Social Media Collaboration to Improve Emergency Communications

Words you never want to hear as a social media and emergency communications manager on a college campus: Shooting on campus. Hard words to type, to be honest. But, in reality, these are words every campus in the country has to be prepared for.

It’s a matter of when, not if, unfortunately.

Breaking Down the Silos

Often universities and colleges are siloed environments. There are lines in the sand, areas that “aren’t my responsibility” and political land mines that many of us are dodging on a regular basis. Many social media managers aren’t directly involved in emergency communications, but they should be. It’s time for this to change, and there’s no reason for them to sit and wait to be asked to join the team.

Social media is often one of the fastest ways we have to communicate with our campus communities. Our students are connected to it all the time, and people are trained to go to brands’ social media channels to look for updates, especially during a breaking situation. If our communities are already trained to look to these sites, we need to be respecting the power they hold, and harnessing that power for communications good.

Social media managers are trained to edit messages quickly, they’re used to releasing information to large audiences regularly, and they are the individuals reading community feedback. Why would universities not want to involve these people in their emergency communications?

I know, I’m preaching to the choir. (Thanks for those heavenly tones in the background, guys.) You all know what great skills you bring to the table. But, it’s also time for us to get over those silos and fences and lines in the sand. So, what are the next steps to start this process? Keep reading…

Entering New Territory

It’s time for social media managers to cross the lines, armed with smart phones.

Google for the win! Start off finding where your campus keeps their emergency management resources online. Read the university’s plan, understand what your department’s already existing role is within emergency communications. By starting there you can learn more about how to start getting involved and contributing.

The next step is to schedule a few meetings with the individuals involved in emergency communications outside of your department. I’d recommend starting with the head of emergency management or public safety (depending on what you call it at your institution). Ask if you can find out more about the institution’s emergency management plan, processes and who’s responsible for what actions. Explain that you want to be involved and be ready to support their efforts. There’s not an emergency manager who doesn’t want better communication.

Meet with the chief of police and the police department’s public information officer at your campus, or city, depending on your school’s size. Meet with the people responsible for the emergency mass notification system, this one lives in a lot of different places, so you might have to search a bit. Know the people involved, know what their responsibilities are, and know what their goals are.

Next step is to offer to assist. Explain what your role at the campus is, and the communication skills you can lend them. Often, law enforcement and emergency managers see social media as just another place that trouble pops up. Show them what can be done to assist their efforts. You can bring examples with you, or make sure to send them examples as a follow up to the meeting.

Don’t Stop Believing

Just like any other relationship in your life, this one will take time. I speak from experience. It takes a long time for trust to build and for everyone to rely on others. But, when that happens, you end up with a well-oiled machine of information sharing, effective communications and teamwork. (Insert rainbows and unicorns here.)

Getting Down to Brass Tacks

Ok, so it’s not always rainbows and unicorns.

At the end of the day we’re talking about students and campus safety. These are people’s lives that are at the core of this discussion. You might be facing an uphill battle breaking into the emergency management group on your campus. But when that if becomes a when, and you find your campus in the middle of an on-campus emergency, you’ll never regret taking that step to improve communications.

Allison A. Matherly is the Coordinator of Digital Engagement at Texas Tech University, where she serves as the voice of the university on social media and manages emergency communications.