photo this week of a student’s photography. A couple of alumni posted comments criticizing her outfit and the dress code. We hid the comments, which shut down that conversation. Thoughts?

    Based on your question and information, it appears to have been the right decision to delete the comments. It is best if this action aligns with your SM policy, and that you stated the reason for the comments being deleted.

    How much time does your staff spend monitoring social media sites for potential bad news?

    We monitor all of our social media sites frequently as we post daily (sometimes more than once/day) the student, staff and district achievements. It also becomes part of our normal activity when monitoring or posting on our personal SM sites. We also have employees and School Board members who are more actively following community groups that will keep us informed of any content related to a school or the district.



    rickkRick J. Kaufman, APR is the executive director of community relations and emergency management for Bloomington (MN) Public Schools. He is a nationally respected consultant, trainer and author on crisis management and communication. He served as the Crisis Response Team lead for the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, and continues to work with school districts across the country to manage and recover from school violence incidents, including Broward County Public Schools and San Bernardino City Unified Public Schools. Mr. Kaufman is the author of the Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual for Schools (2016, NSPRA).

    Categories: School Districts