Good Governance for School Boards

Trustee Professional Development Program

Module 18 — Social Media

Last updated in March 2024

Social Media
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“This river I step in is not the river I stand in.”

This well-known quote, inscribed on a bridge over the Don River in Toronto, is taken from Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ work, and refers to the fact that nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable, and nowhere more so in the 2020s than in the realm of online technology.

As technology continues to evolve, so does social media. Social media as we know it today, is not what it will be tomorrow. This module is not intended to be a primer on all social media channels in use at the time of reading. It is intended to provide a strategic perspective on how trustees can use social media to help build and enhance communication and engagement with stakeholders and further a school board’s strategic goals.

The material presented in this module represents general best practices at the time of writing. Emergent issues and circumstances such as issues, crisis, and emergency management, are not addressed in this module.


  • The strategic purpose of social media
  • Social media opportunities, risks and advice
  • Elements of a successful social media strategy
  • Promoting a social media presence
  • General guidelines for effective social media use


It is clear that social media is here to stay. The concept of connecting with friends, family, and communities online is now understood by most people, however the platforms continue to evolve as user habits and corporate and government influence shift over time. At the time of writing, artificial intelligence is, through the use of algorithms and the growing power of machine learning, a rapidly growing influence on how humans use social media.

Social media platforms are potentially powerful tools for engaging with parents and guardians, school communities, a school board’s external stakeholder organizations, and the media.

A positive and productive social media presence can help trustees build a reputation as elected leaders in the community, who are committed to ongoing, two-way communication and open dialogue with their constituents.

Many trustees have been active on social media for years. For them, this module can serve as a refresher and evaluation of their current strategy and approach. For trustees who are newer to social media, it will provide insights and approaches to consider as they begin their social media journey.

Social media gives trustees the opportunity to share school board priorities with a wider audience at any time. However, before using social media, it is always important to consider a school board’s strategic goals, weighted against the benefits and risks of social media. A successful social media journey begins with a strategy in mind.


Webster’s dictionary defines social media as a singular or plural noun: forms of electronic communication (as websites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).[1]

At its heart, social media’s essential purpose continues to be social networking and interaction where people participate in online digital communities.

Social media enables us to communicate directly to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content, often instantly, with other people, and receive rapid feedback. The increasing speed of technological advances, combined with diminishing costs of entry, have led to the democratization of communications.[2]

Social and digital communications, which can include text, audio, images, and video, are accessible to a much broader audience than ever before, especially thanks to public libraries and free public WiFi connections.

While social media and digital communications do not replace in-person conversation, they can help you reach a wider variety of constituents, stakeholders and other audiences.

So how are people using social media in the first place? Reasons can include:

  • Finding out what is happening locally in their community
  • Staying in touch with friends and family
  • Filling spare time / Finding entertaining content like articles and videos
  • Reading news stories
  • Find inspiration for things to do and purchase
  • Watching livestreams of events and discussions
  • Sharing and discussing opinions with others
  • Making new contacts. [3]

Since there are generally large audiences already engaged in relevant local, provincial, and national issues on social media, it makes sense for elected officials to use social media to:

  • Participate and grow community
  • Raise awareness
  • Build support for an issue or cause
  • Inform and educate
  • Get real-time feedback.


Social media and digital communications present a significant opportunity to engage local communities, who now have instant and direct two-way communications access to elected officials, organizations, and each other. The following table highlights some of the general key advantages, disadvantages and risks of social media for individuals and organizations:

Advantages Disadvantages Risks

Free/low cost:

  • Access social media through a public library or WiFi, using a public computer.
  • Basic social media channels are free; additional cost may apply for premium features.


  • Personal data may not be as safe as on a private connection.

Data breach:

  • No organization is immune to a data breach through its email or digital accounts.
  • Ongoing training, reminders, and testing can help mitigate.

Easy to get started:

  • Sign up for an account, or link multiple accounts.


  • Many social media channels will only allow access to a public, business or corporate account through a personal account.
  • All personal data is then subject to being used, per the channel’s privacy statements.
  • Employees often access corporate accounts from personal devices, leading to co-mingling of personal and corporate data.


  • A user may inadvertently post to their work account rather than their own personal account if they are not careful.
  • Corporate accounts are only as secure as the actions of the employees who use them.

Easy to use:

  • Some preferences and notifications can be set to efficiently manage workflow and respond quickly.
  • Engage stakeholders and obtain feedback in real time.

Hard to break through the “noise”:

  • Many voices competing for limited time and attention.
  • Technology limitations and algorithms can bury your message while other, often paid, users get more engagement and prominence.
  • Opposing views or misinterpreted comments can quickly turn a negative argument or debate.

Important messages may get lost:

  • Algorithms and difficult to access default settings mean critical updates may not reach intended followers quickly.
  • Trolls and bots actively seek out and attack opposing viewpoints.


  • Real-time receipt, especially if notifications are enabled.
  • Improves information and communication flow with stakeholders.

Always on, never off:

  • Boundaries are needed to keep work and personal life separate.
  • Blue light from mobile devices can make it harder to sleep at night.[4]

Addiction and “doom-scrolling”:

  • Some people find it hard to disconnect, affecting personal and professional life.[5]
  • Chronic use can lead to “dopamine loop.”[6]

Faster awareness of issues and response time:

  • Timely notification of emerging events, like bus cancellations due to a snowstorm.
  • Real-time updates on unexpected situations like a power outage.
  • In an emerging crisis, organizations can seek to quickly establish facts and reliable source of truth.

Always “out there”:

  • Hard to correct false information later.

Disinformation and misinformation spread quickly:

  • 24/7 nature of social media and algorithms can amplify rumours and speculation.
  • In an emergent crisis situation, incorrect or harmful information can often be shared.

A risk that cannot be ignored is trusting your organization’s data and message to communications channels you do not own. While organizations and individuals manage social media accounts, they give up control of their content on those channels, per social media legal and privacy statements.

At any time, social media channels can change ownership, policies, practices and functionality as they see fit. This risk was highlighted in 2023 when Elon Musk purchased Twitter and subsequently rebranded to X, and again in 2023 when Meta (the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and Threads) and Google started removing Canadian news media links from their platforms. The news and information people read on social media is – and has always been – available on organizations’ websites, but people have chosen to go to the “water cooler” of social media first, for a variety of reasons.

Social media will continue to change and evolve. A communications best practice is to always point to content on platforms and websites owned and managed by the school board, especially the main website, as the single source for the facts. Remind communities to check there first during rapidly developing and emergency situations. School boards can and should use social media where appropriate, including factual updates. They key is always being mindful of the limitations of social and digital media, and managing accordingly.

Opportunities for Trustees

The advantages, disadvantages, and risks of social media noted above also apply to elected and appointed trustees. Subject to privacy and other considerations, social media presents great opportunities for trustees to share photos, videos, news and links to relevant information in and for their communities in real time. There are numerous other benefits for trustees, which include:

  • Reaching parents, constituents, and communities using the same social media channels they already use;
  • Building connection, trust and two-way conversation with education leaders;
  • Supporting a school board's communication plan regarding media relations, which should include a social media strategy for connecting with media. Supporting media relations through the use of social media can help to alert media contacts to local news and feature stories about or related to a school board;
  • Learning about education trends and issues locally and elsewhere;
  • Positioning the trustee as a community leader and advocate;
  • Strengthening democracy by positioning them as a locally-elected representative who is easily available to community members.

Risks and Advice for Trustees

A point to keep in mind is that as democratically elected representatives, school board trustees serve with the public’s trust. As with any form of public communication, social media comes with numerous risks but, managed properly, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Good principles to follow include:

  • A social media account that is influential online does not necessarily equal one representative of a community.
  • Stakeholders and social media users will frequently have opinions that do not agree with school board or trustee messaging and decision-making, but trustees can still communicate positively and engage.
    • "Don't feed the trolls" still rings true – trolls are social media users looking for a confrontation. In such cases, "walk away" and don't engage.
  • "Block" selectively.
    • Social media channels are communities, but publicly-elected officials represent all constituents.
    • Be conscious of any comments or conversations that constitute harassment or bullying. Such postings/comments should be blocked and reported to appropriate authorities managing the platform and/or legal authorities if necessary.
    • Avoid debates on social media, though legitimate disagreement, communicated respectfully and thoughtfully, can at times be helpful especially when relevant to a school board’s strategic goals or key messages. If a trustee is unable to share the truth of a situation due to confidentiality, end the conversation as social media is not the environment for sharing of confidential content. It is not a good idea to entrust confidential or sensitive information to someone’s “direct message” or “DM” inbox on social media.
  • Know your audience.
    • Different social media platforms attract diverse audiences with varying interests.
    • Social media communities like Facebook are more open to all audiences, but also have closed groups for more specific interests.
    • Note that closed groups and member-only communities should still be considered public, and maintain respectful, positive, and open communication with all participants.
  • “Mind the (communications) gap.”
    • Context is everything.
    • Language proficiency, cultural background and references, accessibility needs, and different expressions can be misinterpreted.
    • Especially when referring to groups of people, ensure your terminology is current, appropriate and respectful.
  • Pause before you post.
    • Once posted, social media comments may remain accessible forever, and someone will eventually find them and report on them.
    • If a social media discussion is escalating, take the time to pause, reflect and thoughtfully consider how, or if, to respond.
  • Inform, but don't impose.
    • Elected officials represent all constituents and a range of viewpoints.
  • Accept that control of the message may be lost.
    • Online communities are social communities.
    • People have different viewpoints on any and all issues, and opposition is generally not personal.
    • Use social media as a research tool. Opposing views can help alert you and your board that some constituents have concerns, giving you more lead time to consider how best to respond.
  • Harassment and cyberbullying are unacceptable.
    • Reporting and blocking such users is always your first line of defence.
    • Spam or misleading content can also be reported and blocked.
    • If you feel you are being bullied, targeted or abused, consider contacting your local police.
  • Be mindful of school board policies on student privacy and consent for release of photos and videos.
  • Ask for help.
    • It's easy to be misunderstood, post something that doesn't land well or otherwise run into an issue when using social media.
    • Sometimes someone else has taken a user's words out of context and used them to their own advantage, creating reputational issues.
    • When in doubt, ask for advice from the school board's social media, issues or communications management professional.


Begin with the end in mind – the goals and objectives of your school board's Multi-year Strategic Plan (MYSP).

Social media can help build an audience to engage in support of a MYSP. Many of these goals can be addressed through improved or expanded communications, which can include social media.

Strategic goals for social media have their foundations in the MYSP and the role of trustee, such as:

  • Informing constituents about the school board: its strategic goals and progress; ongoing work; decisions; events, and opportunities for feedback;
  • Advocating for education and student-centred issues;
  • Supporting a school board's consultation efforts by directing feedback and questions on issues to official consultation portals on the school board website;
  • Discussing and reporting back on issues and formal stakeholder engagement;
  • Promoting the unique and outstanding activities of schools and staff;
  • Highlighting student achievements, keeping in mind privacy and other considerations;
  • Amplifying the board's existing social media posts, including commenting on and re-sharing them to followers and/or audiences;
  • Educating the audience about the importance of the role of trustee (educate)

Who do you want to reach, and why?

There are social and digital communications outlets for every person and interest, but there are some audiences a trustee will want to reach more than others. These are the primary audiences and focus, and typically include parents, families, and constituents in a ward or region. Secondary audiences include the larger school board community and related businesses and services, local service and community organizations that support students and families, K-12 education partners, government, and media. These audiences have influence and decision-making authority, and can help advance school board goals.

Having identified these audiences, why do you want to reach them? What information will they want to know, and when? How can you help them achieve their goals? How can they help advance your school board's goals? There are a number of different ways to reach all of your audiences – not just through social media – so you'll want to plan for how you will engage and inform them.

Consider your board role

Social media is public communication and engagement, so it's helpful to discuss expectations and practices with your fellow board members in advance. While you can and should engage community members, highlight student success and advocate on important issues, you should not be perceived as speaking on behalf of the board unless you have been appointed as Board Chair or are otherwise authorized by the board. Trustee orientation sessions or the first organizational meeting of a new board after an election are opportune times for these discussions.

As well as school board public discussions and personal deliberations, you will want to consider privacy legislation, the board's code of conduct and other policies and expectations related to public communication. You may have campaigned and been elected based on your viewpoints, but it's important to communicate in a respectful way that reflects decisions of the whole board.

Develop a strategy

Now, it's time to sit down and start drafting a strategy. A good rule of thumb is to have a maximum of three to five strategic goals, to maximize focus, effort and results.

  1. Start with your purpose statement

A purpose statement ties in the social media strategy to a larger strategic plan. For the purposes of this module, you would link your social media strategy to the board's strategic plan.

The strategic goals listed earlier in this section are applicable to all school board trustees, and might naturally fall under three key purpose areas:

  • Informing constituents about the school board: its strategic goals and progress; ongoing work; decisions; events, and opportunities for feedback (communicate);
  • Advocating for education and student-centred issues (advocate);
  • Supporting a school board's consultation efforts by directing feedback and questions on issues to official consultation portals on the school board website (communicate)
  • Discussing and reporting back on issues and formal stakeholder engagement (communicate);
  • Promoting the unique and outstanding activities of schools and staff (communicate);
  • Highlighting student achievements, keeping in mind privacy and other considerations (communicate);
  • Amplifying the board's existing social media posts, including commenting on and re-sharing them to your followers or audience (communicate);
  • Educating the audience about the importance of the role of trustee (educate)

In this example your three main purposes for social media would be to communicate, advocate and educate. Your purpose statement could be: To communicate with, advocate to, and educate school communities and the broader public about the school board's goals, progress, and perspective.

For the purposes of this module, overarching strategic direction is informed by the board's strategic plan. Here is where you would identify the purpose of the board's "core business,"as identified in the plan. If you have another purpose for your social media activities, you would include that in this section.

  1. Strategic priorities

This section identifies the linkage to your strategic priorities. Your social media strategy will articulate how you will use social media to advance your strategic priorities.

A strategic plan may include goals like:

  1. Student Success and Well-Being in Optimal Learning Environments
  2. Equity/Thinking and Acting Inclusively
  3. Teaching and Leadership Excellence
  4. Effective Governance
  1. Social media goals

Goals are broader, long-term indicators. As part of your environmental scan, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis and experience, what are changes in opinion, behaviour or outcomes that you believe should be achieved? "What must be accomplished for the plan to succeed?"

Revisiting your key social media strategic goals you created earlier, select your top three to five, which could be:

  • Informing constituents about the work of the board;
  • Highlighting student achievements;
  • Amplifying the board's existing social media posts;
  • Advocating for education and student-centred issues;
  • Educating the audience about the importance of the role of trustee.
  1. Establish your Social Media schedule

Social media is most effectively used on a regular basis so given the demands of elected trustees it would be wise to set a certain time of day for the review of issues on social media. Consider limiting your review to current information being shared by the targeted media, parents/parent groups, schools, etc. in your constituency and within the provincial education landscape.

  1. Identify your audiences

As an elected official, you are accountable to all of your primary audiences. Although your board has specific accountabilities to provincial government, they will be positively influenced by the quality of your primary accountability relationships.


  • Parents, guardians and families;
  • Volunteers and community supporters of the schools in your ward/area;
  • Ward/area constituents.


  • School board community, including all of the primary audiences, and staff;
  • Local community service organizations that support students and families;
  • K-12 education partners;
  • Provincial government and other orders of government as applicable;
  • Media and journalist influencers.

You may identify other key audiences, which should be included.

Next, consider the types of information that are important to all of your key audiences. Parents and families are always inspired by stories of student success, but they also want to know about upcoming events and situations that could impact their planning calendar. Is your board embarking on a consultation or a campaign? There will be different aspects of that issue that would attract attention.

  1. Develop key messages

You have likely already encountered numerous different acute issues and situations. While you can't anticipate each and how you will specifically respond, you can develop some proactive key messages that support each of your strategic goals. Here is an example:

"Student success is our number one priority, and we are always looking for ways to improve their educational experience."

This is a generic, high-level message that works well in many situations. If you're sharing the outcome of a recent board meeting and there was robust debate about a particular approach, you can also add the above key message.

If you elaborate on the debate and discussion as being important to meet the educational needs of students in your board, you can also include your goal to educate your audience about the importance of trusteeship.

  1. Communicate

While social media engagement is ongoing, you may have topical opportunities to highlight. The start of the new school year, holiday observances, special school occasions, fall and spring breaks, graduation and the wrap-up to the school year and look-ahead to summer are all good opportunities for social media posts.

Using your board's approved school calendar, which will include days of significance for the diverse communities in your board, you can plan ahead and often pre-schedule your social media posts. However, if there is an emergent or topical situation at the same time as your pre-scheduled post, check that it is still appropriate or remove and re-schedule it.

You may wish to develop a formal content calendar, informed by your work, to identify seasonal and other messaging. How you organize the calendar is up to you, but two suggestions are monthly themes and seasonal observances.

Throughout the year you will also identify other content to share, beyond your board's communications and your own pre-identified content. Other boards and education stakeholders might post videos and blog entries. Keeping in mind your limitations as a trustee, and after confirming their strategic intent and purpose is appropriate and aligned with your board's, you may wish to share this content. Other general content tips include:

  • Sharing relevant research, events, awards, and news from elsewhere that can position you as a trusted source and a reliable filter of high quality, relevant information.
  • Participating by commenting on a trending, education-related hashtag or story, asking a question or posting a poll.
  • Include your own pre-developed key messages where possible, ensuring alignment with board direction.
  • Varying the types of content you share, like photos, videos, and blog posts.
  • Being conversational and relevant, and sharing why you personally found the content interesting.
  • Sharing timely, topical events, opportunities and perspectives on current issues.

While you always want to include a call to action, such as bringing people back to the school board website or to connect by attending an event, always be inclusive and keep accessibility standards in mind.

  1. Evaluation

How to measure success

Social media analytics and tracking tools can help, but they should be informed by your school board's strategic goals. If one of your school board's goals is improving authentic engagement and conversation with stakeholders, you won't want to focus on "vanity metrics" like followers, friends, "likes," shares, pins or views, which involve no more effort than pressing a button. However, when someone takes the time to write a comment, send a direct message or contact you via email or phone, that is a better measure of authentic engagement.

Be sure to evaluate your messages received on social media, as best as time allows, to help you decide whether you are meeting the strategic goals of the school board through your communications on social media.


A final piece in your social media planning process should be promotion. Here are some ideas to find and grow your and your school board's overall audience:

  • Whenever possible share links to the school board website
  • Add links to your school board website and social media in your personal email signature and – if permitted – to your trustee email signature.
  • Add your social media links to publications like your e-newsletter and other communications.
  • Proactively mention your social media presence in speaking with key stakeholders, and invite them to follow and reach out.
  • Create a content calendar and post on a regular basis.
  • Enable notifications to know when someone has tagged you, shared a post or messaged you directly.
  • Check your social media accounts a few times a week. While some people post daily, your posts should be determined by your strategic goals.


There are a number of other social media guidelines that help people find your content and ensure it is effective, appropriate and professional:

  • Ensure you use secure, complex passwords for all your social media accounts, don't replicate passwords and use a reputable password manager.
  • Consider your board's code of conduct before posting, especially if you are not the board spokesperson.
  • Do not post private, confidential or other information.
  • As an elected school board trustee, use your real name as part of your handle on social media accounts, if possible.
  • Your online conduct should be as respectful and inclusive as your in-person conduct, per your code of conduct and general workplace standards.
  • Give credit where it is due. Use links where possible and ensure you completely read the content and links before sharing.
  • Respect copyright and fair use laws, and don't use board images without permission.
  • When uploading digital pictures or avatars that represent you, select an appropriate image.
  • Check words on page links (URLs often have numerous words in the link) before posting.
  • Use social media tags appropriately.
    • The "hashtag" or the "#" symbol directs your post to sub-threads or channels of a social media platform. It is also used as social commentary, e.g. #ILoveMyJob. Sprout Social has a useful primer on effective hashtagging.[7]
    • The "@" symbol tags an individual or organization by their social media account name, or "handle." The "@mention" brings your comment to their attention or suggests that you would like a response.

Finally, don't use UPPERCASE unless it's a proper name or title, as it generally means the person posting is "shouting" online.


Social media and digital communications help school board trustees create direct connections to the people and communities they serve. As democratically elected representatives it is important for trustees to be aware that they have the public’s trust and as such are expected to communicate with that essential level of trust in mind. Using social media effectively can help trustees to effectively serve their constituents while advancing the goals and priorities of their respective school boards.

  1. Definition of social media, Merriam Webster online dictionary, retrieved August 2023:,social%20media,and%20other%20content%20(as%20videos)
  2. Fundamentals of Public Relations and Marketing Communications in Canada, p. 308. William Wray Carney and Leah-Ann Lymer, editors. University of Alberta Press, 2015.
  3. "Most popular reasons for internet users worldwide to use social media as of 3rd quarter 2022,"
  4. "How Blue Light Affects Sleep," Sleep, Mar. 17, 2023,to%20many%20negative%20health%20impacts
  5. "Social Media Addiction," Addiction Your guide for addiction and recovery, April 3, 2023,
  6. "Are you addicted to social media?" Lee Health, retrieved August 2023:
  7. "Hashtags: What they are and how to use them effectively," Sprout Social, March 16, 2023:

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