Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How a closing college proves social media can’t be an afterthought during crises

By: Noelle Cutler, Leonard & Finco Public Relations

When “all hell breaks loose” at an organization, employees are left scrambling to pick up the pieces. In the midst of chaos, social media may be tossed aside. It can be an afterthought, an extraneous side project they no longer have time for. But wait…don’t these organizations realize that crisis-mode is the most important time to be using social media? Don’t they realize that it’s the one time when the public is most interested in what they have to say? Don’t they realize that this is the worst time for there to be radio silence? 

For ITT Technical Institute, the answer to all of these questions is a big fat no. The for-profit college chain was forced to abruptly close its doors in recent weeks after the Department of Education cut its funding, leaving 40,000 students and 8,000 employees in the lurch.

All of the 130 campuses were closed immediately, in turn closing the door on current students’ plans for graduation. Despite promises of loan forgiveness, students are understandably angry. As one might expect, these angry students have taken to social media to voice their complaints. While ITT did issue a news release about the situation, not a single social media post has been made about the situation. 

Instead, most recent posts on their Facebook and Twitter pages thank high school students for visiting their campus and encourage followers to sign up for fall classes. Looking at those posts now, all you’ll find is one berating comment after another, mocking the clear irrelevance of these posts. Hundreds of rational comments are being left with no response. Beyond just angry students, ITT’s closing has become a national story. By now, no doubt thousands of people are visiting their social media pages and leaving with a very unpleasant taste in their mouth.

Now the point in this isn’t just to say, “ITT did a really bad job at social media. The end.” This is actually a unique crisis situation in that the people who were probably running the social media pages no longer have their jobs, and the social media pages represent an organization that no longer exists. So we can’t really blame ITT for such a dismal social media response. But we can look at this and learn some lessons. 

ITT’s social media pages are still active…and have become a “permanent” holding area for people to express their frustrations…and hear nothing back. See how poorly that reflects on this now defunct organization? Let this be a lesson: in times of crisis, the worst thing you can do is let complaints pile up on social media without acknowledgment or explanation, especially in this channel where your audience is obviously listening. Social media is your VOICE to your public. So use it.

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