in a blackout, can social media light the way?

Losing power to campus in the middle of the day on Thursday provided a serious challenge on several fronts. But it also taught me an illuminating lesson on proactive social media use.

I was sitting in a meeting around noon when the lights went out. The head of facilities was also in the meeting and relayed that power was out for most of campus. This happened earlier this semester in the evening and I didn’t even learn about it until later after quite a few complaints on social media. I didn’t want that to happen again.

So, even without much information, my first instinct was to acknowledge the issue via Facebook and Twitter:

Since I did so via iPhone, the update to our Facebook page posted as — surprise, surprise — me! I got over any concern about that quickly, realizing it was more important to have the information out there, even if it draws things back to show the man behind the curtain. Note also that the Twitter message got retweeted, which makes for nearly instantaneous dissemination via personal networks.

I returned to my office where with a laptop and working ethernet (that in itself a minor miracle), we put any and all updates onto Facebook and Twitter and fielded any questions we could. Some people wondered about questions out of our control, but our main promise to provide updates — which we did — may have sufficed for many folks.

In this instance, social media preceded information via official channels, because an official mass communication may involve many more players and factors. Fortunately, the outage itself was resolved fairly quickly, plus it was really nice outside, so the majority of hardships were minimized. In all, it brought home the vital role of social media communication and the importance of us receiving timely and updated information. Not a lesson I was in any hurry to learn, but it’s good to know.

2 Comments

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2 responses to “in a blackout, can social media light the way?

  1. Nice one, Tim. Have another emergency communications planning session scheduled after commencement and these insights will definitely come in handy.

    One quibble: you mention that “social media preceded information via official channels.” I would argue that your FB and Twitter accounts *are* official channels. I ran into this reaction a little bit during the recent sadness about a student murder on campus. Our president seemed bemused and a little annoyed that “some people found about this on Facebook before they got my email.” Well, yeah. It understandably took some time to write a response from the president to this incident, but in the meantime there are police cars all over campus, a building is closed down, and we have a FB page with over 10,000 followers that we can use to let people know the basics of what is happening. It’s not like Facebook is written in crayon or something.

  2. When power goes out in the middle of the day, not just any day but a day during priority registration. Life can get very stressful for social media folks, and for students. Using social media to push out updates is not just a good idea, its a great idea.

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