The Chardon Tragedy and Social Media’s Role in Times of Crisis

This week in Ohio (as well as across the nation) we were shocked to see the tragic events develop before our eyes at Chardon Local Schools, a relatively small school district near Cleveland. For those of us who work in education, the thought of students being in harm’s way is gut wrenching, so this tragedy has truly caused all of us to stop and reflect.

For me, upon hearing the news first on Twitter, I instantly thought of my good friend and Ohio School Public Relations Association colleague Ellen Ondrey, who serves as Chardon’s community coordinator. Ellen has served on our board of OHSPRA for years and is currently our treasurer. Hearing her voice on the live news broadcast, her clarity, focus, transparency and genuine care for her district reminded me, and likely all of us who do this for a living, of why we have committed to helping school’s communicate and be prepared in times of need.

In Ohio, our network of school communicators did what we do best: communicate and offer our assistance to our friends and colleagues at Chardon Local Schools. And of course, social media played a prominent part in that. OHSPRA took to its Twitter account and Facebook page to offer support and resources. We knew there would be ripple effects across the state and nation, and we wanted to ensure that we offered support on the issues of crisis planning and communication.

We also saw how social media played a role in the word spreading about the shooting, from students inside the school using cell phones and tweeting while the crisis was happening to how thousands used sites like Facebook and Twitter to offer condolences and support. Social media continue to shift how we communicate, both good and bad, but the questions to ask are whether your school district is using it effectively and in times of need and are you prepared for how to leverage it best?

I wanted this blog post to be an open discussion on your thoughts on crisis communications and the role of social media in these moments of crisis. I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas. Consider this a starting point to crowd-source some best practices or ideas on leveraging social media in times of crisis.

We continue to offer our sympathies to Chardon Local Schools, the community and especially the families.