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3.5 Improving internal communications 

The University of Sheffield: had already embraced the use of social media within its IT department and was using Twitter to improve its internal engagement and visibility when it took the bold step of using this channel to provide communications around a disruptive technical infrastructure upgrade in 2012. The aim was to move away from a culture of secrecy around maintenance work and keep the community informed at every step. Previously, communications had typically consisted of one announcement to make people aware of the timing and impact of maintenance then a follow-up announcement when the work was complete. This allowed others to rearrange their work around the maintenance period leaving the IT team in peace. Users asking for updates were dismissed in a similar way to children on a long car journey persistently asking “are we there yet?”

The upgrade did not go as planned. There was a risk in exposing these setbacks but the transparency about the process gained widespread support. Services that should have been restored by 9am were not operational until the afternoon. Instead of complaining, university colleagues sent messages of support for all the work that had gone in and for how the communications had been managed. Bob Booth, CiCS communication manager notes: “Social media is no longer an extension of our conventional comms channel but is an integral part of how we communicate with our customers”.
Hundreds of tweets of support came from CiCS colleagues, University partners and followers at other institutions. This had ceased to be an inconvenience imposed by the IT department and had become a team event that we were all part of. The sys admins were not seen as failing, instead they were modern day heroes who had worked through the night and who would not stop until their work was done.”

Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Liverpool and the University of Lincoln are three further examples of institutions whose IT departments converse with users via Twitter as part of their delivery of IT support.   

There are many other examples of the effective use of social media for information exchange during emergencies and severe weather conditions. This was certainly the case for the University of West London Guru, discussed in Section 5, Choosing the right tools.

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