In their book, Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online, authors Andy Beal and Judy Strauss entitle one chapter "You Don't Own Your Company's Reputation."
That idea is equally true for schools and districts and should remind twenty-first century school leaders that they "don't own their school or school district's reputation either." It is so easy for administrators to still engage in trying to protect the reputation of their schools, because that is the conventional thinking. But with the advent of social media and self-publishing ability of the web in general, protecting your school or district's reputation becomes an exercise in futility. Instead, 21st century school leaders must shift their thinking from protecting their school or district's reputation to managing that reputation. Trying to control the conversation about your organization is impossible in the digital age.
What are some beginning steps toward "managing a school or district's online reputation?" Taking the advice of Beal and Strauss, here are some starting points to consider.
1. Begin with internal stakeholders. Since you can't really control what people say about you in social media and online anymore, you start your reputation management with those who really know you: your students, teachers, parents, and other employees. Enlist them as advocates. Get them to help you get the word out. They can also alert you to negative talk on social media, so that you can work to get the information out there that tells your side of things.
2. Monitor the web to see what people are saying about your school or district. Set up Google Alerts to catch when someone publishes something about your school. This simple tool will immediately alert you by email when someone posts something about your school on a blog, website or news article.
3. Be transparent: be honest. Managing your online reputation isn't about posting a false information to cover up the negatives about your school or district. It is about making sure what is being said is accurate, and that your side of the story is being told. It is also about proactively listening to what people's beef is about your school, and honestly responding to them. Finally, it's about just being honest and not hiding things.
These three starting points are a good place to start for school leaders who want to begin managing their school or district's reputation rather than trying to protect it. As Beal and Strauss indicate regarding companies, 21st century school leaders must realize they no longer own our school's reputation either, and must move their thinking to managing that reputation rather than protecting or controlling it.