The Social Media Conversation Around Going Back To School 

The term back to school implies something that’s happened before and as we all know there’s nothing about this upcoming school year that’s going to resemble the classroom experience of the past. Whether students will be resuming with remote learning or suiting up in PPE to take classes in person, there are some unprecedented challenges for students this Fall. That means it’s a great moment to take the temperature of social media, to better understand how the audience is processing these changes. Using ListenFirst’s social media listening platform capabilities, here are 5 key insights about how the social audience is responding to the new school year during a pandemic. 

Insight #1: Back To School Posts Pivoting To Back To Living Room Posts 

There were 2,533,191 Tweets that mentioned School between July 16 – August 16, 2020 which is a 32% increase from the volume of Tweets that mentioned School between July 16 – August 16, 2019. Obviously, it’s not the same Back To School related chatter and in fact, even with online discussion about how to return to school safely, there’s less Back To School conversation on social media in 2020. There were 176,648 unique Tweets that mentioned Back To School during July 16 – August 16, 2020 which was a -17% decrease from the volume of Tweets that mentioned Back To School during July 16 – August 16, 2019.

As the audience is talking about Back To School less, smart brands are largely pivoting to other school related topics. For example, PacSun received 7,800 responses to an Instagram post showing a model in an outfit optimized for his living room and virtual classes while American Eagle shared a video post on Instagram that received 6,405 responses showing a model getting her look ready for a virtual class. This Fall students are dressing as much for Zoom as they are for in person interactions and brand messaging needs to reflect that reality.  

Insight #2: The Coronavirus Related School Discussion Is Dominated By Politics

Between July 16 – August 16, 2020 there were 164,196 Tweets that mentioned both School and the Coronavirus and the five of those Tweets that generated the most responses were directly related to politics. For instance, Kamala Harris generated 198,687 responses that blamed  Donald Trump and Mike Pence for millions of kids being unable to go back to school. Meanwhile a Tweet asking how COVID-19 is too dangerous for the Republican Convention to happen in Jacksonville but safe enough to send kids to school generated 40,287 responses and an ER doctor received 19,972 responses saying it’s the administration not the coronavirus that’s keeping our kids from going to school next month. 

Overall 11% of the Tweets that mentioned both School and the Coronavirus between July 16 – August 16, 2020 directly mentioned Government or Politics. Sentiment around Tweets that mentioned School, the Coronavirus, and Politics was 51% Negative and 7% Positive, meaning it’s an especially negative subject that brands want to steer clear of.  

Insight #3: Back To School Brands Post That Succeed Are Pandemic Specific 

With most students not going back to physical classrooms, there’s significantly less interest in brand posts back to school related content on social media compared to the past, though there have been some exceptions.

Forever 21 has succeeded in their social media Back To School campaign because they’ve  either addressed the situation head on or by asking questions that are just as relevant during remote learning. For instance, they generated 26,287 responses to an Instagram post asking for your number one surviving quarantine tip. Contests also still work, as Forever 21 received 19,742 responses to an Instagram post asking the audience to share their back to school goals for a chance to be featured on their Instagram page.

Another successful strategy has been hedging and using language that addresses both remote learning and in personal classes in back to school posts by brands. Like Walmart generating 5,413 responses to an Instagram post talking about how they have back to school products, “however school looks this fall” while a Kohl’s Instagram post about having comfy styles for the school year, whether you’re “heading back or logging in” received 1,357 responses.

Brands need to share content that’s relevant to the audience, and right now that means Back To School content that acknowledges the pandemic and it’s unique challenges.   

Insight #4: The Social Audience Is Very Nervous About The Level Of Protection Inside Schools 

Between July 16 – August 16, 2020 there were 34,701 Tweets that mentioned both School and a PPE related phrase (PPE, Mask, Plexiglass, Face Shield, Disinfectant, Gloves, Hand Sanitizer, or Purell). Sentiment around those Tweets was 55% Negative compared to 11% Positive, with 33% of the Tweets expressing the emotion of Fear, and 15% of those Tweets expressing Anger.

There was a lot of frustration expressed in PPE related School Tweets by parents, for instance a Tweet that got 580,544 responses talked about how kids are just going to end up trading their masks when they get to school, while another Tweet that generated 352,359 responses complained that a school superintendent in Georgia said there’s no way to enforce a mandate to wear masks, despite girls getting sent home for dress code violations all the time. Another mom got 8,433 responses to a Tweet pointing out that her daughter’s public school has a no ripped jeans policy, in response to the claim that mask wearing should be a personal choice. 

With such an emphasis on PPE in the real-time conversation around returning to the classroom, on a brand level it’s a great reminder that addressing safety is going to connect with the social media audience in back to school messaging. For instance Vera Bradley shared a post about Youth Pleated Masks for kids heading back to school which received 4,781 responses on Instagram while Target emphasized contactless pickup in their YouTube video about back to school shopping. 

Insight #5: Brands Should Post Content That Assists With Learn From Home Technology 

There were 55,343 Tweets that mentioned Remote Learning or related terms (Virtual Classroom, Home Schooling, Virtual Learning) between July 16 – August 16, 2020 and given the extent to which technology is enabling remote learning; certain platforms and tools are becoming way more discussed on social media.  

For example, there were 357,943 Tweets mentioning Zoom between July 16 – August 16, 2020, an increase of 700% from the volume of Tweets discussing the video communications brand between July 16 – August 16, 2019. In the same time period, Google for Education which posts about Google Classroom content was mentioned in 6,648 Tweets, an increase of 58% from the number of Tweets mentioning the brand between July 16 – August 16, 2019.

The social media audience is talking about technology relating to virtual learning more than ever before and by offering virtual backgrounds or sharing tips for parents to set a virtual work environment for their kids, brands can create social media content that will align with what’s on parents minds right now. 


As we all struggle to adjust to the new normal during the pandemic, knowledge about how the audience is reacting in real-time is more important than ever. ListenFirst can provide you with the social media insights you need to know about how to best connect with the audience during this time when their lives are so radically different. 

Want more information about how ListenFirst can help your brand understand the rapidly changing conversation occuring on social media? Request a demo today! 

All the Twitter data used above is from the United States only and excludes Retweets.