Social media and school communication

Written by: Sally Jack | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

It is an area that still divides professional opinion – to what extent should a school use social media? Sally Jack discusses the positives and the pitfalls, and offers some advice to school leaders

Like it or loathe it, there is no denying the huge impact social media has had on our lives, and not least in education. It reveals the good, the bad and the ugly in human behaviour – a cost-effective, positive agent of change, but also a major factor behind the debilitating effects of bullying, abuse and mental health issues.

A mind-boggling range of different platforms are available, and there are more than 44 million active users in the UK (according to We Are Social’s Global Overview Report earlier this year).

Disagreements between pupils often erupt online and out of school, but are brought into the classroom or playground the following day. At the very least, therefore, an awareness of the different platforms available is advisable, and there is a guide by the NSPCC that may be useful in this regard (see further information).

With all this in mind, no wonder many are wary of delving deeper into social media’s potentially murky waters. However, there are many positive benefits to social media and it is an excellent means of communicating messages and engaging with others. If, as a school or group of schools, or as an individual, you are looking to increase your online presence through social media, or need some ideas on how to field negative online comments, where do you start?

Whichever platform you use, and however you decide to use it, the following tips and advice will help you harness its positive powers, while being mindful of the pitfalls.
Developing a social media strategy

Social media is an effective means of sharing good news about pupils’ achievements, connecting with parents, highlighting the positive impact of your school or group of schools in your community, and networking with other local groups and businesses.

This kind of positive action also provides pupils with good examples of acceptable online behaviour and how to use social media responsibly.

If you are considering setting up a social media presence as an organisation, or you already have a social media strategy in place, it is worthwhile conducting some due diligence:

  • Be clear why you are using social media and who your target audience is. How does the platform you choose align with your organisation’s mission and values?
  • Schools and individuals are likely to have varying levels of activity and experience with social media. Discuss the many facets of social media with as many colleagues as possible, tapping into their knowledge and skills, whether on a personal level or managing a school account.
  • Look at the social media profiles of other organisations, particularly schools and colleges, to see how they present themselves online. Consider which approaches fit with your ethos and resources.
  • Decide who will monitor and maintain your school’s social media accounts, both during and outside school hours. This is, of course, a balance between managing resources, workload and risk. It is advisable to keep access to as few individuals as is workable.
  • Scheduling platforms such as Tweetdeck (Twitter only), Hootsuite or Buffer can assist with time and resource management, allowing posts to be scheduled during the working day for posting out of school hours (from a marketing perspective, maximum audiences for many platforms are achieved after 5pm and over the weekend).

Building an audience

It can take time to build followers and establish your organisation’s online presence. The number of followers tends to grow organically, but there are ways to maximise and speed up this process:

  • Develop and establish your online “voice”, ensuring it aligns with the overall vision and values of your organisation.
  • Keep posts succinct and engaging. Include a link to further information, an image and hashtags as appropriate. Hashtags are a good way of joining conversations with local and national companies and events, as well as sharing your organisation’s values and achievements.
  • Follow other schools and organisations, particularly locally, as well as information sources such as the Department for Education, Ofsted, and Ofqual. Share information which will be relevant and useful to students, parents and carers and other interested groups, such as term dates and newsletters.
  • Don’t forget to obtain appropriate permissions when using images of students, and consider copyright issues when using images from common usage sites.
  • Post regularly, and when you have news or information to share. Think about the time of day you are posting to maximise impact and engagement (most people will be viewing social media outside school hours).

Dealing with anti-social media

Negative comments can be upsetting and quickly gather momentum, fuelling an already difficult situation. It may feel there is little you can do to control it. However, steps can be taken to minimise risk and regain some control:

  • Consider each situation’s individual circumstances. Discuss with other colleagues and consider the implications of different courses of action.
  • Remember that not responding to a comment is also a valid option. An already inflammatory situation may only escalate further by engaging with an enraged individual.
  • If a response is required, keep it polite and professional and get the conversation offline as soon as possible.
  • With abusive or libellous comments, politely request the individual deletes their post. Offensive comments can also be reported to the social media platform itself.
  • Consult your organisation’s legal advisors. If the online activity is offensive or constitutes harassment, this should be reported to the police.
  • In the event a situation goes viral, attracting interest from local or national press, make sure your social media policy includes guidance on who (and how) can deal with any inquiries directed at the school, college, students and staff.

Protecting your professional reputation

Social media platforms enable supportive environments to develop, and individuals can connect, share information and ideas for best practice. It is prudent, therefore, to give your online profile a regular health check:

  • If you notice information posted online about yourself which isn’t correct, or you’ve been tagged or included in a post you would like to be removed from, contact either the individual concerned or the platform to request its removal. This may not always work, but it is a good starting point.
  • If sensitive information about you has been shared via Google, information on what Google will remove and how to request this is available (see further information). Other search engines also provide this information in their support sections.
  • As a further precautionary measure, regularly amend your passwords and review security settings on your social media platforms.

Think twice, post once

  • Re-read your comment – could it be misinterpreted?
  • Never post in anger (including emails): if you wouldn’t be happy for your comment to be published on the front page of the local paper, don’t post it.
  • Keep within professional boundaries. Avoid online interaction with students or their parents, preferably speaking to them in person at school or college.
  • Keep conversations and photos about your school to teaching and learning or events, rather than discussing individuals and commenting on decisions and policy.
  • As with all posts and published information, remember copyright considerations and GDPR compliance.
  • Sally Jack is online editor at the Association of School and College Leaders.



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