In the rock solid, unchanging world of social media, we can count on many things: Facebook is worth billions and its stock will always rise; iPhones are ideal and can’t be beaten; and universities are in the vanguard of social media use since college students are so immersed in it.
Yeah, not so much. FB stock continues to tumble, the iPhone5 is already taking hits in advance of its mid-September debut, and a new report indicates that colleges and universities often do a poor job utilizing social media in times of crisis. These might include dangerous weather, a campus shooting or a blackout.
Those findings are in a study that sounds aptly academic called # SocialMedia and Advancement: Insights From Three Years of Data, that I’m grateful to EMA colleague David Grome for flagging.
The findings are stark. College security, administrative and leadership officials are far less likely than most would assume in utilizing the communications power of social media to reach students and staff in time of crisis.
And this was no quick-hit, check-and-run poll. The authors surveyed 1,187 college officials who are members of the nonprofit Council for Advancement and Support of Education. It was jointly conducted in January and February 2012 by mStoner and Slover Linett Strategies and CASE.
Michael Stoner, the president of mStoner and co-author of the study, says he’s surprised that every institution doesn’t use the “incredibly important and influential channels” of social media in times of crisis.
“Particularly when you consider that what happens in a crisis is being reported and misreported on social channels, you definitely want to have your house in order, so that you have an official channel set up [that] can set the record straight.”
The survey respondents are a “pretty good cross-section” of CASE membership, which is the largest higher education organization, according to Stoner. “The people who actually do handle crisis communications should be well represented.”
Another study finding that surprised Stoner is the 20 percent of respondents who felt their employer didn’t use social media at all or much to engage current students. “It’s such a no-brainer,” he says. “What page in the contemporary communications manual did you miss?”
He’s got that right. This is akin to the Sorbonne’s administration not using French to address its students; or ESPN presenting its daily Top 10 plays by drawing stick figures on printer paper.
For sure most of the people involved in college administration and security took classes — like me — when the biggest crisis was associated with gas going over $2 a gallon and a hotel break-in destroyed a presidency. But you must adapt, people. This is not an option, it’s a requirement. If you want to learn how to reach your students and staff quickly and effectively, go ask them to teach you. But ask someone.
Texts, Twitter, Facebook alerts and email are probably the most effective in a crisis. Setting up a college information app for smartphones and tablets would be an important move to plan in advance of a crisis. Considering that a crisis can strike at any time, robocalls to cell phones must also be high on the list. And, having an emergency web page you can drop down over your home page or at least link to from it is crucial for a crisis [hurricane, blizzard, food worker strike] that could last days. Finally, YouTube, the second-most-used search engine after Google, is a great place for a college president to record calm messages of reassurance.
These simple moves are requirements. The same people reluctant to embrace social media options in times of crisis would laugh if told the best way to do so would be putting someone on a horse and riding around campus shouting “the British are coming!” Yet to fail to fully use social media is basically choosing such antiquated methods.
The good news is that this is easily fixed, now that you are informed. Do it now, before your crisis hits. Wander into a dorm room and ask for help.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.