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Keep calm and carry on communicating

The old Tallinn city walls.

Crisis and community: the communications special interest group SIG-Marcomms learns lessons that strengthen research and education networking.

When disaster strikes, even at night, you can’t just lock yourself away in a tower and work on fixing the problem; you need to keep lines of communication open.

Ten o’clock at night and you’re working late on your experiment, analysis or report, when suddenly there is no connectivity via your national research and education network (NREN) provider. Who you gonna call?

When this happened for real last year, the NREN discovered that its users didn’t call. They went on Twitter to ask what was going on. And it discovered that they were concerned to understand why the problem occurred, as much as they wanted it fixed – and even after it was fixed.

This scenario thrust the NREN’s marketing communications (marcomms) team into centre stage, and revealed how vital its activities are to protecting the NREN’s business, public and technical reputation.

What could have been a complete PR disaster turned into a PR success, as the team worked through the night on a best-effort basis (because the crisis communications plan had proved inadequate from step 1) to maintain transparency. This bought the sympathy and patience of its users and stakeholders, many of whom have since continued to follow the NREN, opening up a closer relationship and a better route for other communications.

The lessons learned from this situation was just one of the topics with wider impact that were discussed by the GÉANT community’s Special Interest Group on Marketing Communications (SIG-Marcomms), at its meeting on 27-29 September in Tallinn, Estonia.

More and more non-marcomms colleagues are blogging and tweeting about their work, and the SIG-Marcomms group discussed how to support this as part of a strategic communications approach, with examples from Jisc. The group also trialled a short blogging training workshop devised by SURFnet, which could be developed as a resource for the wider research and education networking community.

A brainstorming session explored how marketing communications activities can support the promotion of the cloud services catalogue that the community has been putting together under the auspices of the GÉANT Project. After an update on the recent Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) tender, breakout groups discussed various aspects of the challenge and fed them back to the clouds team.

Participants of the June 2016 joint meeting of SIG-Marcomms and the Global PR Network.

The marketing communications challenges faced by African NRENs had been explored during the group’s June meeting, jointly held with the Global PR Network just before this year’s networking conference, TNC16. More than 40 people from 26 organisations across 6 continents had participated. By comparing with NRENs in Europe and Latin America, where another regional network of marketing communications practitioners had been established, it was agreed that the experiences largely matched. Since then, the African colleagues have been developing their marketing communications activities, the September meeting heard. Participants in Tallinn began work to update old ‘how to…’ documents that could help to provide African colleagues with shortcuts, as well as keeping European practitioners’ skills up to date. Further collaboration in this area is anticipated on the way towards a regional communications-PR network for Africa.

As with all Special Interest Groups, the main purpose of SIG-Marcomms is to build a trusted network of community contacts and to exchange ideas, experiences, best practices and advice. The Tallinn meeting participants offered feedback and discussed topics raised formally or informally by the AARC project, the GÉANT Community Committee and ARNES, Belnet, CESNET, CSC, FCCN, as well as the host organisations EENet and HITSA. They also gave feedback on the meeting itself through an online survey, rating it highly and finding much of value to take back into their everyday work.

The meeting agenda, slides and notes are on the  GÉANT Community Communications, PR & Marketing wiki.

The next SIG-Marcomms will be in spring 2017 – date to be confirmed. Come and join us!

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