Could Twitter be used as another communication channel in case of campus emergencies?

April 17th, 2007 Karine Joly 5 Comments

In the wake of the Virginia Tech Tragedy, many questions about crisis communication have been raised in campuses across the country and the world.

Today, on u-webd listserv, a few Web professionals discussed possible text-messaging solutions. One of them (I didn’t get a chance to ask him if I could share his name) announced to the list that his institution was working on a Twitter clone using the campus email user credentials.

Haven’t heard about Twitter yet?

Here’s how Wikipedia defines this new application that has caught the tech blogosphere like fire for the past few months:

Twitter is a social networking and micro-blogging service that allows users to send “updates” (text-based posts, up to 140 characters long) via SMS, instant messaging, the Twitter website or an application such as Twitterrific. These updates are displayed on the user’s profile page and also instantly delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them. The sender can restrict delivery to members of his circle of friends, or allow delivery to everybody (which is the default). Users can receive updates via the Twitter website, instant messaging, SMS, RSS, or through an application.

Up until now, Twitter has mostly been used by A-list bloggers such as Steve Rubel (with more or less success in Rubel’s case).

However, it might be worth adding Twitter to your institution’s crisis communication plan.

Obviously, I’m not advising to only use Twitter, but it could provide a good-enough temporary solution before you can settle for a more definitive application to distribute your emergency alerts via text messages, IM, RSS and on the Web to campus community members, parents and friends.

What do you think? Anybody already using Twitter?

5 Responses

  1. Rachel says:

    Just last week we signed up with e2campus to provide text messaging service to our faculty, staff and students in the event of a cancellation, delay or other on-campus emergency. We just started promoting this on Friday last week. Over the last couple of days we have realized just how critical a system like this is, and how it could make such a difference.

  2. Pat says:

    Down this road is insanity. How is the person in charge of communication supposed to use all of these services we keep talking about. Twitter (which I personally like and use) is just another in the growing list of services that could be used. But in reality you will not cover everyone and you need to stay focused of contacting the broadest segment of your population as possible.

    Can you imagine the outcry when a message goes out over Twitter before some other service that is used by more people? Look at the backlash happening already over the lack of an immediate e-mail, as if 100% of the campus is hitting ‘Check mail’ every 5 seconds.

  3. Karine Joly says:

    Thanks for your comments Rachel and Pat.


    I think the need for multiple communication channels is a fact of life… whether we like it or not. If it takes 2 minutes to send the alert using Twitter, why not do it?

    Again, I suggested Twitter (which I personally don’t use) as a possible temporary solution. Obviously, you will have to get the word out in your campus community, but I think it will be very easy to set it up in a matter of days.

    The platform is available, so why not use it?

    Besides, this tragedy confirmed another fact that administrators were not ready to admit just a few days ago: the importance of facebook, myspace and blogs as communication tools for our students.

  4. We’re looking at it. Initially I was considering putting school closings (due to weather) on a twitter feed. But I never got around to it, because it seemed gimmicky, and like everyone here I have a thousand other things to do.

    But yesterday I set up an account and we’re playing with it now.

    I reposted something from our internal blog about multiple systems of communication.

    An important thing to remember about twitter is it doesn’t have to be billed as your emergency solution. You can still make certain methods of contact primary.

    But imagine if your school got even 5% of the students to subscribe to a twitter “school closings” feed. Now that method is in place for other things. It’s there if you need it.

    Have a toolbox of communications tools is messy, but it allows you to route around damage effectively.

  5. Pat says:


    I completely agree that multiple communication channels are a fact of life. I just want to, in a way, set expectations.

    “If it takes 2 minutes to send the alert using Twitter, why not do it?”

    Because you are taking a big risk by adopting this mindset, assuming that mindset is to use anything that the students use. 2 minutes multiplied by an ever-increasing number of services is the road to insanity for the small number of people who will be charged with “getting the message out.”

    “The platform is available, so why not use it?”

    There are literally hundreds of platforms. You can’t use them all. You can’t even use the top 10%. How do you choose what to use? Most schools at this point have clearly established policies on what they will use for official forms of communication. Right now, ours is e-mail — as I suspect is the case for a number of other schools. Everybody gets an e-mail account. It’s universal to the population. I don’t think that can be said for any other medium, not even cell phones.

    But again, it’s about effective communication. How can you reach the largest audience, quickly, with the least amount of effort. There is no easy answer.

Got a question or comment?