Crisis Planning for Social Media at Penn State University
Social media has become a key component in any communications or marketing plan, and crisis events are no exception. Emergencies are social media events.
In an emergency situation, a rapid response will be vital to keeping the University community abreast of what has occurred, what actions are advised, what resources are available, and where accurate and timely ongoing information can be found. It is imperative that Penn State communicators gain a stronger understanding of the role they and their communications platforms may play in a crisis. They must be an additional source of continuous, accurate, accessible, consistent, coordinated and timely information that will help our community make good decisions.
Our ability to respond quickly to the needs of our community may be critical to safety. During a crisis, coordinated and timely communications is critical to effectively help the community and the University respond and recover.
The Best Practices Working Group will meet on a regular basis as needed to complete a proposal focusing on the expected use of social media across the University (includes all campuses) during a crisis or emergency.
- A report of its findings with recommendations
- A guide for communicators, with clear protocol, that will include:
- A flow chart for information indicating the appropriate dissemination path (information flowing both ways)
- A Social Media Directory of all social media account administrators, their contact information (office phone number, cellphone number, and email address) and name of their director
- Recommended resources to have on-hand, including in the event of a power outage
- Set up a user manage group (UMG) for social media crisis communicators. Members are up to the discretion of the Social Media Office.
- A wallet-sized card containing the flow chart, list of contact information and a condensed list of report procedures
- The audiences for this report are internal (Penn State colleges/units, campuses, faculty/staff/students, Penn State Emergency Management) and external (the general public, media, and federal, state and local agencies).
- Upon completion, the Social Media Council in conjunction with the Social Media Office will need to determine what parts of the final report/plan should be posted online
The overarching goals of our crisis communications via social media are to:
- Disseminate information as quickly as possible to aid in protecting the safety and well being of people who could be affected by the crisis.
- Communicate a specific, singular official message coming from the University’s Crisis Communications team, specifically News and Media Relations and Emergency Management.
- Listen via social media for information that could help inform the crisis response.
Personal Safety Note: In any crisis situation, individuals are reminded to look out for their own personal safety before and while acting as a representative of the University.
If you see something, say something. During daily online interactions, if you spot a communication on social media or elsewhere that might indicate a potential crisis situation, you should:
- Evaluate the situation and determine whether or not 911 should be called.
- Report the situation simultaneously to Penn State police (if merited) at 814-863-1111 and the Social Media Office at firstname.lastname@example.org and/or 814-865-7517. As indicated on the Media Monitoring Flow Chart (Appendix 1), the Social Media Office will be in contact with Penn State Emergency Management, the Office of Strategic Communications and the University administrators to evaluate the reported situation and determine a response. As much as possible, include:
- A screenshot of the communication
- The username of the person reporting the issue.
- Any of the following if available:
- WHAT happened and where?
- WHEN did this happen?
- WHO is involved?
- HOW did it happen?
- WHAT is currently being done?
- WHY has this happened?
- Any injuries or deaths (if immediately known)
- What do I do if the Social Media Office does not respond in a timely manner? If you feel a situation is urgent and you have already contacted Penn State police, call the News and Media Relations office at 814-865-7517.
- Begin monitoring the potential crisis situation by performing keyword searches in your Twitter client that pertain to the situation (e.g., “Penn State,” “fire,” “emergency,” “Chemistry Building,” etc.). If urgent “red flags” or updates to the situation appear, send the communications to email@example.com.
The primary job of a Penn State communicator in a crisis situation is to disseminate the messages coming from Penn State Emergency Management and the Office of Strategic Communications. These messages will be distributed on Twitter through campus-specific PSUAlert Twitter accounts. For a list of the campus-specific PSUAlert Twitter accounts, visit http://news.psu.edu/PSUAlert-social. Additionally, messages will be disseminated through @PSU_Emergency and @penn_state for University Park campus or University-wide emergencies.
Dissemination of these messages includes retweeting messages from these accounts and encouraging your followers to get additional and up-to-date information from these accounts. Additionally:
- Communicators managing the @PSU_Emergency and @penn_state accounts are charged to respond with either an update or reiteration of the available information every 15 minutes within the first hour of the crisis situation and then every 30 minutes or the appropriate response time thereafter. Leaving a void in information may fuel rumors. Repeating an official message when no new information is available is a best practice.
- Hashtag usage will be determined on a case-by-case basis. If a hashtag is used for an emergency situation, the Social Media Office will determine whether to create its own hashtag or to use a hashtag already created.
- In the event of a campus-specific emergency, Commonwealth Campus communicators would follow a similar flow of reporting and dissemination, but would report and disseminate information from their campus-specific emergency, communication and administrative personnel.
All Penn State communicators using social media should use Hootsuite or software with similar functionality, to monitor relevant accounts and hashtags. It is also recommended that they have this software installed on a mobile phone and on a home computer.
The following is a list of suggested accounts to follow or list.
- @PSU_Emergency — run by Penn State Emergency Management
- Campus PSUAlert accounts: http://news.psu.edu/PSUAlert-social
- Campus Twitter accounts: https://socialmedia.psu.edu/twitter.html
- @Penn_State — run by the Office of Strategic Communications Social Media Office
- @pennstatenews — run by the Office of Strategic Communications News and Media Relations
- Local media accounts. At University Park, that would include @PennLive, @centredaily, @OnwardState, @DailyCollegian, @WPSU, @WJACTV and @WTAJnews
Campus communicators are also encouraged to create their own Twitter list (https://media.twitter.com/best-practice/create-and-use-twitter-lists) of personnel, emergency communicators, media and vocal student organizations to monitor in the event of an emergency.
In an emergency, it’s also important to monitor Facebook for followers trying to communicate with you, whether as a threat or as a call for help.
— Monitor your unit’s own email accounts for questions or responses from the Social Media Office, and report questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-865-7517.
- Interacting/responding on social media
Even if your unit is not directly involved with the crisis situation, it is possible that your social media account(s) will receive questions or comments from followers that will require attention.
To respond, communicators should:
- If warranted, call 911, if anyone is needing immediate assistance or displaying immediate threatening behavior.
- Record the request along with contact information (i.e. Twitter handle or Facebook account name) and a screenshot of the request.
- If the Social Media Office, Strategic Communications and Emergency Management are already aware of the crisis situation being reported to you, a timely response, such as “We’ll look into this. In the mean time, follow @penn_state for the latest information” should be communicated to the questioner so that he or she knows you’ve received the communication.
- Questions and requests for information should be forwarded to the Office of Strategic Communications, based on the Media Monitoring Flow Chart (Appendix 1), by emailing email@example.com or calling 814-865-7517.
- Any information being pushed out by Emergency Management or Strategic Communications may be considered official public information and should be used verbatim (retweeted or in a response).
What NOT to do:
- Don’t say or share information that hasn’t come from an official Penn State source (i.e. the Social Media Office, Emergency Management or Strategic Communications).
- Don’t retweet information from unofficial or unverified sources (i.e. anyone other than the three emergency accounts specified in this report).
* Note: It’s understandable that University communicators want to provide timely responses to their unit’s followers, however the best practice of referring followers to the official response from Emergency Management and the Office of Strategic Communication is in place to ensure that only correct information is disseminated through University-affiliated accounts, which in turn creates a more unified and quick response overall.
- Flow of information into the Office of Strategic Communications (“Reporting”)
- Flow of information out from Office of Strategic Communications, other outlets (“Dissemination”)
- Protocols (contained in the body of this document)
- Social Media Office: firstname.lastname@example.org, 814-865-7517
- Penn State Social Media Hub (website links): socialmedia.psu.edu
- In an emergency situation, follow @PSU_Emergency, @penn_state, and your campus-specific PSUAlert Twitter account.
- YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/PennState)
- Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pennstatelive)
- GooglePlus (https://plus.google.com/+pennstate/posts)
- For press releases of critical information: @pennstatenews
- Instagram (www.instagram.com/pennstate)
PSUAlert Frequently Asked Questions: http://news.psu.edu/story/310145/2014/04/02/health-and-safety/psualert-frequently-asked-questions
Information about how to communicate in a crisis: