I spend my days giving advice on how to communicate during crises and tragedies. I’ve lived through my share of situations. I’ve shed my share of tears and hugged others as they’ve shed their own.
It is through those experiences that I’ve developed my crisis credentials, but sometimes events in my own life remind of the need for information our campuses have when we, as communicators, are stretched thinnest. Unfortunately, I’m living through another one of those moments now and thought I would share some insight from the past week in Colorado.
- You can’t communicate too often with your audiences. I’ve been reminded of what it is like to have endless local news coverage pre-empt national programming and how newscasters are desperately trying to tell the story from new angles. Help them. Providing information, even if it’s a recapitulation of the same information as before, makes a community feel relief when the situation isn’t escalating, hope when the updates are positive, and/or provides comfort for those who grieve. Those in the studio/newsroom and those watching from home/reading on the Internet will be appreciative.
- Remember to use phrases short enough to be included in the scroll at the bottom of a television screen, text message or reverse 911 call. Even if I’ve had my television on mute and phone on silent, I’ve still peeked at tweets, quickly glanced at the television, read text messages as they’ve come in and answered all reverse 911 calls. The messages intended for the medium used have resonated. Those strangely truncated from longer messages have made me feel uneasy, and unsure of what is expected of me or might be coming next.
- Don’t be afraid to go “old school.” This may sound obvious, but flooding kinda throws a wrench into technology-heavy planning. Don’t give up those plans, but be sure to use tried and true methods, too. After all, phones don’t work when wet, not charged or if phone lines are down (supplement emergency text messages, reverse 911 calls); email, Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms only work if you have electricity and wifi (make sure the media planning is as strong as social media); and don’t be afraid to charge members of the community with spreading the word with their personal and professional connections.
- Don’t forget a sense of humor! (CAVEAT- if appropriate and not in your official capacity as a campus communicator!!). My own Facebook status update below was my attempt to make light of a very stressful and long day. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of direct messages I received from people noting that they had needed a smile. If you can go there, do. If the timing isn’t right, save your humor for another day. If you aren’t sure, save your humor for another day.
- Demonstrate your connectivity with local officials. It has been reassuring to see press conferences with all stakeholders represented rather than each hosting separate events. Don’t be afraid to partner with others—you’ll get your moment to talk to your stakeholders and you can collectively coordinate one set of logistics rather than each having your own. Specific kudos to the University of Colorado’s spokesman, Bronson Hilliard, for being part of a team of communicators from across the region rather than a stand alone for the institution.
- Give people a way to help. My own community started to heal once we were given a task and a way to help others. It’s easy to get over problems and inconveniences when you are helping those in real crisis. Share opportunities to give money, time and support.
- Perhaps most importantly, lead in solidarity building. My heart is broken. My community is broken. But I’ve been able to see compassion at its finest. As a nation we’ve seen people come together through words after the Boston Marathon massacre (#BostonStrong), images after September 11th (the iconic flag raising at Ground Zero), and fundraising after many national tragedies. Maybe Boulder and our greater community is coming together through our actions.