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 theshow today. I wanted to share something fun with you. At Helix werecently turned our enrollment growth playbook into a video game. Enrollment growth hero isa 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 readit, tell them about enroman growth hero instead. It covers very similar contentand a'll actually learn a lot. There's also a secret prize inside the gamefor curious explorers. So when you get to work today, visit Helix Educationcomslash 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 theircollege or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies ortools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into theshow. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'm Eric Olson, AVP of marketingat Helix Education, and we're here today with Cat Cornetta, assistant tothe dean of students at Boston University. Cat, thanks so much for joiningus today. Thank you for having me. Cat and I are both members ofthe Hashtag high read Social Group on facebook and the group had a reallyfascinating 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 andyour role there? I definitely can. So. Boston University is a largeresearch 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 studentpopulation. We have schools that cover medicine, dental, we have social work,we have it. Basically if you want to major on it, wehave it. So we it's very large,...

...very varied. We have a studentbody that comes from all over the globe and I'm in our dean ofStudents 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 longtime. We're one of the first schools to put our dean of students onsocial media and really set the pace for some of our competitor schools when itcame to their use of social media in a student like context. So I'vebeen here for eleven years as assistant to the dean of students and I handlesocial media. I handle our website, updating our web strategy, our communicationswith media, both student and outside media, and they have a bunch of otherresponsibilities 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 makethe call as to what kind of response is appropriate in times of nationaltragedy and whether or not the most appropriate response is actually sometimes silence. Talkabout the approach that you and your team take. It be you when nationaltragedies occur. So, just the start, I can speak only about our officeand our social media outreach, not the entire universities, but our office. Our Dean really early on was very big about being silence for a periodof time because we couldn't just there's so much uncertainty when a tragedy, eitheron campus or off campus, nationally happens. There's so much uncertainty in those firstcouple of hours that anything we would post which is add to the noiseand 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 fora fair amount of time until everything comes out, until the event even stopups to find out how it impacted our students and what the appropriate response wouldbe. And I was really concerned when we first when my Dean said thiswas what we wanted to do. Strategy Wi was yeah, but our studentshave never reacted corely to it and for that I'm thankful. I think they'regrateful for our not jumping onto social media right away. The one time wekind of put that strategy aside was during the Boston marathon bombings. We didhave a student who unfortunately passed a weight in those bombings and because they wereso close to our campus, we couldn't be silent. We had to updatetheir 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 onlockdown. We couldn't be silent during that, but national tragedies and campus tragedies wetend to, you know, we have that silence for a lot periodof time. I think that issue of proximity to the tragedy is super importantand 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 bombingback in two thousand and thirteen. About an hour after the incidents, witheveryone glue to the news and Social Media for Information and answers, in autopostour team had set up with hoot sweet a few days prior posted about cheerleadingtryouts happening later that afternoon and it was inappropriate and insensitive give the events ofthe 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 Ipersonally decided that I would never use autoposting again. Do you have a specificposition on autoposting and how to balance the convenience some of these tools offer withthe 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 trynot to use it. There are time, however, that, and he'll hearthis, and this is fine, that I occasionally use autoposting. Inthe 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 oncampus 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 onauto posting because I'm like, Oh, what if I finally put something onauto posting, I finally use that feature and that's the time it justgoes horribly right. I'm just asking for something to go horribly wrong. ButI have used it and the things have been fine, but it is Itry trying not to use it a lot. I didn't even use it when Iwent out on a terminatingly I was so scared. So I I tendnot 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 thatanything could be deemed insensitive. You know, I might not even beawake yet and something my post and who knows what has happened in the worldwhile 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 andrelying 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 thingsyou might have posted in the preceding few hours that might still be activein people's channels and and Margam, it would be to consider leading it ifyou can. Even even if, from...

...a chronological standpoint you're in the clear, from a perception standpoint you might not be. Well. And the otherthing is when I do use auto posting, either here in my job at beyou 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 whatthose autopiece posting features are for. That's really the only span of time Ifeel 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 forthat day. Take the time that morning and do your auto posts for thatday and just that day. Good tip. Get can't. Let's get back tothat proximity point you made earlier that the conversation on our facebook group isreally interesting, with different social media managers taking very different stances on when tobe silent versus when to speak out. For instance, on the day ofthe recent Vegas shooting, UNLB took a very different approach. To be you, I would argue, not only appropriately but essential. Given their close proximityto the events, they use social media to set up a vigil and atime for students to be able to gather that next evening and mourn. Thepresident 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 isall about proximity. Boston Marathon, for instance, though, in two thousandand thirteen, we had to use social to get out information quickly because thatwas just down the street. If anyone knows, or be you is inBoston, you'll know how close it is to where those bombings occurred. Ifyou aren't familiar with be you, it was less. was about a mileaway, maybe a little bit more than...

...a mile away. But our studentsuse we have the day off on the marathon Monday. It is a giantday for the students to go out into Boston and watch the marathon and doother things which we won't get into, but they like to enjoy themselves andthey so we knew we had students there. There was no doubt in our mindwe had students at those spots. So we had to get out informationand we had to get information out quickly and we use social media to dothat. But if it's not nearby, we do tend to go silent becausethere's nothing we could give in that on social and that first couple hours thatis going to help the conversation. We do reach out to students impacted viaemail and will tend to make sure that email goes out to those students wholive or from that area. We will send that email out before we evenput anything on social media, and that, to us is important because it's moreimportant for us to reach out to those students who might be in impactedas soon as possible then to put a token social media thoughts and prayers stylemessage. Oh, for instance, so what when they shooting happened in LasVegas, our first step was not to put anything on social media, butin the hours directly after that we were getting a list of students from thebattle, 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 everysadly, almost every national or global tragedy that happens has an impact on someof our students because our campus is so...

...large and our student body is sovery yeah, so we have to do that a lot and we have totake 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, justso we can get all of our ducks in a route. Really, reallygreat advice. Cat to your to your earlier point about the appearance of beingopportunistic. I think it's important to discuss potential backlash. They can come fromfrom speaking out. If you look outside of higher read, for instance,after the Paris attacks, Amazon put up an image of the French flag andthey also removed all of the recommended products from their home page. As aglobal brand, they wanted to pay tribute, but they intentionally removed any potential opticsthat it was a self serving move, whereas on the anniversary of eleven,Kenneth Cole, on the other hand, ran a nine plus eleven equals twentypercent off sale and they received much deserved backlash. Anything Higher Ed canlearn from seeing how other brands navigate tragedy, both effectively and not. There aredefinitely things we learned from how brands mishandle events that go on. Thenthere is definite things we learn from brands that handle it right. I thinkthe thing that we've learned from all of this and, unfortunately, the fairamount of tragedy that our campus had in the past decade, because not justnationally we've had we had one year where we had eight student deaths and ina very short period of time, and we had that. You know thatto 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 peoplethat find any outreach inappropriate, whatever we do, whatever well thought out plansin strategy we have people. Emotions run...

...high and people are going to findthings appropriate and I think you'll see that in brands as well. Any addressingof a magity that a brand does is going to be taken well and it'sgoing to be taken poorly, no matter how appropriate it is. I'm surethere's people that disliked what Amazon did and I'm sure there's people who liked whatkind of Coldd you know, I think it's highly inappropriate. I am surethere's some people that took advantage of that show. Yeah, I think it'sone of those times where you have to drop on your thick skin as asocial media manager or anyone who works in communications and realize emotions run high andpeople are going to react strongly one way or another and you're going to getthat variety of people who love it and people who hate it and think you'rebeing highly inappropriate. And I'm sure. I mean there are students, I'msure, who, they may not say this to us, but think thatour silences inappropriate. And I'm sure there are students that think that and theythink in that's just something. I it's what's worked best for us, butI am sure other people, and I know from that discussion that we wereon, there are people who think that it is inappropriate, and I that'sjust that's social media. That's monitoring social media. That's there's no right answerall of the time. Okay, really good stuff. Any last tips forsocial media managers looking to crystallize it what a crisis communications plan looks like theirinstitution, 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 universityand there are multiple major social media accounts that students turn to, being ableto get on the phone or email or text with the people that control thoseaccounts 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 away 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. willuse what'SAPP, will use texts, will use phone, just being really openand communicating as to what's going on, and I mean sadly, I thinkthat's something we know to be open. We haven't done as much lately andwe need to get back into the habit of but really being open, communicatingand really trying to get on that same page and, sadly, developing aplan before it happens, knowing that we're going to send out. Our firstline of response is going to be that email to affected students and then goingto social media. Knowing that and having that planned out in advance and havingthat and excel, having that in a project management sheet, whatever, howeveryou organize your work and having that information shared amongst your team. That's reallykey as well. I really preplanning is really important, really great practical advice. Cat Cat, thanks so much for joining us today. What's the bestplace for listeners to connect with you. If they have any follow up questions, they can always tweet me, because I loved it, and you canfind me at Cat Cornetta, and it's cat with a K, so it'sKat cr n etta that you can tweet me whenever. You can also emailme 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 andcare for so there's that's a perfect way to think about it. She's agreat person to know. Folks, thanks...

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

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