A recent study found that the majority of higher education institutions have had one or more potential reputation-damaging events discussed in traditional and social media channels in the last 12 months. In addition, while 85 percent of reporting schools have crisis communications policies, only 59 percent of those policies address the use of social media in a crisis. The study was conducted by CKSyme.org in partnership with CASE in the fall of 2011. Highlights of the survey findings are below, and a full set of survey results can be seen on the CKSyme.org website.
The State of Crisis in Higher Education
- In the last 12 months, 49 percent of responding institutions have had to enact their crisis communications plans at least once as the result of a crisis. In that group, seven percent had to enact their plan four to six times.
- In the last 12 months, 66 percent of institutions reported that potential reputation-damaging events about their institutions were discussed in social media channels. Of that group, seven percent reported four to six events, and three percent reported seven or more events discussed in social media channels. Five percent did not know if there were any conversations about them on social media channels.
The State of Social Media in Higher Education
- All reporting schools had an official presence on Facebook. Official institution channels are those main accounts that represent the whole university in an official capacity. Other official channels used were: Twitter (94%), YouTube or Vimeo (92%), LinkedIn (55%), official blog (31%), location-based check-ins (18%), and MySpace (3%).
- Respondents reported having several other "non-official" social media channels operating under the institution's umbrella. Heading up the list was Alumni Relations with 84 percent. Only 26 percent of institutions reported requiring registration or training for users who represent the institution on social media channels.
The State of Crisis Communications in Higher Education
- Eighty-five percent of the respondents have a crisis communications policy.
- Only 59 percent of the institutions with policies address the use of social media in that policy. Only 17 percent of the reporting institutions have a plan for "unofficial" social media channels that represent the university. Both of these statistics are troubling. Given that social media is the real-time channel of choice for public and news agencies for breaking news, schools would be wise to include social media in their crisis plans, and to include a plan for all channels that represent the university.
- Respondents with crisis communications plans were asked about what elements were included in their plan. Ninety-nine percent have an emergency email notification system. Other elements included were: media relations crisis plans (90%), text message alert systems (89%), dark or emergency websites (59%), social media monitoring plan (56%), message templates or talking points (50%), and campus electronic signage (38%). The statistic that stands out here is the lack of a social media monitoring plan that can keep institutions aware of breaking news, online and traditional media mentions of their brand, and help manage misinformation.
Best Practice Takeaways
1. Implement a social media monitoring system--now. 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 and sentiment around an issue. There are many good social media management systems (SMMS) that include monitoring as a component. An adequate monitoring system can be pieced together with little or no cost using several applications. See the CKSyme.org blog on the survey for more information.
2. Develop a social media policy. There is a misunderstanding among many that a social media policy is a prohibitive document. The best social media policies operate as guide rails that empower people to use social media channels responsibly in a way that builds the organization's brand. CASE has a collection of sample social media policies available to members at www.case.org.
3. Implement a social media management system. A social media management system (SMMS) should have multiple functions that can facilitate monitoring, publishing, lead and conversion tracking, measurement, and customer relationship management, depending on what your institution's social media strategy is (see Jason Falls' report on management systems).
4. Establish registration or affiliation of campus social media accounts. Universities would be well-advised to develop guidelines for anyone representing the institution in the social media space. Also, establishing a database of administrators and passwords held by a community manager allows the university to remove old accounts or delete or post to any university-related account in an emergency. Best practices for affiliated social media accounts are emerging from institutions like University of New Hampshire, Tufts, and others who are establishing a center of online connection opportunities affiliated with the institution.
5. Establish a community manager for campus social media. Even though this last takeaway may seem redundant, many reporting institutions did not have one single supervisory department for all campus social media. This does not imply that one department should handle all campus social media, but that there should be a centralized resource that acts as a hub to the campus "spokes" so there is continuity in branding and messaging, especially in the event of a crisis