District Crisis Management and the Impact of Social Media

Crisis communication is nothing new to proactive and prepared CoSN members. Much of your time is devoted to anticipating problem scenarios and responding with the best course of action for your district and students.

But, in the unfortunate event of a crisis at your district, what happens when tweets and posts start flooding in? Parents messaging the school to check on their sons and daughters, students posting photos or videos, media tweeting about the nature of the situation–how do you manage it all?

This is the first post in a four-part series discussing crisis preparedness and social media in districts. The goal is to help CIOs and CTOs proactively develop a plan and procedure using best practices and strategies.

A social media platform is an information source, an open forum, a virtual scrapbook, and a relationship tool all rolled into one. In time of crisis, parents, students, staff, media, and neighbors will look to the school’s online channels for reliable, consistent information.

The first step in creating an effective plan is to answer this question–what qualifies as a crisis? Situations considered a crisis usually involve a threat or act of violence, or natural disasters such as flood, tornado, or hurricane. But a communication crisis may also stem from issues with personnel, student behavior, district leadership and disgruntled parents.

With the global audience and 24-hour “news cycle” of social media, a breaking situation can quickly escalate out of control simply for lack of a social media response plan.

As one CoSN member shared recently, what happens if a concerned parent shares a photo of playground equipment in disrepair with a local media outlet on a Saturday afternoon? Or if someone posts a concern about a personnel matter? Will the social channels be unresponsive until Monday?  In these scenarios, it is social media silence that may escalate a comment into a crisis situation.

Monitoring social channels after-hours or during summer break, and responding to posts and comments in a timely, thoughtful fashion will help to temper concerns before they “go viral.”

In the next post we’ll discuss how to establish a plan to address potential crises and learn how to identify the social media wildfires that can ignite, to prepare your district for the unexpected.   

If your district has a social media response strategy already in place, feel free to share lessons learned in creating the plan on our LinkedIn page.

Charlene Blohm, manages C. Blohm & Associates an award-winning, full-service education PR agency based in Madison, Wisconsin and is a longtime supporter of CoSN.