The Power of Social Media in Crisis Communication for Schools

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Social media is integral to our lives, including how we communicate during crises and emergencies. For independent schools, effective crisis communication ensures the safety of students and the school’s community and preserves the school’s reputation. 

Making strategic, responsible use of your school’s social media platforms for crisis communication is vital to your overall crisis communication plan. We’ve outlined eight effective ways to do this. 

Tip: Be sure to include them in your school’s written crisis communication plan and assign someone to be in charge of social media during a crisis. And after any crisis, include your use of social media during the crisis in your team’s debrief.

8 Effective Reasons for Social Media Use During Crisis Communications

1. Instant Communication and Real-Time Updates

Social media’s most significant advantage in crisis communication is its ability to provide instant, real-time updates. You can share important information quickly when a crisis strikes, such as a security threat on your campus, a legal battle brewing, or any other emergency. This quickness keeps everyone – students, parents, and staff – in the loop and less worried.

ALWAYS double-check the facts before sharing them on social media. Clear any post with your assigned crisis communication team (or designated member of the team assigned to all messaging). Share only what you feel comfortable being shared widely. Misinformation can spread fast during crises, making things even more confusing. 

2. Community Engagement and Support

In challenging times, social media becomes a haven of support. Platforms become virtual spaces that link parents, students and alumni. By sharing timely updates and messages of solidarity, schools strengthen their community’s trust and demonstrate active crisis management. Your school becomes a digital lifeline even when your families are physically apart.

3. Humanizing the Crisis Response

In times of crisis, social media becomes a powerful tool for schools to show their human side. In addition to the “just-the-facts” updates, include posts that carry words from school leaders, teachers or counselors, showing empathy and care for those impacted. This human touch goes a long way in earning trust and credibility, letting stakeholders know they’re truly valued, even in tough times.

4. Two-Way Communication and Feedback

Social media’s interactive abilities let you connect with your audience in real-time, addressing questions and offering clear explanations. This dynamic exchange promotes transparency and guarantees the right information gets to the community.

Depending on the crisis, you may choose to invite followers directly to voice their thoughts and stories, giving administrators a window into the community’s unique needs. This insight can help to fine-tune crisis responses and show that the school truly listens and cares.

IMPORTANT: Having the same dedicated person responding to comments is critical. If one of your community members shares a comment, you must respond publically. Discuss responses with your crisis communication team and be prepared before you post with a range of approved, draft responses based on the crisis. An example might be ready-to-go language around a lock-down drill or scenario and how your school addressed this post-lockdown with your students. Yes, you will need to adjust the draft language to a specific event, but having approved, general language about it allows you to react to comments quickly.

5. Monitoring and Addressing Misinformation

When a crisis hits, social media can sometimes turn into a rumor mill. It’s crucial for schools to keep a watchful eye on their social platforms and quickly squash any false info. Again, having an assigned person focused on social media is critical. Make sure everyone on the crisis communication team understands this role.

Tackling these rumors head-on isn’t just about setting things straight – it’s about safeguarding the school’s reputation and ensuring the right facts get to the community loud and clear. Social media monitoring tools such as Sprout Social, Brand24, BrandWatch, and Mention are among the top sites that can help you track what people say about your school online. This way, you can quickly address any negative sentiment and learn where and when comments are most being shared all within one platform.

6. Social Media Crisis Management Plan

For effective social media crisis management, schools need a solid game plan. Post-COVID-19, every school has (and should have) a written crisis communications plan. Make sure that social media is clearly detailed in that plan and a specific person is addressed to handle it. This can be the same person who is the spokesperson (see number 2) but typically is not.

When your crisis communications team does a table-top exercise simulating a crisis, include the social media response. 

Here’s what it should include:

  • Ready-to-Go Messages: Draft crisis messages in advance, ready to tweak and share quickly when needed. These messages need to convey information accurately and with care.
  • Trusted Spokespeople: Handpick specific folks as official voices during a crisis. This avoids mixed messages. Make sure these spokespeople are savvy in handling crises and the media. Provide speaking points that mirror what is being shared on social media.
  • Keep an Eye on Tools: Get a handle on things with social media monitoring tools. They help track what’s being said, how folks feel, and the trends cropping up during the crisis. That real-time info? Pure gold.
  • Team Up for Impact: Set up a crack social media team with members from different school corners such as your school head, counselors, faculty, board members, parents, and students who are more than likely the most impacted by your crisis. Students can get the word out on social, as they say, “faster than a speeding bullet.” That way, everyone’s on the same page, working together for a strong response. Note: This approach may not work with every crisis.

7. Choosing the Right Platforms

Every social media platform has its role, and schools must pick wisely during a crisis. For swift updates, X (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook work great. When it’s about visual tales and uplifting stories of strength that rely on damage control, Instagram, YouTube, and now Threads take the stage for fast-breaking news. Plan how you will use these platforms in advance.

8. Addressing Emotional Well-being

In times of crisis, schools need to do more than just share information, they need to address their community’s emotional well-being. Use your posts to offer resources for mental health support,  virtual counseling options, and links to local help.

Clearly, social media’s a game-changer for independent school crisis communication.  It’s fast, brings everyone together and lets your community talk back. Using it right keeps everyone in the loop, builds trust and shows strength in tough times. 

Be careful, though. Make sure the information you share on social media is correct and clears up any rumors fast. Armed with a good crisis plan and a focus on feelings, schools can better tackle crises head-on and underscore your community’s trust in your school. 

For more insights on how your school can use social media to mitigate a crisis, check out these resources:

Check out our blog post on lessons learned from the pandemic for crisis communications.

These reads are like goldmines for navigating social media’s potential to keep your school in check.

Has your school ever faced a crisis where effective communication was vital in mitigating the impact on the situation and your school’s reputation? Drop a comment to share the tools and strategies that worked for you. Your insights could benefit other schools in similar situations!

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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