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5 Steps to Using Social Media for Crisis Communications
Stephanie Griffin

Crisis communication is a scary (but important) strategic initiative for school professionals working in independent, international, public and charter schools. Unfortunately, today’s world teaches us that being prepared to effectively respond in a crisis is imperative to the safety of our community and the preservation of our brand.

From earthquakes and fire hazards to students bringing weapons to school and administration scandals — a normal routine day can change in the blink of an eye.

As a school, you have numerous things you need to do to plan and practice. This includes writing a crisis communication plan, identifying a crisis team, and selecting your avenues of communication — from mobile apps and notifications to local news.

Today, social media is a key player in crisis communication plans as well. The power of social media allows your community to stay informed, updated when crises happen. It allows individuals to stay connected, share their own updates, and assure safety during the event.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, social media has its benefits when handling crisis communications, including:

  1. Crisis Prevention, as part of your crisis communication plans, growing your social media following and positive outreach.
  2. Crisis Intervention, the time when you are using social media in action sharing updates with your community, confirming or disproving rumors, and responding to comments and concerns.
  3. Postvention, when you want to disseminate situation updates as they are being finalized and any confirmation when an event has settled down.

Social media networks are aware of their pivotal role and have even made updates to their platforms. For example, Facebook’s Crisis Response is “a place on Facebook where you can find information about recent crises, use Safety Check to connect with friends and loved ones during a crisis, give or find help to people in the affected area, and create or donate to fundraisers to support recovery efforts,” according to the social media network. Having this as a feature of Facebook has changed the game with how people use and depend on social media during unexpected events. This tool has been used globally — most notably in the U.S. during the Napa Valley fires and Hurricane Harvey.

Not only is social media an essential communications tool for your school (along with your website), it is also where many members of your school community spend their time. It plays an important part in getting information out in a quick, easy fashion to share what is happening in real time. However, social media’s roots, casual nature and public-facing content often make it a difficult platform to navigate in times of crises. Here are five steps to ensure your school or district is prepared to use social media in the event of a crisis.

Step One: Establish an Active Presence on Social Media

If your school isn’t currently on any of the top social media platforms for schools (Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram), see how three hundred school professionals use social media marketing in our benchmark report, and determine where your school or district needs to be.

Once you have established the channels that work best for you, growing your following is just as important. There are many ways you can generate leads, gain followers, and refer users to your website with a smarter social media strategy.

The top social media network to use during a crisis is Twitter. Being known as the “newsroom” platform, it allows you to share updates in a timely fashion. It is also acceptable to post more frequently on Twitter compared to other platforms. With a limited character amount, your posts can get straight to the point, link back to your website, and share video and images quickly.

Facebook has also become a game changer for crisis communications. Facebook's Crisis Response tool allows individuals to mark themselves as "safe " during a crisis. It also gives your school an opportunity to share longer, more in-depth updates.

Regardless of which platform you choose to use first, it is acceptable to share breaking news about the crisis on all your social media channels but in a way that is optimal for that platform. If you’re looking into ways to improve your social media presence, following, and better understand how each platform works so you are prepared for a crisis, our team of social media experts that can point you in the right direction to grow your presence even further.


Free Report: The State of Social Media Marketing Among Schools

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Step Two: Incorporate Social Media Into Your Safety Plan

Many schools have taken the initiative to create safety and security plans that are available on their website. A good best practice for this is making sure with any kind of parent communications, whether it is through their parent portal, newsletter, or your website, parents have the option to opt in to receiving alerts or know where to find information if a crisis were to happen. Dalton Public Schools, for example, has their policy under their website resources, which also contains a section on the best way individuals can get information, including their social media channels.

DPS-Safety-Plan-New

Mt. Lebanon School District also has a school safety page on their website that informs parents where they can be notified, including their social media channels.

MTLSD-Safety-Plan-New

Step Three: Build a Strong Crisis Communication Team to Relay Information on Social Media

Many schools form a crisis communication team responsible for confirming and communicating the facts. Lower Merion School District, for example, details their Crisis Response Teams on the district's site, listing members of the district who have been trained to know what to do in a crisis, how to get the information out, and how this team is also involved with helping the school community cope with such events.

LMSD-Crisis-Response-Teams

If you don't have a pre-defined crisis team ready, you can pull together a small group of individuals who can help get the message out across various channels, including social media. This may seem like a no-brainer, but these individuals will have an important responsibility to relay the correct and most accurate information to your social media followers. You can also take on a popular PR approach and use what’s called a “war room,” or a place to go during a crisis if possible to discuss information before sending out. You may also want to have a backup plan to this in the event the crisis prevents the team from meeting on campus.

One important role of your crisis communication team is to respond to any and all comments on social media. During a crisis or a period of negative press, schools and districts often go dark. This is worse than getting ahead of the event and engaging with your community. Come up with a plan for responding to negative and positive comments. For example, we recommend putting comments through the following filter: If the comment is negative, is it factual? If that answer is “yes,” it is always important to respond. If you don’t feel comfortable responding publically, you can say something like, “we know right now is a stressful time, so can you send us a direct message at [email] or call us at [phone number] so that we can ease your mind and discuss further?”

Step Four: Get Creative With How You Share Information

Depending on the severity of the situation, sometimes it’s okay to have a little fun on social media when sharing information. For example, severe weather can often cause school closings, and a complete frenzy across social media when a school isn’t at the forefront of communications.

One video that has stood the test of time comes from Durham Academy in North Carolina, who had a clever way of announcing their school would be closed due to inclement weather:

Keep in mind, however, that it is not always appropriate to get creative in your communications. More serious situations call for consistent, serious, humanized communications. By leveraging the power of up-to-the-minute updates, live video, and even Instagram highlights, you can keep your community informed appropriately.

Be sure to let your community know how and where you will communicate on social media so that they know where to find you. We recommend sticking to one social network and deferring all traffic from your other two social media networks to your main source.

Step Five: Incorporate Social Media and Your Website

Finalsite makes it easier to incorporate social media and your website in one place with Finalsite Feeds, and during times of crisis, this tool becomes even more effective. Just last year, during the Hurricane Harvey (considered the U.S.’s first social media storm), we were truly impressed to see Episcopal High School in Houston incorporate feeds and a branded hashtag around the efforts their school community was making during the natural disaster.

EpiscopalHSHouston-Tweet-HoustonStrong

Key Takeaway

Social media is an essential communication tool for schools, and if used correctly and strategically, it can make a true difference for your school or district during a crisis. Consider spending time on each of the steps shared in this blog to assure you are best equipped to use the media when an unexpected event occurs.


School Crisis Communications 101 With the Jane Group


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Stephanie GriffinAs Finalsite's Events Marketing Manager, Stephanie is passionate about sharing what's happening at Finalsite with all school professionals. She is a co-producer for the FinalsiteFM podcast network and brings a fresh perspective for marketing with her background in social media, communications, and radio broadcasting. Stephanie enjoys helping schools stay ahead of their marketing goals by tracking new trends and developments.

  • Crisis Communications
  • Social Media
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