How to prepare for a social media mess

Plan ahead, don't ignore it

A single tweet or Facebook post can quickly snowball into a public relations nightmare, but there are steps to mitigate the damage inflicted, Beth McMurtrie reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  

In speaking with communications experts and college administrators who handled such incidents, McMurtrie rounds up ways to handle social media outrage.

Plan ahead

"When the bad stuff starts is not when you can begin thinking about your social-media presence and your action in those channels," says Ray Betzner, AVP for executive communications at Temple University.

College officials should monitor social media regularly, enabling them to spot a serious issue when it happens, says Nick Alexopulos, associate director of media relations and social media at Loyola University Maryland. Alexopulos uses software that tracks keywords, hashtags, geotags, and institution-related social media accounts.

Not every negative comment warrants a response, but when they start to multiply, it may be time to act.

A cautionary tale for professors on social media? Academic's tweets cause firestorm

Officials should also have a triage plan in place that details who is responsible for what among communications staff and senior administrators, experts say. Establishing relationships between the two groups also prevents "layers of hierarchy" slowing a response down, says Teresa Valerio Parrot, head of TVP Communications.

And leveraging alumni, professors, trustees, and students in such a public relations crisis also helps, experts say. These groups can help spread the university's response.

Do not ignore it

"Oftentimes among presidents, their first attitude is, let's just ignore this, maybe it'll go away," says Mark Weaver, head of consulting firm Communications Counsel. But it doesn't always fade.

When the University of Kansas suddenly started receiving thousands of messages about a tweet a journalism professor had sent, the communications team enacted their plan immediately.

Social media and student codes of conduct

Departments were asked to forward relevant messages to the communications team, so that each person received a response. They also refrained from deleting negative comments on the school's Facebook page—which can further incite the public.

Communications experts brainstormed possible responses, which senior administrators then discussed and put in place. Within hours, the social media fire was mostly put out (McMurtrie, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/8).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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