Higher education institutions need to have a pragmatic and structured response plan to crises, which can impact an organization at any moment. A natural disaster or small storm can shut off power to critical servers, a cybercriminal can hack into sensitive systems, or a staff member can accidentally expose confidential information—the list goes on. Today, the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic is shedding light on institutions’ communications plans.
For institutions that are struggling with how to communicate, we have compiled a short list of best practices to ensure communications strategies can help ease the concerns of constituents.
In their first communication with constituents, institutions need to demonstrate that they are aware of the situation and empathetic of its impact. This outreach should show that the institution is knowledgeable of what happened to cause the scenario and that it understands the most effective path forward. Best practices and tips to remain engaged can he highlighted in the initial and subsequent communications.
With a scenario like the COVID-19 pandemic, information and news spread like wildfire. Because of this, misinformation is bound to propagate. In addition to reaching out to constituents, institutions should establish a single source of truth that people can turn to if they have a question. This can be a landing page, blog, or another asset that can be updated regularly to keep constituents informed.
As mentioned before, input from third parties or misinformation proliferate during crises, especially if the impact of a crisis extends beyond the conventional borders of a single organization. Institutions should do their best to remain concise, accurate, and relevant in response to what their constituents need.
In times of crisis, one of the most important things an institution can do is to be available. It is almost inevitable that help desks, support tickets, and other requests to the IT department and other support teams will increase in a crisis. Institutions should continue to demonstrate availability and potentially outsource operations or augment certain teams with managed services to keep pace with demand for help.
Institutions should also demonstrate their willingness to train users on new solutions that may be required during a crisis. Training sessions, either run by the institution or a partner, should be available to ensure everyone can stay connected and use the tools they require to succeed.
Every institution is bound to have its own strategy during unique crises. In the COVID-19 crisis today, institutions should do their best to remain a leader for their constituents. While another organization’s strategy may be appealing and look like the right approach, those tactics may not apply to an institution with fewer resources or different agendas. Presidents and other institutional decision-makers should keep the needs of their audience in mind and address those challenges first.
In many cases, institutions will be relying on support from partners and other organizations to keep operations running. This is no surprise and decision-makers should openly share tools, knowledge centers, and other resources from those organizations to keep constituents informed and give them access to critical solutions. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions can point to assets from the CDC and other health organizations related to higher education, as well as information on eLearning tools and collaboration platforms.
Constituents may turn to social and more consumer-focused channels during a crisis, which invites opportunities for institutions to share resources and connect with individuals on less formal platforms. This can help keep engagement rates up and create more personalized interactions that can humanize the situation at hand.
Institutions should keep up to date with the crisis as the situation evolves and changes, regardless if that crisis is internal or larger. Decision-makers should stay informed and relay any relevant information to their constituents. While many people may have alternative means to receive news, especially if the crisis extends beyond the institution, it is important to deliver these messages to show awareness of any changes and how those may impact constituents.
Crises can have a lasting impact on an organization or society. It’s important that any messages delivered to constituents during or about a crisis are empathetic and convey a sense of understanding.
As the higher education landscape shifts under the weight of the COVID-19 crisis, institutions must have a proactive communications strategy that can evolve as the situation changes. Although each organization will have its own tactics and approach, we hope that the information above can help organizations get started and remain focused.
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