Thursday, May 5, 2011

Closing a School District's Facebook Page

Facebook logoImage via WikipediaAfter approximately 20 months of building a (mostly) positive online community, my school district has shut down its Facebook page.

In an explanatory blog post, we shared the following in part:
"Mansfield ISD will no longer host district or campus-level Facebook pages. The open nature of the Facebook commenting feature continues to cause regular disruption and place the district as a liable participant in issues related to sharing of private student information, defamation of employees and other abusive online behavior. In addition, MISD is not able to commit the administrative or campus staff time necessary to adequately moderate user content posted to these pages."
Those of you that know me know that I am huge advocate for integrating social media tools into communication and public relations work flow. Facebook page management was/is among those tools I recommend.

Be careful what you wish for...
With the District page open for community commenting, of course we created and posted the rules of engagement to back up our removal of inappropriate material. We wanted feedback. We got feedback. Not all of it positive. Which was, and is fine. Getting useful feedback from the community on news and information was an objective since it helped us determine if messages were being received. The human element of the social web will always bring out critics and critiques. The problems came when those were aimed at students, parents, community and individual staff members.

So what changed?
In essence the liabilities were outweighing the benefits of the district's Facebook page. We became keenly aware of just how much time it was taking to adequately monitor the page in order to remove postings that were abusive and/or offensive.The page audience grew to a respectable 6,900 fans ('Likes') connected to it. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way it reached a point where detractors (passionate and occasional) decided to use the commenting features to share negative information and feedback about individual students and staff members. There were also instances of bickering and arguing with each other including back and forth between kids and adults that sometimes left the realm of civil and intelligent discourse. I know that is shocking to anyone who has a personal Facebook profile. (sarcasm)

Perhaps there was a magic number of fans or tipping point for the community that marked this shift. It's hard to tell.

Why not just turn off the comments for the page?
In the current Facebook Page editing capabilities, Admins can toggle on/off the Posting Ability to adjust the setting "Users can write or post content on the wall." But, that only stopped new comments going to the wall, not on previous or new posts shared by the Page. That setting simply doesn't seem to exist right now. Admins still have to watch and delete inappropriate replies and ban users if necessary. So it's still a moderation/time issue.

Moving forward
If school PR people want to start/continue to use Facebook pages, I would recommend you make sure you (1.) have a policy that includes a response protocol for negative comments and inappropriate posts and (2.) set aside time, resources and money to listen to and moderate the conversation about your school district. This time resource is a sticky one. We could no longer sustain a level of moderation with the current Facebook Page administration capabilities to meet the growing demand for nearly constant oversight.

Does this mean we are backing away from social media? Hardly. Consider this:
Facebook ≠ Social Strategy

I do not consider adopting any one single social media tool, even the current front-runner, Facebook, as being equal to having a social strategy. The underlying reasons or objectives behind why you use these communication tools and how you evaluate and measure their effectiveness are what ultimately propel an organization's success.

What do you think? Have you run across these commenting management issue on pages you run for your school district or clients? I'm curious to know what others think. As always, the comments are yours.

Related articles
Enhanced by Zemanta