Social media’s prevalence on college campuses is increasing, and student’s reliance on social media during a crisis creates a need for a crisis communications plan that incorporates social media. One of the risks of social media is that it can enable the rapid spread of misinformation (Fusch, 2011). While centralized communications staff at your institution may deal with the official crisis response, there might be some situations where action is needed from your office to respond and work with students on social media. For example, last week an event in University Housing spread like wildfire across social media and the department had no control over the message.
As the UGA community mourns the loss of a student we encourage students to seek CAPS if they need someone to talk to: http://t.co/NmprdyFfnt
— University Housing (@UGAHousing) January 15, 2014
The first question your office needs to consider is: When should you respond to or acknowledge a situation through online postings? You will probably not be able to come up with a blanket response that works for all situations, but it is a good idea to talk through multiple scenarios and have steps in place.
Here are other key things to think about:
- Assign staff or volunteers to monitor social network sites during a crisis (Fusch, 2011). Plan to call a staff member (or the staff member that runs social media) to be “on call” for postings when a crisis occurs.
- Establish guidelines for when you typically monitor social media postings and clearly communicate those to others (Stoller, 2013). Establish a similar set of guidelines for how you will operate in a crisis situation.
- Collaborate with institution-wide social media/communications team.
- If you schedule posts, make sure to immediately unschedule any that are currently scheduled to go out. The last thing you want to do is tweet about regular office news during a campus lockdown. Or inaccurate gym hours on a snow day.
- Have graphics ready. If needed, consider changing the Facebook banner or other photos to generic image (Brown, 2014). I see this more relevant for institution-wide postings.
- Use Twitter to share frequent, real-time news, updates, and resources (Fusch, 2011).
- Monitor information (or misinformation) by searching hashtags on social media sites and share accurate information as allowed (Fusch, 2011).
- Post status updates frequently, disseminating appropriate information as it comes in (Fusch, 2011).
- Determine students or other department staff that can help spread the message (Fusch, 2009).
- Avoid sharing personal information.
- Provide students with resources.
- Post information to a blog or website – maybe an update a few days later if the situation warrants it.
- Use social media (Twitter is great for this) to post about news conference coverage (if exists), the coordination of a vigil or other type of event depending on type of crisis, and to talk about support services on campus (Brown, 2014).
- Take care of yourself (Brown, 2014)
What did I forget or leave off? Have you had a campus incident involving your office that created a strong response from students/families/others online?
Resources for this post:
Brown, P. (2014, January, 22). Active shooter. Worst day ever. (weblog) Your Website Stinks Retrieved from http://dvimedia.blogspot.com/2014/01/active-shooter-worst-day-ever.html
Fusch, D. (2009, September 19). Crisis communications 10 years after the Texas A&M bonfire [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.academicimpressions.com/news/crisis-communications-10-years-after-texas-am-bonfire
Fusch, D. (2011, September 8). Including social media in your crisis communication plan [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.academicimpressions.com/news/including-social-media-your-crisis-communications-plan
Stoller, E. (2013, March 14). It’s 3AM. Do you know what’s happening with your social media? [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/student-affairs-and-technology/its-3am-do-you-know-whats-happening-your-social-media