Holding Social Media Space During A Pandemic


Across higher education, as Marketing professionals, in good times, we speak toward being genuine, being real, and communicating with transparency. In troubling times, even the most agile organization can find genuine, real, and transparent communication stunted and tentative. We search for the right words and open transparency for our communities of staff, students, and faculty; writing Marketing and Communications missives in a world of editorial by committee.

Instability, fear, uncertainty become part of our dialect even as we strive to avoid triggering words, voicing concerns suddenly challenging.

Now more than ever, social media, marketing, and communications should be brought to the table as a front line resource.

Let me be clear, your marketing and communication team has always been front line, holding space, fielding questions, working remotely on social media and across different technologies. We get the 2am questions about financial aid, the seemingly endless requests for free t-shirts, and the requests for help, connection, and campus services when someone is struggling.

How can you hold space, support your community, and impress upon your college the importance of social media during a pandemic?


Within your Organization

  • Create a Social Media Strategy and allow it to evolve alongside your Emergency Communications Plan.
  • Educate and Remind. Your Leadership may not understand the value of social media. They have HUGE, complex issues they are trying to solve. Frankly, they may have forgotten about your social media. Don’t take it personally. Remind them that social media, especially in light of a pandemic is a huge ally in combating misinformation, can be an asset navigating uncertain times, and smoothing a transition to remote learning.
    • We recommend the Campus Sonar Higher Education Industry Briefing — a weekly update on higher education and social media listening related to Coronavirus compiled by Campus Sonar. Provide an executive summary, don’t expect to hear back, but be ready to move when the organization is ready to move.
  • Guide virtually events and leverage your skillsets. Not every event will be virtual, of course. There will be growing pains and challenging conversations. Start with a shared vocabulary, ask questions, and make the best recommendations you can.
  • Above all, go forth with empathy and patience. We are all tired. This crisis is massive and ever changing. What was relevant as a communication is literally irrelevant with the next press conference or media update. As a social media strategist, digital marketer, you can only move as fast as your organization allows.


On Social

  • Keep Communicating but don’t contribute noise. This is a fine line we tread as Marketers even when we aren’t facing a global crisis. You want to be visible, be available, and provide value. Listen to your community, understand the tone and tenure of conversations, and then brainstorm ways in which you can help others, not only providing facts, figures, or campus updates. Do NOT contribute to the noise, tap into your cold email lists, or contacts providing support when they do not expect to or want to hear from you.
  • Pause your Marketing and review your communications plans with a lens of who is this helping, who may this social media post hurting. Tread carefully as you swing back into frequent social media updates. You do not want to launch a giving campaign when your community is facing job loss, food insecurity, and financial hardship.
  • Explore ways you can provide support if your organization allows you to do so. This is your chance to be human, to acknowledge the zeitgeist and to continue to educate, provide value, and be visible as a resource. You don’t have to go dark fully but you will want to employ sensitivity and transparency.
  • Don’t forget to empower your advocates. Your department staff are ready to do their jobs. Your students can help build content and provide context. They can help you uplift your community — tap into Student Services, Student Life, even Campus Security if you can to do some remote, social media content while employing social isolation tactics.
  • Find the Helpers. Mister Rogers Fans will recognize this sentiment but look for the people in your community who are at the heart of good stories. They will help you as a social media manager find the good and they will uplift your community.
  • Above all, go forth with empathy. Be human first, be the voice of your organization second. Soften your responses.

A pandemic is not business as usual. We now know this viscerally. While some of us work remote and others are asked to come to campus, remember that social media will continue to hold space for your community of staff, students, faculty, alumni, stakeholders, and even the towns in which we work and live. Stay safe, healthy, and engaged.