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.

3 thoughts to “Social medias role during a crisis

  • Mike McCready

    Very well put. Social media is usually an afterthought in most outreach professions in higher ed (not just in crisis communication).

    The reality is, if you’re not on social media providing accurate up-to-date information, there’s a very good chance someone else is – and it’s likely rumours and/or inaccurate.

    Thanks for sharing the infographic as well.

  • Andrew Careaga

    We’ve tried to be more intentional in our use of social media in crisis communication. I co-presented on this very topic at the CASE District V-District VI joint conference earlier in December. Here’s a link to our slide deck:

  • Chris Syme

    Great subject, Matt. As much of the data in that infographic was from my research, I should probably mention that the point of the research was to show the readiness or lack thereof of higher ed to face a crisis that may erupt online. What is key is for universities to understand is that social media is not a tool you just whip out in a crisis and hope to get some traction with. To use it effectively in crisis requires an engaged presence there NOW–building an army of advocates that will help you mitigate a crisis event. Schools that have an active social media presence based on developing advocates get through a crisis quicker and with less loss than those who use social media just for broadcast purposes. If we use social media well before a crisis, its role in a crisis will be powerful.

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