How Higher Education is Using Social Media for Communication and Crisis Management

A recent study by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research shows that 100% of responding colleges and universities utilize social media (primarily Facebook and Twitter) for student recruiting, student communications, and alumni and public outreach. The higher education sector as a whole is proactively leading the way in communication and support on social media, even more so than most Fortune 500 companies.

Higher education institutions are also adopting best practices for using social media as a communications tool in times of crisis to provide consistent and timely information and updates to students, faculty, alumni, parents, visitors, and the media which often uses the very public channel as a reporting reference. A February 2012 CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) study surveyed 219 senior communications professionals at higher education institutions on this topic. All of these institutions maintain an official Facebook channel and 94% have an official Twitter page.

In the 12 months prior to the survey, 65% of the respondents had experienced a crisis or a media-reported event involving their institution. More than 70% reported that potential reputation-damaging events had been discussed in social media channels in the 12 months prior to the survey. However, only 56% had a social media monitoring plan in place to make them aware of breaking news or past or present online mentions of their institution’s name or names and keywords associated with their school, college or university so that they could effectively respond to and manage information being presented either on or outside their official social media pages.

Other key findings of the Using Social Media in a Crisis: Higher Education Results Report:

  • The top three social media channels used include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
  • 99% allow public comments and posts on their social media pages.
  • In a crisis, 62% plan to use social media to provide official information updates.
  • Only 17% of respondents’ crisis communications plans include guidelines for monitoring or responding to unofficial institution social media pages during a crisis or emergency (such as alumni relations, student organizations, athletics, individual academic departments, foundation social media pages, etc.).

The 5 best practice takeaways for higher education institutions noted in the CASE report:

  1. Implement a social media monitoring system. “A social media monitoring system can help you keep track of what is being said about your institution in the social media universe, alert you to issues you may not be aware of, and help you gauge public understanding of and sentiment around an issue,” notes the report.
  2. Develop a social media policy. The CASE website offers a collecting of sample social media policies available to members.
  3. Implement a social media management system. “A social media management system should have multiple functions that can facilitate monitoring, publishing, lead and conversion tracking, measurement and customer relationship management,” notes the report.
  4. Establish registration of affiliation of campus social media accounts. Develop a best practice guide or training program for anyone representing your institution in the social media space.
  5. Establish a community manager for campus social media. Establish a centralized resource that serves as a communication hub for individual departments and entities so that messaging and updates are consistent in the event of a crisis.

With one of the most connected and diverse audiences of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, fans and the general public, higher education is leading the way in reaching out with consistent and timely communication across all channels, even social media. If and when major events or a crisis does occur, higher education institutions using social media monitoring and management tools will be better equipped to diffuse and manage negative or incorrect information being published by others on social media, as well as provide consistent, timely and accurate information and updates to the public.

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