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Why School Leaders Should Never Get Into a Twitter War With Kanye West

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Responding impulsively to negative comments on social media will only make the problem worse.

By Luvelle Brown

Kanye West is at it again.

The Grammy-winning rapper turned ubiquitous social media bully has a knack for getting under people's skin. First it was former girlfriend Amber Rose. Then Taylor Swift. Kanye's 21.7 million (and counting) Twitter followers can hardly wait to see who, or what, ends up in his online crosshairs next.

So far-reaching is the rapper's social sniping that President Obama himself has weighed in, calling Kanye a "Jack#$!" for the way he lashed out at Ms. Swift.

As a school district superintendent who uses social media daily to engage his community, I can't help but cringe every time one of Kanye's social digs lights the Twitterverse on fire.

Love Kanye or hate him, it makes no difference to Kanye--so long as Kanye keeps trending.   

Only in Hollywood
That sort of a mea culpa might fly if you're an egomaniacal rap superstar with a nose for controversy. But making mistakes in public is exactly the kind of folly that lands school leaders and other public figures in hot water.

If you're reading this thinking, "More evidence to steer clear of social media," you're missing the point. There's a reason that Kanye's social media missives make headlines. Research shows that parents and students increasingly communicate online. A recent Pew Research study found that 79% of parents get "useful information" via their social networks. A similar Pew study found that 65% of adults use social media, a tenfold increase from a decade ago. The same study found that social media use is nearly ubiquitous among teens and college-age students.

The majority of your community is already on social media. They're asking questions and sharing information--true or otherwise--about your schools. And they expect you to be there too. The question isn't whether you should use social media; it's how to use it responsibly to meet the changing needs of your school community.

At Ithaca City, where I serve as superintendent, we use social media daily to connect with parents and students on a range of topics, from classroom teaching to school policy. There are risks. Every community has a Kanye or two. When you witness parents and others sniping at staff or spreading misinformation about your schools, there's a tendency to engage without thinking. Tools such as Twitter and Facebook make putting your foot in your mouth easy.

Resist the urge to get down in the dirt with community members and others who use social media to stir up trouble. Monitor your social networks for controversial chatter and misinformation, and think before you post. There might be instances where the conversation is better conducted offline, via email, or in another setting that you can effectively control.

At Ithaca City, we use a solution called Let's Talk! from K12 Insight. The cloud-based technology makes it possible to invite feedback from parents and community members through our district website. It also allows us to monitor our social networks from a single location. We know the instant someone mentions our schools or teachers online, giving us the time we need to a plan a smart response.

Next time someone calls you or your schools out on social media, don't pull a Kanye. Take your time. Think. Then post. It's simply amazing the difference a thoughtful response can make.  

Looking for more ideas about how to use social media to engage your school community? Get more advice from me and other educators in The School Leader's Definitive Guide to Navigating Social Media.

Luvelle Brown is superintendent of the Ithaca City School District in upstate New York.

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