This week, when the University of North Carolina’s social media team was attacked, ironically, social media was Capture and share Some believe that campus traditions should be cancelled during the pandemic. They released relevant news, but the decision to host the event was not made by the social team. In this case, as in many other situations, communication criticism is a representative of dissatisfaction with the leadership’s decision-making. Treating them as less important things can undermine feedback to campus leaders, which should inform their next strategy.
With regard to the decisions made by campus leaders, mock comments and anger shared online unfairly targeted social media staff and the agency’s communicators. Obtaining overall feedback and turning it into actionable responses should be part of the job, but personal attacks should not – and should not be forgiven.
Before the pandemic, and especially during the pandemic, I saw my colleagues go through an unhealthy cycle across institutions. Decisions are made by the leaders of the organization, they are communicated, people disagree with their opinions, and their disagreements are directed at the communicator. Then the cycle begins again.
As communicators, we have a limited toolbox of text, platforms and methods to share information. Throughout the pandemic, we have tried our best to use multiple methods and speakers to help personalize messages that often encounter emotions. Yes, sometimes our approach does not match the situation, but usually we use our hands in a timetable initiated by others. If there is a disagreement about the decision we have made, we will feel angry and frustrated by failing to make a timely decision.
In the early days of the pandemic, I received and responded to feedback from an organization’s general email line. I saw and responded to angry messages, many of which were not suitable for any workplace, and I guess the sender thought it might never be read. As someone outside the organization, I can take a step back and refine whether there are communication points, leadership criticisms to share, and at which level of the organization should be forwarded, or whether there is new information to notify the COVID-19 response. Most of the comments claim to be about communication, but they are actually about the implementation and methods of institutional crises. These two themes are not suitable for communicators. Our responsibility is to advise on coping strategies and then share decisions with tripartite members.
In the middle of last summer, another client of mine sent a questionnaire to their campus, which covered various questions. In it, they asked how satisfied the campus community was with epidemic-related communications as the only feedback point related to the COVID-19 response. At my urge, they added some questions that would eliminate communication as the only office to receive feedback on this complex and emotional topic, because there is still a lot to learn. The questionnaire was refined to include an assessment of decision-making timetables, policies and protocol methods, and communication, providing more background and more actionable data. The response indicated that many people on campus needed additional work and repositioned responsibilities in multiple areas—including the principal’s office and senior campus leaders.
For UNC, let us exclude these communication team members from the existence of this year’s event, and instead send constructive feedback directly to the office that approved the tradition or did not take steps to stop it. For the communicator to complete our work, the existence of a feedback loop is essential; we must manage the expectations set by the leadership of the way we work in our position and work. We are willing to acknowledge our successes and failures, but continuing to place our position on the front line responsible for all agency actions needs to stop. As we all seek understanding, empathy, and community in our lives, we should extend this blessing to communicators in our workplace.
Teresa Valerio Parrot is the head of TVP Communications, a national public relations agency focused on higher education.