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Beyond the News

The Policy Police

University Business, Jan 2012
screengrab of SHSU's social media page

People can be very sensitive about their social media accounts, as witnessed any time Facebook makes changes to the news feed presentation. So it makes sense that the Sam Houston State University (Texas) campus reacted badly when administrators tried to implement a new social media policy requiring any school group with SHSU in its name to grant administrative access to the Marketing and Communications department. Cries of “free speech” quickly followed. Since then, reports in the campus newspaper indicate a social media committee was created and tasked with developing a new policy.

Leaders at all levels are realizing any attempt to control posts is doomed to fail. That kind of policy is “short sighted and entirely misses the point of social media,” says Mark Greenfield, a higher ed web consultant and associate consultant at Noel-Levitz. “Institutions need to understand that social media is a dialogue, not a monologue,” he points out, and administrators especially shouldn’t expect to have control over third-party sites. Cases are making their way through the courts on actions such as administrators removing posts made on a school’s Facebook wall.

Since social media is a dialogue, it’s best to open one up before a new policy is put in place.

Campus departments and groups that are already using social media should be part of policy development and enforcement, advises Stephanie Geyer, associate vice president of web strategy services at Noel-Levitz. Students with the most interest in social media policy, she adds, are likely those who are involved in student government and clubs­—so they’re “already at the table and working as brand champions for the school.”

Many schools are successfully using social media to engage constituents and provide excellent customer service, Geyer says. The next step would be having those students engaging with prospects about why their school is a good choice. But first, everyone has to agree on acceptable behavior.