At our P&C... using social media

Communicating well with parents is crucial to a P&C's work. Harrison school's P&C President, Angela Lewis, explains how their P&C Facebook presence has become a central part of their communications.

The Harrison P&C enjoys a strong and open relationship with the Harrison school and this extends into a cooperative approach to our communications with parents. We use our networks to pass on urgent school information and the school helps with P&C announcements. Together, we focus on what parents want and try to create something to fill that need.

The Harrison P&C uses a multitude of media to communicate with parents. We have our own website plus the school's website, school newsletters, flyers sent home for key events, and importantly, Facebook.

Facebook is a key tool

Facebook has become the primary method for quick and timely communication with parents as well as the way we communicate within the committee for organising our day to day activities.

For our internal communications we use closed Facebook groups. These are easy to create and once set up, anyone in the group can see the conversations that are happening between members. It replaces those long email threads where half a dozen people use "reply to all" to keep everyone in the loop. All our sub-committees discuss, plan and manage the nitty-gritty of their activities through these groups. We have separate closed groups for people working on our canteen, uniform shop, Art Show, Fair, plus one for the executive team. To keep an understanding of things that are going across the P&C, the school Principal and P&C executive are members of all groups.

We find the internal groups fast, easy and convenient. As P&C president, I can check how things are going on a particular activity when needed, rather than being bombarded with emails, or having to find time to catch up with sub-committees.

Our open, public Facebook page for providing information to parents is also a great success. In a school of 1500 students, we have over 500 families following our posts. We use it for reminders of events and meetings, calls for volunteers, directing parents to detailed information on the school or P&C website, and must-know information about the services we offer (changes to the uniform shop, canteen and so on). The school also relies on it for quick notices to parents.

We do not use it to ask for opinions or discuss issues as this can quickly get out of hand, but we do have active sharing and commenting and parents can post questions. This needs to be monitored to provide timely replies.

Our Facebook page is the best way to provide 'live' updates to parents. This is great for things like "the bus from camp is late – pick up at 6pm now, not 5".

In making our live Facebook feed for parents a success, several things are important:

  • Share the load. All committee members have access to post to the feed. This means that the uniform shop manager can post directly about the uniform shop and so on, without taking up someone else's time.
  • Ensure everyone has a clear, shared vision of what we are trying to achieve and the sorts of information we wish to share.
  • Have written guidelines to make it clear what to post and what not to post (eg no advertising).
  • Check posts carefully. We use our internal Facebook groups and honest feedback to refine posts that we will send to parents so that they are appropriate. Remember that it is easy for people to misinterpret what you write, so be clear and careful of intimation.
  • Terminate or delete inappropriate discussions or comments. Problems are rare, but there is a need to be vigilant.
  • Put the most important information at the top of a post. Capture the right audience in the first couple of words so that parents know quickly whether to read on or not, and put the important facts first. Don't make people read right through a post only to discover it doesn't apply to them.
  • Mix it up. We provide variety and the odd but of fun and colour. Having different people posting helps.
  • Keep it up. A lull in activity will mean parents go elsewhere for the information.
  • Use feedback to further refine the type of information to post and to understand our audience. Facebook gives excellent, instant feedback through 'likes' and 'reach' to tell us how many people saw a post and what parents like to see.

Facebook is definitely not an add-on for us anymore, but an integral part of the way we work. It fits well with our overall plan for our communications. It can be a lot of work, but if it is used well and embraced fully by the P&C it becomes self-sustaining and a valuable tool.

Angela Lewis
P&C President, Harrison School

Editor's note:
Because of the nature of social media, P&Cs should carefully manage their social media presence. This should include a written policy or set of guidelines for users to follow. See our Information Sheet on this for more detail.

This article appeared in ParentACTion, Term 4, 2014. See other past editions of our quarterly magazine. It is part of a series of articles sharing expertise across our P&Cs.