Boston University’s Social Media Etiquette During National Tragedies

Day in and day out, we are inundated with tragedy. Think about it: from the news, to social media, if it seems like you can turn on the tv, open an app, or log onto the internet without being confronted with tragedy.

If you’re a higher education institution, what is your role? How do you respond to a national tragedy? Do you stay silent? Get out in front of it? It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is.

On this episode of Enrollment Growth University, we got to talk with Kat Cornetta, Assistant to the Dean of Students at Boston University about why the best social media response during a national tragedy may very well be silence.

Resist the Urge to Speak

When news breaks, a social media manager’s primary urge is to respond. Which is understandable. That’s what they’re good at. Getting in front of the story.

But in the wake of tragedy, be it a natural disaster, or something perpetrated by humans, Boston University has decided to implement a period of silence, rather than contributing to the noise.

Jumping in and making statements, assumptions, or even claiming to know how the tragedy would impact students, is premature.

Obviously, if you know that your student body is directly impacted, as was the case during the Boston Marathon Bombings in 2013, you may need to respond immediately, as Boston University did, just to keep your student body up to date.

Be Very Careful about Scheduled Posts

The last thing you want is to be unaware of the posts that you have scheduled during a tragedy. Auto-posts have their place, but the last thing you’re going to be thinking in the midst of a tragedy is “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to turn off the auto-posting.”

With the way the news moves, and the speed at which things take on a life of their own on Twitter, you may want to reconsider whether auto-posting is right for you and your institution. Maybe schedule things for a few hours out, not days or weeks.

Proximity-Dependent Posting

In the wake of the recent Las Vegas shootings, UNLV utilized their social media channels to organize times for vigils, prayer, and gatherings to mourn. The President of the university used social media to share a message to the campus community, while other universities chose silence.

When your institution is in close proximity to a tragedy, it’s appropriate to use social media to get the word out about safety, campus closures, etc. But if you’re not nearby, you’re likely not contributing anything in those first couple of hours.

Forget About your Brand

After the Paris attacks, Amazon put up an image of the French flag, and took down all their recommended products from their home page.

Conversely, after 9/11, Kenneth Cole ran a 9+11=20% off sale, and received a plethora of well-deserved pushback.

Your focus in a time of tragedy should be how you can best bring people together, not how you can make the most money for your brand, or get the most exposure. People will see right through that.

The biggest thing for social media managers to remember is that communication is key. If you’re at a large institution, utilize as many channels of communication as you can, whether that’s social media, email, phone, text, etc.

Communicate well, and communicate quickly, and also know when to stay quiet.

This post is based on a podcast interview with Kat Cornetta from the Boston University. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to Enrollment Growth University.

If you don’t use iTunes, you can listen to every episode here.