From Snowpocalypse to Twitter Melt Down

I know we’ve all been watching it. The slow accumulation of student frustration via social media regarding the lack of school delays or closings. Some ask for updates, while others openly - and explicitly - chastise schools for not considering their commutes and their safety. As community managers, I’m sure our own frustrations are growing, not about the lack of closings, but about the lack of power we have to respond.

It’s the same question we seem to discuss more than others regarding university led social media: if community managers aren’t given the ability to be transparent regarding student concerns, what good is our use of this media channel? It was created to engage students, to respond to their concerns and help them navigate their time at our university, no?

In thinking about this, I wondered what other schools do in these situations. How deep do they respond to students, or do they just let them ‘cry it out’ and simply air their grievances without an answer? Perhaps there are a few first steps we could make towards greater transparency in these situations:

Explain the delay/closing policy used by the powers that be. Many students place their frustrations on the source of the message. Letting them know who truly makes the decision doesn’t move the blame, but lets them know that the decision comes from the very top and not by school or department. Maybe there are multiple extenuating circumstances regarding closing that could be explained. At the very least, it shows that there are several pros and cons to weigh: safety, getting classes in before the end of the semester, giving students the classes they pay for, etc. and the value placed on them.

Ensure that everyone knows how to receive the most up to date closing information. It may seem obvious, but sometimes students don’t know where to find closing information, especially if its buried deep on your web site. Remind them periodically where to find this information and how to sign up for your alert system.

Provide a way for students to air their issues to the decision makers. Why not? If students have issues, they should be able to let decision makers know. We should empower them to have their voices heard, solidify their argument and gain confidence for defending their stance.

Yes, we’ll never take care of everyone’s issues, and there will always be those who complain even with these measures in place. But instead of radio silence, providing information via social media helps students not only take control of their problems,  but should be the reason we opened the lines of communication in the first place.

How have you been dealing with student concerns this blustery season? Any blow back from your efforts or lack of? Do you see more vocal students in Twitter or Facebook?

  • TimN -->

    Great post, Jess! Since you come from what is regarded as the second-snowiest community in the U.S., and our college is just down the road, winter weather issues are an ongoing situation. Before the ascendence of social media, we’d have people calling us (the Public Affairs Office) and castigating us over not closing. One lady called me an idiot, even though we have absolutely no input but only communicate it. But calls to complain kept getting funneled to us anyway.

    Now those vents, of course, leak out into social media. Since we have a reputation for rarely closing, we probably don’t get those ventings as much as some, but thanks to being berated via phone, we have some talking points. We weigh these decisions very heavily, we know the safety concerns of our students are very important and offer an official policy for commuters that if the weather where you are is really bad, please don’t come in. And yes, we have this policy on the web, as well as communicated campuswide once or twice a season, and point to it when necessary. An advantage, if there is a such a thing, of so much snow is that we have more of a system set.

  • Pattie Gillett -->

    Very timely article but I’m very curious as to how we can put this into action, particularly your third point about providing a way for students to air their concerns to decision makers.

    What do you suggest? From the standpoint of the student, they ARE airing their concerns simply by posting on FB or tweeting to your Twitter account. What further should we ask them to do and what means should we provide?

  • Jess -->

    Hi Pattie!

    I’d say provide them with an email for concerns or a time with the decision makers. We used to have open office hours with the president. I think that by giving them a formal way to submit their concerns, it may take some of the negativity away as they are allowed a way to make an actual change, or try to.

    I also wonder how many of them know how closely Tweets are read and by whom. As we all stress in education the value of not dumbing down your online presence for future jobs, etc., we might also be teaching them about interactions that are not private online, indexed forever, and read by professors, presidents and employers.

  • Jim Crone -->

    Check out and to see how we’re handling the blizzard. We’ve also been updating students/faculty/staff via Facebook/Twitter and monitoring their chatter as well.

  • Shane DOnaldson -->

    Hi Jessica,

    We got major backlash Tuesday and Wednesday for slow response to the weather conditions. By compiling the messages on FB and Twitter, as well as documenting the phone calls and presenting the volume of response to the decision makers on campus, we were able to convey the need for much faster response last night and this morning.

    We reached out via FB and Twitter to as many of the individuals who had made comments as we could (FB eventually stopped allowing direct messages, as we were flagged as potential spam for sending too many messages too quickly), and the feedback from them was actually overwhelmingly positive. It was easy to understand why they were frustrated, but many of them were happy to know someone was paying attention to their thoughts, and not just letting them drift in cyberspace.

  • Director of Web Communication -->

    Awesome! Thanks for the link to the policy!

  • Director of Web Communication -->

    Thanks, Jim!

  • Director of Web Communication -->

    Hi Shane,

    How did you reach out? What did you say to those who were really ticked? I’m curious how you stated your response.

  • Pattie Gillett -->

    Hey, thanks for the response. I’m also curious as to how colleges handled profane or otherwise offensive messages on FB. Do they have a pre-existing posting policy about how such messages will be removed?

    One local college, thankfully not mine, received dozens of very angry and offensive messages on their FB wall for not closing during a recent storm and it seemed to me that they were having a difficult time keeping up with them.

  • Shane DOnaldson -->

    Hi Jessica,

    For the FB messages, I click on the profile of each person who commented, and where it allowed, used the “send message” function. Each person got a note similar to the one below. If they raised a particular point or question, I altered the message slightly.

    Hi ??,

    This is Shane from the URI Communications and Marketing Department (I do the majority of the postings on Facebook).

    I wanted to let you know earlier today I compiled and shared the comments from the last couple days in order to share with my superiors. The frustration is warranted, and I hope there are changes that can be made from today.

    Best wishes,

  • Jess -->

    I think we’ve definitely covered the topic but you can start here.

  • Jim Crone -->

    Just came across this interesting tweet while doing some of our social media monitoring…

    “I am finally starting to understand the usefulness of twitter by being able to follow @bradleyu during the snow storm.”

  • Web ManagerMcCready -->

    Last April, our college had a snow day because of a power outage.

    Some students were frustrated with the process. One student voiced his concerns on our Facebook page in not so nice of words.

    We noticed som of the other fans came to our defense.

    But most interesting was our President personally responded to this issue by posting a reply on our wall. The student was amazed and appreciative that she would take the time to address his concern.