I always read online reviews.

If I’m trying out a new restaurant, I have to check their star rating. If I’m watching a movie, you better believe I want to see the Rotten Tomato score beforehand. If I see an app that I just can’t live without, I read at least ten user reviews before downloading.

Reading reviews is a common practice today for consumers. Other people’s opinions give an enormous amount of weight to our personal decisions. So much so, that I occasionally wonder how businesses manage all of that very public feedback. Perhaps a restaurant’s service wasn’t spectacular, or a movie’s storyline wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but what if the restaurant changed policies since that one-star review? How do businesses recover from negative reviews? Or on the flip side, how do companies capitalize on positive reviews?

These questions prompted me to think of online reviews from a K-12 perspective. Schools and districts have an extensive online presence today – with websites, social media and mobile apps-and each platform is a space that allows for feedback. While there are plenty of articles about best practices for managing online reviews, there aren’t any that look at the topic through a K-12 lens. Until now. Use these tips to shape your own online review best practices at your school or district:

1) Always respond to reviews

The good, the bad and even the ugly reviews all deserve a response. Everyone can see the reviews, but more importantly, they can also see your response, or lack of. Take this opportunity to engage with your community. Responding to a negative comment can give you a chance to build a relationship and show that your district listens to constructive criticism. Responding to a positive review can show gratitude. Either way, prospective families and staff members will see a proactive district that genuinely cares about communicating with their community.

2) Be genuine and personal

Start by addressing the reviewer by their first name and then thank them for their review. It may seem odd to thank someone if you receive a bad review, but it will ease the tension and show you’re willing to work on the problem. Being combative online will only lead to trouble and a tarnished reputation. Also, make sure you acknowledge their comments and offer a solution or more information. Here are two examples:

Positive review response:

Hello Joe,

Thank you for the review! We’re very excited to hear that our mobile app makes it easier for you to find information about your son’s sports schedule. You can also check his grades and attendance by using the student information section within the app.

Negative review response:

Hello Joe,

Thank you for the review. We’re sorry to hear that you’re having trouble finding sports information within the mobile app. Next time you login, swipe left once and then click on the scoreboard icon to view sports news. We hope this helps your experience. Let us know if there is anything else we can help with.

3) Make it a learning experience

Regardless of what kind of feedback you receive, turn it into an opportunity for improvement. Watch for trends and consistent comments. If you see multiple reviews stating the same feedback, then consider acting on it. The more you show you’re listening to that specific channel, the more significant its base will become. Here’s an example:

Your superintendent wrote a blog for your website. It got rave reviews and parents enjoyed the transparency into the leadership’s inner circle. Act on it and make the superintendent blog a regular activity. Create a survey on your website asking parents what topics the blog should cover in upcoming posts. More eyeballs to your website will lead to a more informed community, which ultimately has an impact on student success.

4) Share the good vibes

The best way to promote your district is to let someone else do it on your behalf. Lucky for you, parents and community members are already doing that in the form of online reviews. Here are a couple of ideas for sharing the positivity:

  • Take screenshots of rave reviews and post them on your website for prospective families to see.
  • Have parents read their mobile app reviews during intermission or halftime at an event to encourage more downloads.
  • Promote positive reviews via your social media channels. Make sure you link to the source of the review, so people can like, bookmark or download what you’re promoting.
  • Add reviews to brochures, newsletters, and printed materials you send your community.
  • Share reviews during a staff meeting to boost morale.

Online reviews are just as critical to your school and district as they are to a business selling a product. Although your community isn’t making a “buying decision,” they are deciding about education. Parents and students are always weighing their options (public, virtual, charter, private, homeschooling) and you better believe they’re checking your online reviews. Show them your district cares by taking the time to respond to their feedback and create an open channel of authentic communication.

To learn more about managing your online presence, download this free social media ebook written by K-12 communication leaders.

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