We have always believed in fishing where the fish are and if one of your New Year’s resolutions was to work more efficiently, effectively and intelligently when it comes to engaging parents then hopefully this article might help.
1. Why use social media?
This is an important one to know. Typically schools want their community to ‘get’ their values and ethos. In short, schools want ensure parents can buy into what they’re offering because, while it’s a fantastic product, actually they’re only aware of the tip of the iceberg. Also, a teeny weeny bit of school wants to know what the wider community knows so ‘social’ makes sense.
2. What about the school website?
It doesn’t cut the mustard anymore on it’s own. People only use it when they’re booking holidays or if a disaster happens to cause school to close. The main audience for the school site now, unfortunately, is Ofsted with the occasional new family or grumbly parent looking for pupil premium stats.
3. What about school newsletters?
The ‘news’ and how people consume it has changed radically since social media became established. The weekly/monthly Friday newsletter has become routine, easy to ignore and taken for granted. Its almost invisible. Newsletters consume school time and energy as well as trees. Adding them to the school website feels like a good green idea but in reality it benefits very few, if any, parents. If you have web stats they will bear this out. Linking to resources on the website from social media is a much better way of targeting information and getting parents to share it for you with their networks as well.
4. What do people in your community use every day?
It’s such an obvious question to ask parents that literally no-one does it. Ask some parents what they use on a daily basis in terms of social media platforms. You don’t need to craft a letter to all parents or create something clever using Google Forms. Target a welcome evening for new parents and slip the question in for a show of hands. Make sure that colleagues who need to see the response are there to see it. You’ll get a sense of what people think about it and what if any pros or cons parents might see arising.
5. Can we just dip our toes?
If anyone in school is saying “Let’s just use Twitter for now”, be bold enough to ask why as this is often an anxiety-led response to the idea of social parental engagement in a strange environment where control is not absolute. Don’t proceed past ‘go’ until school is clear on both the needs of parents and the school. These needs will help tell you to choose the best social platforms to use. In my experience at least, using Twitter alone for effective parental engagement is like wafting a wet woolly mammoth dry with a flat cap. You’ll expend lots of energy but will hardly touch the surface and eventually you’ll wonder why you bothered. For some schools, the idea of using Twitter is appealing at first because comeback from any followers will be negligible. In fact with a bit of luck hardly any parents will notice school tweeting. School will however still look cool because of the Twitter logo on the website home page. Avoid the temptation to dip your toes in Facebook for other reasons. More harm can come from a half-hearted conversation starter with parents on Facebook because it reflects badly on school values. Parents are typically very pleased indeed to see you have joined them where they are but pretty let down if school doesn’t show commitment to it.
6. Clarity of purpose
If your school knows where it’s community is and then joins them on a particular platform, such as Facebook, it will really help school to be clear about why it’s there. Agree your overall strategy for communicating with parents throughout the year as social media does not operate on an island. Consider what the stress events for parents are so that you can be well positioned even before they arrive. Timely, concise, low-key and friendly updates lower parental anxiety leading to a calmer community who are able to deal with an upcoming stress point e.g. parents evening, admissions, school closure, non-uniform day (yes even that!) With data you will be able to see when, who, how and where people are engaging.
7. The Parent Journey
Improving the parental journey is often the main ‘why’ behind schools using social media to engage on a more targeted and timely level. Years ago research was done by the Cabinet Office to look into something called ‘the customer journey’. It highlighted how people’s emotional state fluctuated when they had to go through a particular and often bureaucratic process. Imagine, for example, the steps involved in taking a much loved pet the vet, reporting the death of a family member to the local council or even being a competitor on the X Factor. With the right kind of interventions along the way through these processes it is possible to flatten out the emotional spikes for parents along the way resulting in a less ruffled and more appreciative community at the end of it all.
8. Your School Story
Your school has it’s own story arc and each member of staff is a major character in the plot with parents and children moving fluidly from audience to guest stars on a daily basis. There are lots of happy endings, plenty of plot twists and the occasional sad event. If school can be clear from the start about what you will and won’t be sharing with parents from the outset then the chances of having to deal with unexpected topics on-the-fly are reduced.
9. What about Safeguarding & things that begin with an ‘e’
Safeguarding was commented upon by Ofsted last year in one of the schools we work with in that the work on Facebook (plus other activity that fed into/off it) made a very positive contribution to it. So many schools try to have e-safety meetings for parents that noone turns up to or ‘the wrong people come’. Sometimes, a different tack can work with supporting and educating a school community and it doesn’t always have to include someone standing at the front in the hall for half an hour. Drip feed your parents tips via social media – ideally Facebook – and they’ll share them as well as follow them.
10. Know your audience
Heads know their parental community but they have a heightened awareness of certain parents who colour the Head’s expectations of what will happen if the school uses social media to reach out to it’s community. If you’re a Head Teacher you’ll have certain parents ‘front of mind’ and will often unwittingly apply the vibe these people give on to the rest of your parental community. Phrases heard in the playground such as “Everyone is really unhappy about…” are bound to make Head Teachers uneasy but the reality in my experience is that ‘everyone’ comprises of just one or two slightly high maintenance parents. With social media, you have it in your power to fill the air with positivity and celebrate the great things that the children and staff do every single day. Your majority audience is happy, has got your back and will champion the school far and wide. They have invested their child into your school and parents are very keen to tell others, in this era of buying based on peer recommendation, what a great decision it was they made to send their child to your school. School has a wonderful opportunity to act as a social role model for parents and families and the contribution it can make to safeguarding shouldn’t be underestimated by being in the same space.