4 Strategies Administrators Can Use to Respond to Negative Comments on Social Media

Managing negative social media can be tough. These strategies can help school leaders craft appropriate responses to criticism.

As a school leader, I believe social media does more good than harm: I use it to tell our school story, share learnings with other leaders, and build a professional learning community that I can rarely see in person. However, it can be hard to manage the emotions evoked by negative social media posts. Here are four strategies to help administrators manage a tough social media environment.

Snooze, mute, or sleep on it: Responding isn’t a race 

The scenario: As a middle school administrator, you find yourself tagged in a stream of comments from a post about the recent “fights” at school. Parents and community members start to give their two cents about what needs to be done, implying that you need to have better control over the school.

Have you ever noticed that you stop breathing when you read or respond to an email, post, or comment? You might feel yourself physically responding to comments on social media. If you find yourself clenching your jaw, feeling your heart race, or having a negative emotional response, you are not regulated or ready to respond.

You can’t control what other people say (or post), but you can control how you respond. By giving yourself permission to wait, you also give yourself the bandwidth to recalibrate before you respond. Giving yourself a little space also gives you a little time to gain a bigger perspective on the situation or to phone a friend to vent or ask for help.

If you find yourself in a space where you are frustrated, take a pause. Stand up, take a deep breath, go for a walk, or wait 24 hours (if possible) before you hit Send. I believe in the importance of being self-regulated before I respond to a heated conversation. Sometimes our desire to just get it done can cause undue harm or make a bad situation worse.

Finding a framework to respond

Your response: After initially experiencing a range of emotions like “Ugh, ouch, what?!? Really?!?!?” as you scrolled through the thread, you decided to walk away. After sleeping on it, you realize that you need to find a way to frame your response meaningfully.

When facing a challenging situation on social media, the BIFF response can help you craft your response. By responding using the tools of brief, informative, friendly, and firm, you can resolve a conflict without rehashing harsh words and hard feelings.

A possible example of a BIFF response to this situation could include posting the following comment: “Thank you for your care and concern for the children of our school. School safety is a priority for our students, staff, and school community. If you have specific concerns about school safety, please reach out and contact us directly. Thank you, Principal Cabeen.”

Pick up a phone: Never send something that would be better said in person 

Later that week, you find time to follow up with the parents who posted the comments to see if there is something else on their minds.

Moving into my new online high school principal role, I am relearning the importance of synchronous communication. Zoom, phone, or in-person connections have been a powerful way to address misconceptions. The power of voice intonation, inflection, and the sense of concern and care has gone a long way in communicating with families and students whom I may never actually see face-to-face.

Just because you received the message in written form does not mean that it is the right way to respond. Face-to-face or phone conversations might convey the soft skills, facial expressions, and emotional tones in your voice better than replying to the thread. Taking time to call parents in the feed to see if they would be willing to meet and discuss in detail takes it offline and expands the opportunity to have a conversation in private and without a character limit.

Let it go

Once the situation is resolved, delete the tweet, text, or post from your mind. As a leader, learning how to defuse situations rather than engage in them allows you to lead well online and in real life.

Do you ever have a moment when you think about an epic fail or a big mistake that still takes your breath away? To this day, I remember the text I sent to the wrong person, the newsletter I shared with families in the wrong school, and the complicated conversation that went sideways when it shouldn’t have. Too often, I get so caught up in my mistake that I forget about the learning that came from it.

You will never win a fight on social media, but don’t use that as an excuse to stop telling your school story. There will always be trolls and people who love to point out spelling errors and comment on what they think you should be doing instead of what you know needs to be done. Remind yourself that that voice is the minority, lean into it for a minute, learn from it, and then move on.