UPDATE, Tuesday, May 29, 2012 7:48 a.m.: The guy who was allegedly posting as @SMUCraneGuy, commercial photographer Ty Williams of Dallas, says he’s stopping now because “there’s no longer any humor” in the situation as the real crane suspect fell to his death in the middle of the night.  One tweet on @TyWilliams says, @smucraneguy says a lot about our culture today. It was fun to run that, it shows the power of social media. Lets use it for good.”  Amen to that. 

UPDATE Tuesday, May 29, 2012:  We are sad to report that the real suspect in the SMU crane ordeal fell to his death last night about 1:45 a.m. when police were trying to approach him up the crane.  The fake Twitter account, however, managed to amass 2, 187 Twitter followers in less than 24 hours.  That’s no small feat, and yes, controversial and sad at the same time.  Our point in this post is to show that crisis communications is essential, whether it’s an event that’s your fault or not.  As one of our colleagues said on Twitter last night, “If it’s on your property, you own it.”  We regret this situation ended with the death of this one person, but are thankful that no one else was hurt.  Now is the time for an assessment of what worked well and didn’t work in the communications around central Dallas Monday during a holiday and while admittedly, the SMU student/teacher campus ratio was low.

Social media is a very active medium.  And when it’s hot, its impact can be far reaching.  It can be funny.  It can be serious.  And it can be opportunistic. 

With news stories in Dallas Monday of a person who has ascended a construction crane on the Southern Methodist University campus in central Dallas, has come a contrasting case study in the uses of Twitter and social media for informing the public.

One involves SMU itself.  The other involves an as yet unknown person, claiming to be a Texas Christian University student/alum, and the creation of a rogue twitter account named @SMUCraneGuy.

It was created sometime early afternoon today and at this writing has amassed almost 800 followers in just that short amount of time.  Yes, this likely is a one-day Twitter event for this account, but here’s the contrast–SMU has not updated their Twitter feed in SEVEN HOURS.

In the meantime, SMU Crane Guy has posted 64 tweets, many of them comical and engaging.  None of them have been critical of SMU, but more light-hearted.

UPDATE–As we write, SMU has broken out the Twitter feed and offered four posts.  This is great.  But after a seven-hour break in the silence, the opportunities of the day have been squandered.

From six years as the communications director of Dallas ISD, I understand the importance of working with the news media in a situation like this.  My friend Jeff Crilley, formerly of KDFW Channel 4 here in Dallas used to call it, “Feeding the beast.”  That is what has to happen in situations like these.  Simply not sending out information doesn’t make the situation go away.

There was a great opportunity for SMU today.  Sure, I’ll bet SMU executives are cussing the SMU Crane Guy imposter for doing what he/she is doing.  But who ever it is, they are not hurting the brand right now.  They’re actually helping it because even in the face of this tragic situation, people for the most part are associating this rogue poster with SMU and with 9-out-of-10 posts, they’re laughing.  And in a situation where  your campus has largely been held captive all day, that’s not at all bad.

SMU, we’d love to work with you on your social media program.  If nothing else, find out who the rogue poster is and hire them…..

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