13: Boston University’s Social Media Etiquette During National Tragedies w/ Kat Cornetta

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Kat Cornetta, Assistant to the Dean of Students at Boston University, discusses why the best social media response during a national tragedy may very well be silence.

Really quick before we get into the show today. I wanted to share something fun with you. At Helix we recently turned our enrollment growth playbook into a video game. Enrollment growth hero is a quick, ten minute dialog based game in which you, the hero, work with other campus leaders to put together in enrollment growth strategy for your institution. If you ever shared the enrollment growth playbook with a colleague who never read it, tell them about enroman growth hero instead. It covers very similar content and a'll actually learn a lot. There's also a secret prize inside the game for curious explorers. So when you get to work today, visit Helix Educationcom slash hero to play. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Cat Cornetta, assistant to the dean of students at Boston University. Cat, thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you for having me. Cat and I are both members of the Hashtag high read Social Group on facebook and the group had a really fascinating conversation the other week about social media etiquette and times of national tragedy. But before we kind of dive into the highlights from that discussion, okay, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Boston University and your role there? I definitely can. So. Boston University is a large research university in the heart of Boston. We have about sixteenzero undergraduate students. Many of them live on campus. We also have an extremely large graduate student population. We have schools that cover medicine, dental, we have social work, we have it. Basically if you want to major on it, we have it. So we it's very large,...

...very varied. We have a student body that comes from all over the globe and I'm in our dean of Students Office. I assist our associate provost and dean of Students, Kenneth Elmar, who's been around the social media in higher education circles for a very long time. We're one of the first schools to put our dean of students on social media and really set the pace for some of our competitor schools when it came to their use of social media in a student like context. So I've been here for eleven years as assistant to the dean of students and I handle social media. I handle our website, updating our web strategy, our communications with media, both student and outside media, and they have a bunch of other responsibilities as well. So outside that, the communication space awesome. Cat. Thanks for that overview. Given the overwhelming amount of overwhelming events lately, I think a lot of social media managers, like yourself, are having to make the call as to what kind of response is appropriate in times of national tragedy and whether or not the most appropriate response is actually sometimes silence. Talk about the approach that you and your team take. It be you when national tragedies occur. So, just the start, I can speak only about our office and our social media outreach, not the entire universities, but our office. Our Dean really early on was very big about being silence for a period of time because we couldn't just there's so much uncertainty when a tragedy, either on campus or off campus, nationally happens. There's so much uncertainty in those first couple of hours that anything we would post which is add to the noise and just be somewhat confusing and almost opportunistic. Before we have all the details, before things have before we fully even...

...know the scope of what's going on, to jump right in just feels very unnecessary. We'd rather be silent for a fair amount of time until everything comes out, until the event even stop ups to find out how it impacted our students and what the appropriate response would be. And I was really concerned when we first when my Dean said this was what we wanted to do. Strategy Wi was yeah, but our students have never reacted corely to it and for that I'm thankful. I think they're grateful for our not jumping onto social media right away. The one time we kind of put that strategy aside was during the Boston marathon bombings. We did have a student who unfortunately passed a weight in those bombings and because they were so close to our campus, we couldn't be silent. We had to update their students with what was going on, what areas of Boston were closed, when we were on lockdoor down you know what to do while we were on lockdown. We couldn't be silent during that, but national tragedies and campus tragedies we tend to, you know, we have that silence for a lot period of time. I think that issue of proximity to the tragedy is super important and something that we're going to dig to dig down deeper in a little bit. My first heart lesson in this actually happened similarly after the Boston Marathon bombing back in two thousand and thirteen. About an hour after the incidents, with everyone glue to the news and Social Media for Information and answers, in autopost our team had set up with hoot sweet a few days prior posted about cheerleading tryouts happening later that afternoon and it was inappropriate and insensitive give the events of the morning. We took down the post immediately once we realize it was up, but that was about a half an hour after it was posted and I personally decided that I would never use autoposting again. Do you have a specific position on autoposting and how to balance the convenience some of these tools offer with the rare but potentially disastrous moments that it...

...can be created from it as well. So my dean is very against auto posting. Yeah, so I try not to use it. There are time, however, that, and he'll hear this, and this is fine, that I occasionally use autoposting. In the variety of social media monitoring and listening tools that we've had over the years, we've used three different ones and this they all have that capability of autoposting, because the last thing on your mind when something big happens, either on campus or naturally, is Oh my gosh, I've got to turn off the autoposting. Yes, I almost get scared, kind of superstitious about putting anything on auto posting because I'm like, Oh, what if I finally put something on auto posting, I finally use that feature and that's the time it just goes horribly right. I'm just asking for something to go horribly wrong. But I have used it and the things have been fine, but it is I try trying not to use it a lot. I didn't even use it when I went out on a terminatingly I was so scared. So I I tend not to use it either and especially, sadly, in this day and age. I really can't use it because anything, there's just so much going on that anything could be deemed insensitive. You know, I might not even be awake yet and something my post and who knows what has happened in the world while I've slept. So I really can't use it these days. Yeah, I think that's a good tip to in terms of if you're using it and relying on it, make sure that the second something in the national ether happens, you jump on immediately and pause it, as well as looking back to things you might have posted in the preceding few hours that might still be active in people's channels and and Margam, it would be to consider leading it if you can. Even even if, from...

...a chronological standpoint you're in the clear, from a perception standpoint you might not be. Well. And the other thing is when I do use auto posting, either here in my job at be you or in the social media work I do outside of be you, I'll maybe, said, set it for two hours in advance at most. Yeah, and do it that way. And well, let's not really what those autopiece posting features are for. That's really the only span of time I feel safe sometimes. So if you do use it, maybe don't post. You know, don't schedule things for a week out. Just schedule things for that day. Take the time that morning and do your auto posts for that day and just that day. Good tip. Get can't. Let's get back to that proximity point you made earlier that the conversation on our facebook group is really interesting, with different social media managers taking very different stances on when to be silent versus when to speak out. For instance, on the day of the recent Vegas shooting, UNLB took a very different approach. To be you, I would argue, not only appropriately but essential. Given their close proximity to the events, they use social media to set up a vigil and a time for students to be able to gather that next evening and mourn. The president of the university. You social to share a message to the campus community, while other institutions not as physically close to Las Vegas intentionally chose radio silence. How do you and your team choose when and when not to respond, and it is it primarily based on whether or not the tragedy has an obvious, direct impact on your campus community? We is so. It definitely is all about proximity. Boston Marathon, for instance, though, in two thousand and thirteen, we had to use social to get out information quickly because that was just down the street. If anyone knows, or be you is in Boston, you'll know how close it is to where those bombings occurred. If you aren't familiar with be you, it was less. was about a mile away, maybe a little bit more than...

...a mile away. But our students use we have the day off on the marathon Monday. It is a giant day for the students to go out into Boston and watch the marathon and do other things which we won't get into, but they like to enjoy themselves and they so we knew we had students there. There was no doubt in our mind we had students at those spots. So we had to get out information and we had to get information out quickly and we use social media to do that. But if it's not nearby, we do tend to go silent because there's nothing we could give in that on social and that first couple hours that is going to help the conversation. We do reach out to students impacted via email and will tend to make sure that email goes out to those students who live or from that area. We will send that email out before we even put anything on social media, and that, to us is important because it's more important for us to reach out to those students who might be in impacted as soon as possible then to put a token social media thoughts and prayers style message. Oh, for instance, so what when they shooting happened in Las Vegas, our first step was not to put anything on social media, but in the hours directly after that we were getting a list of students from the battle, we were sending them an email, we were coordinating counseling services for them. When they contacted us and said I need to talk to someone, we were getting them in contact with counseling services or our religious life immediately. That was more our focus than putting out something on social media. You every sadly, almost every national or global tragedy that happens has an impact on some of our students because our campus is so...

...large and our student body is so very yeah, so we have to do that a lot and we have to take that stance a lot and in that's the way we tended to do it. Our main social channels for the university might do things a different way, but they tend to go silent for a period of time as well, just so we can get all of our ducks in a route. Really, really great advice. Cat to your to your earlier point about the appearance of being opportunistic. I think it's important to discuss potential backlash. They can come from from speaking out. If you look outside of higher read, for instance, after the Paris attacks, Amazon put up an image of the French flag and they also removed all of the recommended products from their home page. As a global brand, they wanted to pay tribute, but they intentionally removed any potential optics that it was a self serving move, whereas on the anniversary of eleven, Kenneth Cole, on the other hand, ran a nine plus eleven equals twenty percent off sale and they received much deserved backlash. Anything Higher Ed can learn from seeing how other brands navigate tragedy, both effectively and not. There are definitely things we learned from how brands mishandle events that go on. Then there is definite things we learn from brands that handle it right. I think the thing that we've learned from all of this and, unfortunately, the fair amount of tragedy that our campus had in the past decade, because not just nationally we've had we had one year where we had eight student deaths and in a very short period of time, and we had that. You know that to us we have to handle very similar to how we handle a national tragedy, and one thing we learned early on was there are going to be people that find any outreach inappropriate, whatever we do, whatever well thought out plans in strategy we have people. Emotions run...

...high and people are going to find things appropriate and I think you'll see that in brands as well. Any addressing of a magity that a brand does is going to be taken well and it's going to be taken poorly, no matter how appropriate it is. I'm sure there's people that disliked what Amazon did and I'm sure there's people who liked what kind of Coldd you know, I think it's highly inappropriate. I am sure there's some people that took advantage of that show. Yeah, I think it's one of those times where you have to drop on your thick skin as a social media manager or anyone who works in communications and realize emotions run high and people are going to react strongly one way or another and you're going to get that variety of people who love it and people who hate it and think you're being highly inappropriate. And I'm sure. I mean there are students, I'm sure, who, they may not say this to us, but think that our silences inappropriate. And I'm sure there are students that think that and they think in that's just something. I it's what's worked best for us, but I am sure other people, and I know from that discussion that we were on, there are people who think that it is inappropriate, and I that's just that's social media. That's monitoring social media. That's there's no right answer all of the time. Okay, really good stuff. Any last tips for social media managers looking to crystallize it what a crisis communications plan looks like their institution, even for something when is not specifically their crisis? I think overarchingly, one of our best tips has been communication. If you're a large university and there are multiple major social media accounts that students turn to, being able to get on the phone or email or text with the people that control those accounts are key. We when we were...

...developing a crisis communications plan years ago. It's sadly we have come up with one years ago. We have a way that we can all communicate quickly amongst people who update social media on campus. We communicate quickly in emergencies. We have backup ways to communicate. will use what'SAPP, will use texts, will use phone, just being really open and communicating as to what's going on, and I mean sadly, I think that's something we know to be open. We haven't done as much lately and we need to get back into the habit of but really being open, communicating and really trying to get on that same page and, sadly, developing a plan before it happens, knowing that we're going to send out. Our first line of response is going to be that email to affected students and then going to social media. Knowing that and having that planned out in advance and having that and excel, having that in a project management sheet, whatever, however you organize your work and having that information shared amongst your team. That's really key as well. I really preplanning is really important, really great practical advice. Cat Cat, thanks so much for joining us today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you. If they have any follow up questions, they can always tweet me, because I loved it, and you can find me at Cat Cornetta, and it's cat with a K, so it's Kat cr n etta that you can tweet me whenever. You can also email me at cat corn at the DOT eedu Kat CEO RT at Bu Dot Ev. You like candy corn kind of, and this is the Halloween time and care for so there's that's a perfect way to think about it. She's a great person to know. Folks, thanks...

...against so much for joining us today. Cat. Thank you, Eric. This has been awesome. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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