I work at a University counseling center. I love my job: working with students, being a part of the community I spent six years in (earning my four-year degree). I love everything you can imagine about the job: empowering, giving psychoeducation, helping young adults pave their paths in life for their journey ahead. I love the work that I do and that my expertise is appreciated on all fronts. This is posted with the intention of helping other social workers and helping professionals appropriately use social media to respond to a crisis.
What follows is what worked for my situation.
A student recently passed away unexpectedly at my University and countless students were devastated over the sudden loss. Counseling Center staff were also distraught. My social work colleagues and I came together as as a team and responded as exceptional professionals to the crisis.
We mobilized, existing University protocol was put into action, and as with any crisis we adjusted, improvised, and performed our duties as needed – I was in awe of my colleagues, fluidly moving about like an ensemble of jazz impresarios. As with any crisis response, I waited for those above me to dictate was was needed.
The school sent out an email commenting on the tragedy, letting the campus community know that the Counseling Center was available for students. I was hesitant to jump on social media, but my colleagues and I decided to make a plain-Jane announcement. I made the following image by taking a picture outside with an iPad mini, changing the photo to black and white (i.e. somber) using the filters in the Photo app in iOS, and then composing all the elements you see below using Touchdraw for iPad.
The announcement made no mention of tragedy, death, or gave room for speculation. My intention in making this was for those that saw it to “get it” if they were subscribed to our social media and knew what was going on. Whether or not students saw it, I simply hoped that this would get onto the radar of people that needed to see it.
Later in the day, the only update I sent out via our media channels was to let students know that campus chaplaincy would be on campus to support them.
I have my social media set up for my workplace so that Instagram is my main posting place; I post once on Instagram, which will also carry over to Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. Any tags I use in my original post carry over to those other venues. The main image used for this post illustrates my networking and strategy.
As I posted the above image, my main concern was students, parents, community members, etc. commenting on the post. While comments are welcomed, I was afraid of speculation, rumor, or something not okay being posted on our walls.
Thankfully, this didn’t happen.
It was announced that counselors would be available for students through the course of the week at one of the residence halls. Again, without providing commentary on the matter, I created a social media campaign that I would manually push out every day for students to hopefully see. I used #University hashtags and simply hoped that students would find their way onto our social media.
[If you are reading this via an RSS reader, click this link to this post to see a mobile-friendly slideshow of the outreach]
I believe that the campaign was effective. Whether students actually used our services our not, my hope was to present a professional (and warm) visage with the visual elements I used to let students know that we were there for them.
The Counseling Center got several likes on Instagram. Feedback from my professional colleagues was positive about the campaign.
Advice For Professionals
Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I might make the following suggestions:
- Determine your focus: In the previous example, our focus was to inform the campus community (i.e. students) that counselors were available to them. We did not provide counseling via our social media venues as we did not want to invite commentary. The message was simply: We are here for you.
- Specify details about services provided: For the previous example, we were specific about where we would be providing services, for whom, and schedule of services.
- Know your role: In the aforementioned incident, we could not speculate on the crisis.
- Work as a team: Run your ideas by colleagues and your supervisors. Make decisions as a team before putting things out for public display. Clear channels of communication are vital.
- Slow down: It’s really easy to be flustered and react with the best of intentions in a crisis; slowing down ensures informed decision-making and being able to gain consultation, etc., rather than impulsivity (which can lead to more mistakes).
I wrote this as a guide for folks running social media in a similar social work capacity as me. I hope that it has been useful for reference and I hope that you never have to use it.
I like the way you used Instagram here, Ignacio. I haven’t really been using that professionally and this gave me a very clear sense of how one might do that.
As a first year BA (Honors) Social Work student, this is a topic which is important to me. I have found this blog very beneficial, as this is the first time which I have really had to consider my use of social media and you explain it very well. As a young adult I have been brought up with the use of social media being the norm. However, this blog makes it easy for me to understand the importance of keeping things private and only posting appropriate announcements. I also agree with you about the concerns part of your blog as this is exactly what I am worried about, since starting my course. I found the advice has also helped me understand how vital it is to determine my focus, so that I don’t put out too much information which isn’t necessary.
As a social work student myself, I understand the dangers involved in social networking and feel you emphasised your own concerns regarding this matter effectively. In spite of expressing these concerns in terms of comments and posts, I feel you also highlighted the positive aspects of social media and focused on the ways in which it can be extremely beneficial for young students. I found your advice for professionals very useful and will take this on board and use it within my education and career. I now realise it is important to specify and prioritise the information I reveal on social media websites and will take time to consider my decisions regarding this in the future.