A school in Yorkshire recently took a bold step to protect its reputation online, when it decided to crack down on parents who post abuse via social media channels.

Social media policy

Morley Academy in Leeds has recently made headlines for implementing a new policy to manage how the parents of its pupils use social media. They said that pupils could be punished and excluded from school trips if their parents posted “offensive or inaccurate” comments online about the Academy.

According to the Yorkshire Evening Post, the Academy has now decided to go one step further. They will inform the police if parents post personally insulting or threatening comments on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Members of the Morley Neighbourhood Policing Team have visited a few of the parents in question, but none have been dealt with on a “criminal basis.”

A statement released by the Gorse Trust, which runs Morley Academy, explained: “We are not seeking to punish any students; we are asking parents to contact us directly if they have any concerns they wish us to address as opposed to airing these on social media through the use of offensive and distressing comments.”

Power of reviews

Morley Academy may have decided to implement these policies to protect their online reputation from unwanted content. An Igniyte study found that 75% of businesses surveyed say online reviews, comments and forum posts are important to the financial and reputational status of their business.

This is because consumers are increasingly coming to trust online reviews. A Bright Local survey found that 88% of consumers now trust reviews as much as personal recommendations. Google also sees reviews and comments left on social media sites as reliable sources of information. If parents leave a negative comment about your school, it’ll likely appear on the first page of a Google search for your school’s name and damage your reputation with other parents.

Considering the Academy’s response

So clearly Morley Academy had to act, but did they act in the right way? Should they have suppressed unwanted comments on social media? In the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) latest report, which Igniyte contributed to, they advised firms to publish all reviews for the sake of transparency and schools would benefit from adopting the same policy.

Yet the CMA said that it was OK for firm to edit comments for defamatory content and swearing, as long as they clearly indicate that they have done so. This brings us to what Morley Academy did right. They had every right to inform the police of parents who made threatening comments. Just because the comments were made via social media, that doesn’t mean different legal parameters apply than if they’d said them in person.

It’s also worth noting that there are several instances where your school has a right to take legal action. Specifically if someone posted a comment on social media that included inaccurate or defamatory content about your school, you have the right to take the legal route and sue for defamation or libel. You should, however, consider your options carefully before you pursue this strategy.

Tips for managing reviews

You don’t have to take the legal route; there are other means you can use to manage reviews and protect your school’s reputation online. We’d suggest that you:

  • Treat it as a complaint: Is the reviewer’s comment a valid critique of your school? If so, treat it as a complaint and use it to better your educational institution, so you can improve the way people talk about you on social media.
  • Respond to reviews: If a user’s review or complaint isn’t a valid critique of your school, you need to respond and explain why. You’re not going to make the problem go away by staying silent; say nothing and they’ll keep posting unwanted content about your school online.
  • Set up alerts: The sooner you find unwanted comments and reviews, the sooner you can react to them. Set up alerts for your school’s name on Google, so you’ll receive alerts of unwanted content about your school the minute it gets posted online.
  • Avoid bad practices: The CMA specifically warned businesses from engaging in certain practises to manage their reviews. Don’t post fake reviews, don’t suppress unwanted content, don’t ‘cherry-pick’ positive reviews and don’t utilise processes which allow you to prevent unwanted reviews from being published.
  • Encourage reviewers: People are going to comment about your school on social media sites whether you like it or not. Why not reach out to satisfied parents and pupils and encourage them to leave positive reviews and comments, to provide people with an accurate image of your educational institution online?

Review management

It’s clear that Morley School had the right to call in police to deal with abusive content on social media. However in some cases you won’t be able to utilise legal channels to deal with said content, so you should adopt a review management strategy to safeguard your school’s reputation online.

If you want to find out more about Igniyte’s review management services please contact Simon Wadsworth on tel: +44 (0) 203 542 8689 or email [email protected] in confidence.