Parents have been creating school-related Facebook groups since the advent of the groups feature – but why?

“I joined the Facebook group at my son’s school because I felt completely disconnected,” explained Jaye, the parent of a high school sophomore. “I didn’t know any other parents and had nobody to talk to when I had questions about school-related events or wanted to arrange a carpool.”

Once upon a time, families raised their children in the same schools from Kindergarten on, getting to know other families at pee-wee league soccer games and PTA meetings. But with so many parents today who are moving around – or students who are open enrolling in other districts – it is more and more common to find parents like Jaye.

“I’d like to connect with my daughter’s school more,” explained Scott, “but I don’t have time for the random PTA meetings. I’m lucky if I have time to read the monthly newsletter they send out.”

Having a forum in a place where parents are already likely to be spending several hours a week, is a great opportunity to foster connection with your parents. But beyond parent engagement, there are some other added benefits:

  • You can easily monitor hot topics and issues in real time, allowing you to push out additional communication on a topic.
  • If you’re attempting to raise funds for your school, engaged parents are significantly more likely to donate.
  • Cultivating some strong school/district champions will allow others to speak on your behalf in the event of negativity or bad press.

One school that actively promotes their Facebook parent group is Mount Everest Academy in San Diego, Calif. They link to it from their website and the group, while a closed group, describes itself in the About section as “A group for Mount Everest Academy parents to share events, coordinate playdates, create homework co-ops, and ask questions.” School staff participate in the group with parents and find it builds trust and stronger relationships between parents and the school.

But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

Many schools/districts have parent groups that were created without their input and are moderated by unknown parents who do not grant school staff access. Some are public groups and a hotbed of negativity, which can be a PR headache.

“We had a school group that was set-up by a very vocal parent who was angry because her child was suspended. The group gained popularity quickly and became a flashpoint for parents airing their grievances,” said one school PR professional who asked not to be named. “We were not allowed access to the group, but other parents kept sending screenshots of comments. It was a major nightmare for about six months before we were able to get it under control.”

There are definitely things to watch out for, but for the right school community, it might be just what you need to help your parents stay connected. Here are some things to consider when it comes to setting up a Facebook group:

  • Set up clear ground rules and post them in the group. Refer to them whenever they are violated.
  • Determine which school/district staff will participate in the group and have clear response guidelines for them.
  • Understand that not every parent is on Facebook, so if any new information is communicated in the group, be sure it is sent out in other ways as well.
  • Group participants are not anonymous. Comments are linked to your personal profile. While it is technically against Facebook’s Terms of Service to have multiple personal accounts, many people create a “professional” account that is separate from their personal Facebook page and use that.
  • If your school/district is currently going through anything controversial, now might not be the right time. The best time to start a group is when your school/district is on top of its game.
  • Consider grooming school/district champions like ISD 318 in Grand Rapids, Minn. This ensures you have a core group of parents and other stakeholders who are well informed and prepared to participate to help set the tone for the group. (Learn more about the ISD 318 program.)

Whatever you decide to do, know that your parents and families are probably talking about you anyway. Anything you can do to be part of the conversation is a good thing.