Using Social Media Sentiment During a Campus Crisis (Not Emergency)

Natoinal_PR_LogoAs social media managers, there are bound to be times that the not-so-nice stuff rises to the top. I’m not just talking about the random rants about the financial aid office or the new menu in the cafeteria. I’m talking bad. Like REALLY bad. Not emergency communication, which I feel warrants its own kind of strategy due to laws, ongoing investigations and privacy restrictions. In talking about a campus crisis I’m speaking generally about two things: a PR crisis and an incident involving a student death or high-profile student incident. In both cases, were discussing what happens post-event.

Having been through two of these in the past year and a half at two different institutions in very different settings I know first hand that they can take several turns and forms. You may see things in social media that you want to respond to as the brand but know that your hands are tied for any number of reasons. It is very important that you, your supervisor, PR team and emergency response team are all on the same page for how these will be handled – as well as how and when any updated information about the crisis may be publicized. Below are the ways in which a skill set for social media research and sentiment were utilized in both campus crises:

1. You should be a member of the emergency response team.

Period. It may feel weird at first to be at the table hearing things you’re normally not privy to, but you can add so much to the conversation by providing decision makers with real-time social media comments from alumni, students, families and local community members. This can be invaluable when working with an on campus (or even global once the internet gets ahold of it) crisis.

2. Use Tweetdeck and Topsy for mentions and sentiment.

Obviously Tweetdeck is a social strategists go to tool, but I also used Topsy for mentions and analysis. I tried using other tools such as Social Mention as well, but for real-time data, Topsy has proven reliable for me. You are also watching all of your social media accounts – both managed by you and by others on campus – for comments.

3. Set up times to report on any changes in sentiment. 

Make it clear to your team when you will be providing feedback and how often. Obviously if something very big comes up you need to be in touch with the powers that be immediately. Screen shot as many of the comments as possible to go with your report. This way, others who may know these individuals could reach out independently, or take note of who asked what.

4. Know how and what you are allowed to respond to.

Most of the time in these PR types of situations, a response via social media is not suggested until an official response has been released from the institution on their website. Also, it is generally best to wait until the student and alumni body, trustees, families and staff have been informed via email before pushing out through social media. In this case, responding to people on social media may not be your best communication effort.

5. Be on high alert for at least a few days if not weeks. 

Things can and will calm down, but there will also be the continued rumblings. Even though we may play off these naysayers as angered social  media players, they also can provide opportunities for us to uncover issues we did not know existed. This could lead to creating better communication systems or re-engaging people who may have written us off for reasons we did not understand. Opening up these conversations not only diffuses them (in most cases) but also gives us opportunities to be better.

Have you dealt first hand with a campus PR crisis? If so, how did you handle it/what would you add?


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