Is Your School Ready To Use Social Media In A Crisis?

crisis-communications-in-schoolsA study released this week found that only 20 percent of independent K-12 schools require training for those who use social media on behalf of the school. Of the responding schools, only 31 percent have social media policies. Even though 89 percent of schools have a crisis communications plan, only 47 percent of those plans include guidelines on using social media in a crisis. The study was conducted by communications consultancy in partnership with CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) in the fall of 2011. Full results can be found here.

Best Practice Takeaways

The full survey done in the fall of 2011 was sent to senior communications directors at CASE member institutions including higher education and independent K-12 schools worldwide. Overall, more than 70 percent of all institutions reporting to the survey saw potential reputation-damaging events discussed in social media in the 12 months prior to the survey.  Almost half reported having to enact their crisis communications plan in the last 12 months for at least one or more incidents. The data suggest that many education institutions are inadequately prepared to deploy multiple communications channels, including social media, as needed in a crisis. Institutions might consider implementing the following best practices:

  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. 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. This list of tools from Tripwire Magazine includes some low cost tools and some that are free. Jeremiah Owyang of Web Strategy has put together a more extensive and research-based review of enterprise level tools here. The important concept is to build a monitoring system that tracks mentions of your brand in online media. The system can be as simple or as elaborate as you have time, resources, and people for. But experts agree a monitoring system is primary, and the sooner the better.
  1. 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 guiderails that empower people to use social media channels responsibly in a way that highlights the organization’s brand. In Owyang’s research on social media readiness, every top-rated company in the report had a social media policy. Those companies with social media policies were also the most successful in crisis and reputation events. The policy should include a training or on-going education element. CASE has a collection of sample social media policies available to members at
  1. 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). The system may or may not include monitoring, but at its most basic level, it should allow for multiple accounts and administrators to post and manage to your social media channels.
  1. Establish registration or affiliation of campus social media accounts. Universities would be well-advised to develop a training program or best practice 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. The majority of reporting institutions do not have guidelines for “unofficial” social media channels representing the university. The majority also did not have a plan for how those accounts should be used in the event of a crisis. 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.
  1. 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.

Full results are available on the website.

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  1. melissa_agnes says

    Great post. Nice and thorough. It’s unfortunate how many schools have not seen the potential behind their social media accounts in a crisis, nor have they realized the importance of having a social media crisis plan until it may be too late. We’ve seen it all too many times in high risk, severe crises.
    Your post is a nice ease into the necessary strategic steps each school should be adapting, both on a student body level, as well as with faculty.
    Melissa from

  2. cksyme says

    Thanks, Melissa. It’s my hope that educators and communicators can see the link between good planning and better mitigation. There’s a reason the Boy Scouts’ motto is “be prepared.” We need to spread the word.

    • melissa_agnes says

       @cksyme Couldn’t agree with your more! (Love the reference to the boy scouts by the way! 😉 )