Many times I think people look at social media as one of the mediums where you canned releases or text messages go.
I think this is a bad practice, social media needs more of a focus and more immediacy in an emergency situation. I think across the board we need to step back and evaluate each tool in the crisis communication toolbox for its own merits. For the purposes of this post I will focus on social media. Only 59% of universities with crisis communications policies address the use of social media for communications. We many times focus on our institutions communications needs and not those of the user. This idea of user focused communications is even more important in a crisis situation which could mean lives.
I once had a person where I worked previously who told me when he was in the military they had a cork board in the mess hall where all their important messages were posted and we should expect the same from our students. “They should come where we post our message.” This story was given to me as a reason not to communicate via social media but I think it paints a pretty solid picture here.
Right place, right time
We need to have our message where our student, faculty and staff are and not the other way around. Assuming your university is active on social media and there is a certain amount of trust with your twitter and Facebook accounts there is an authenticity and an expectation that anything that happens will be addressed and quickly. Why would anything less be expected during a crisis.
We have a tendency to want to craft, craft and over craft our messages. Run with through the ranks but we know when it comes to the emergency scenarios we don’t have the luxury of time. I know most schools do drills but I think we need to do unplanned and time constrained drills and then see what mediums we can get our messages out on quickly. I think a lot of this is about setting a cultural tone on campus for how to deal with messaging. This culture needs to be set before the emergency as culture can not be created during a crisis.
Not only should be look to craft messages for social media but we also need to monitor social media in your emergency planning to get information and get updates on the situation that we might otherwise not be aware of.
There have been a few examples of when universities have had to rely solely on social media for communication recently. You can see a Fordham University that had issues do to Hurricane Sandy which took down their website and made them rely on twitter and Facebook as their only communication mechanism.
Here is a great infographic about social medias role in crisis communications.
Has your university discussed how to craft messages quickly for your social media presence If not I suggest you start the discussion soon.