Managing Crisis Communication

ISSUES MANAGEMENT ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS
RNL_Conference_2017

Project Overview

In my nearly eight years of working on a college campus, I have learned that you never knew when a crisis will emerge, but the true impact on the organization’s brand will only be realized over time based upon the actions you take. From gun shots on campus and weather emergencies that disrupted operations, to security breaches and cyber bulling that broke institutional trust, to inflammatory comments about students and hate crime investigations that made international headlines, I’ve lead and served on countless teams that have handled the responses to these crisis scenarios and worked to achieve the best possible outcome. While the immediate concerns in most instances are about safety and security, the long-term goal was always reputation management for the brand.

Hate Crime Investigation

A late-night Instagram post of “noose-like objects” discovered on campus ensued panic across social media and started an overnight police investigation into a potential hate crime. The situation was first discovered by a staff member who managed social media for the institution, and within 15 minutes of the initial post, the University’s president, police force, senior leadership and communications team were actively managing the crisis response. 

Within the first hour, there were 500+ mentions on social media and inquires by nearly all regional media outlets. The University issued statement to press, on social media and to campus community. The social media posts continued with 1,500+ user tweets/posts in the next hour, which triggered a campus alert to be sent. In the next two hours around 3 a.m., the incident had gone viral with 5,000+ mentions; students, alumni, parents, community members and even employees did not feel safe. Police had concluded this was not a hate crime and the objects were not nooses. The president and the core crisis management team decided there needed to be delivered as a personal message, rather than as a police matter; this was not a time to just rely on words – let’s leverage video and social media, as that is the medium of the crisis and our main audience. 

The video was distributed across social media, websites, in-house news service and to the press. Overnight, the president spoke to student leaders and wanted to bring the campus community together as a sign of support; with the students, we organized event for that afternoon where hundreds of students and faculty gathered. Messages at the event and on social media had shifted from hate and fear overnight to healing and overcoming with love and support.

While there were more than 600+ media articles about the incident, the institution’s swift response and police investigation contained the negativity to a single news cycle. In the days and months that followed, the University’s president carried the message of support and compassion – working with student groups and creating an inclusive campus community. The institution also launched a series of communication and marketing tactics to curate student stories online, spotlight student events and showcase actions the administration was taking to turn words to actions.

Campus Safety, Issues and Reputation Management 

Hurricane Irene

A hurricane was set to hit the east coast for fall move in. The institution held move in but postponed events. Digital team coordinated social care with emergency personnel. Media team pitched weather experts.

Professor’s Comments

A post on an adjunct professor’s Facebook account with inflammatory comments about Otto Warmbier sparked a multi-day news story, resulting in the institution cutting ties with the professor.

Cyber Security Breach

Personal identifiable information for more than 74,000 current and former employees was compromised in a cyberattack. The institution developed a multi-month crisis management plan.

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