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Higher Ed and Crisis Communications: Be Prepared

EMG Guest

Chris Syme owns a successful consulting business in Bozeman, Montana–CK–specializing in reputation and crisis, social media, and media training. Chris is the current chairman of the CoSIDA (College Sports Information Directors of America) New Media/Technology committee. She is a former Communications Associate at Montana State University Athletics and Eastern Washington University.

In a survey released last week on the use of social media in higher ed crisis communications, there was some good news and some bad news. The good news is that 85 percent of those surveyed have crisis communications plans. The bad news: only 59 percent of those policies address the use of social media, and only 56 percent have a social media monitoring component in their crisis plans. The survey was released by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in partnership with Full results can be found (here).

Another troubling statistic: 66 percent had at least one or more potential reputation-damaging event discussed about them in the last 12 months on social media channels–three percent had seven or more. Also of a concern: all institutions reported having additional units on campus with social media channels besides just the official university presence, but only 26 percent of them required any kind of registration or training for people who use social media on behalf of the institution.

The bottom line: universities love social media, but they aren’t prepared to use it in a crisis. Considering that social media is the real-time channel of choice during crises, we would be wise to consider a checklist of takeaways:

  1. Implement a social media monitoring system–now. A social media monitoring system can help you keep track of what is being said about your institution in the social media space, alert you to issues you may not be aware of, and help you gauge public understanding of and sentiment around an issue. There are many good social media management systems (SMMS) that include monitoring as a component. An adequate monitoring system can be pieced together with little or no cost using several applications. This list of tools from Tripwire Magazine includes some low cost tools and some that are free. Jeremiah Owyang of Web Strategy has put together a more extensive and research-based review of enterprise level tools here. The important concept is to build a monitoring system that tracks mentions of your brand in online media. The system can be as simple or as elaborate as you have time, resources, and people for.
  2. Develop a social media policy. There is a misunderstanding among many that a social media policy is a prohibitive document. The best social media policies operate as guide rails that empower people to use social media channels responsibly in a way that builds the organization’s brand. In Owyang’s research on social media readiness, every top-rated company in the report had a social media policy. Those companies with social media policies were also the most successful in crisis and reputation events. The policy should include a training or on-going education element. Here is a list of some samples from eduCause.
  3. Implement a social media management system. A social media management system (SMMS) should have multiple functions that can facilitate monitoring, publishing, lead and conversion tracking, measurement, and customer relationship management, depending on what your institution’s social media strategy is (see Jason Falls’ report on management systems). The system may or may not include monitoring, but at its most basic level, it should allow for multiple accounts and administrators to post and manage to your social media channels.
  4. Establish registration or affiliation of campus social media accounts. Universities would be well-advised to develop a training program or best practice guidelines for anyone representing the institution in the social media space. Also, establishing a database of administrators and passwords held by a community manager allows the university to remove old accounts or delete or post to any university-related account in an emergency. Best practices for affiliated social media accounts are emerging from institutions like University of New Hampshire, Tufts, and others who are establishing a center of online connection opportunities affiliated with the institution.
  5. Establish a community manager for campus social media. Even though this last takeaway may seem redundant, many reporting institutions did not have one single supervisory department for all campus social media. This does not imply that one department should handle all campus social media, but that there should be a centralized resource that acts as a hub to the campus “spokes” so there is continuity in branding and messaging, especially in the event of a crisis.

How do you stack up on 1-5?

One Reply to “Higher Ed and Crisis Communications: Be Prepared”

  1. Chris: Good – and timely – advice for brand managers! I think #4 – registering all social media accounts – is particularly important! Thanks for the excellent piece!

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