University Web Developers

University Web Developers

We recently had a discussion about posting bad news to Facebook -- specifically, after the death of a student. We've got lots of opinions on the matter, ranging from, "Say nothing/not appropriate" to "Publish an immediate condolence" to "Publish as a means of news distribution" to...other things in between.

Has your institution discussed this kind of thing? What is your policy? Or what would be your policy if you had to make one? And why?

TIA for the insight!

--Kerri
University of Rhode Island

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I pretty much control our Facebook presence mostly unilaterally for the most part. I would be of the opinion that our Facebook community is part marketing, part admission (actually, that's not really opinion, as that's who runs it). I wouldn't post news like that simply because I don't see how it would serve the audiences in those capacities. I'm sure I could come up with exceptions to that, but my goal is usually to push positive agendas, energy, and messages. That's the marketing in me talking.
I'm pretty much with Mr. Fienen on this one in that on Facebook we try to stick with the positive in order to foster marketing, admissions, etc. However in such a circumstances our official homepage usually has a message of condolence.
Being open is an important feeling to give users.. if someone's facebook page.. or a brand's facebook page.. or a university facebook page only discusses a much less than real feeling - it will be obvious to all those users (many who are prospective students).

humans like reality. Not to say we should not filter what we put up there. Of course the university should have a message and communication plan for that... but a dose of reality will put the user at ease that this is a real page, community, brand.
I agree 100%.
Take the question a different way. Do you allow public posts on your institutional page? What would you do if someone *else* posts the news there? In a positive way (announcing a candlelight vigil), neutral way (link to external news story), or negative way ("good riddance, I hated that kid")?
I also have to agree with Michal here. The purpose of Facebook is one thing but I do not think it should be used for other purposes. And I back that with Chris, by saying there is a place for that and possible the homepage could be used for that purpose, not the social media accounts.That is my opinion only and not the opinion of my college or any of my administrators or any local or federal government. :)
Unfortunately here at UT we have had to deal with this issue more than we would like to in the last three months. We had a student murdered walking home late from a party in August, a student killed in a hit and run on Friday, and another 3 students in a seriously injured in a car accident last night.

When students organized vigils, we posted those to our facebook page, twitter and our Web site. UT is a fairly close community and I think to not do it would have raised questions about why aren't we informing people about the vigils. Are we hiding bad news to protect ourselves. All the local media outlets are fans of FB and/or follow our tweets.

We allow people to post comments but if they don't follow our stated policy, we take their comments down. If we hadn't posted someone else would. We prefer to stay on the offensive rather than the defensive so to speak. The comments so far have been positive condolences.

With the murdered student, someone posted a rant about the city police and we took it down, because he swore throughout it, not because of the message. The policy saved us on that instance. It's on the FB page.

I guess once you start a policy, just be consistent with it.

Here is our FB page: www.facebook.com/universityoftampa
I agree that the focus of our page is kept positive but it is also useful as a quick way to inform a large group in times of need.

We probably wouldn't use Facebook for a student's passing but we did use it effectively when we had one of our deans pass away. It was a good way to let students and alumni know when and where the service would be, in case they hadn't seen it on our website or in the news.

We pointed back to his memorial page on the website which included a place people could send messages and contribute to a scholarship fund set up in his memory. Our audience was grateful to know the information.
A while back a few students and alumni were killed in a car accident. Our public affairs department produced material with information about what happened as well as the student organized vigils afterwards. We did post some information on FB about the vigil/wake/event on campus, but didn't do anything else news-ish. One of the alumni killed had recently signed on with the Angels, so I think that contributed to some of the posts and comments people made on the wall.
It seems to me a lot of it depends on who your fans are (the mantra of one of my marketing mentors keeps coming back to me: "Know your audience").

We are a graduate level seminary, and all but a few of our fans are students and alumni. If news (good or bad) might impact those communities, we tend to post it to our Facebook page (of course, we are a relatively small community with around 1000 students, so the bad news is not likely on the same level that large undergrad institutions face). We recognize that most of the people in our fanbase do not go to our website unless they hear the news somewhere else and want to see what our response is or get more information. Because of who our fans are, our Facebook page is a news tool that helps connect our community to the seminary and each other.

If an audience is primarily prospective students (and their parents), it's probably best not to include that sort of information, not because you are trying to hide something, but rather because it is not relevant to them.
These kinds of conversations can help define what we consider news and whether Facebook is the right place to deliver news--as opposed to the university's home page.

Brenden's post refers to "news-ish" items, and I too find myself grappling with how to term certain kinds of announcements--or information that's worth sharing. The kinds of information being shared on Facebook seem more like FYIs--even when they are "headlines" of news stories. We include the link to the story as a courtesy but fully expect fans to only react to the headline or image.

Keeping the FYIs real (per David's post), consistently respectful and helpful in tone, along with a dash of positive cheer when appropriate seems to be working. Feel-good achievements, shout-outs, and events that honor individuals always seem to garner the most "likes" and comments.
I agree with DJ. Our school is similar- small, tight knit, close community. Our audience is by far mostly students and alumni. So last year when a beloved professor died suddenly, I did post it to Facebook.

This may be semantics or whatever, but I do not want to "break" that news over Facebook. I'd wait until an all-campus email went out or an official release was ready.

It depends on the personality not only of the school but also of the page presence.

Very good question. Glad to hear others' thoughts on this subject.

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