Education officials who have tracked colleges’ use of social media to handle controversies said the real-time communication channels can help put a positive spin on an overtly negative spate of publicity.
PSU has done just that, encouraging football fans to join the school’s “Blue Out” at the Nov. 12 game against the University of Nebraska. PSU’s Facebook page instructs fans to wear blue shirts and jerseys to support victims of child abuse.
The university will sell “Stop Child Abuse, Blue Out Nebraska” T-shirts before opening kickoff. More than 11,000 Facebook users have signed on to the “Blue Out” page.
PSU’s Facebook page also promoted a Nov. 11 candlelight vigil scheduled for victims of child abuse. Students unable to attend the vigil were encouraged by PSU to snap a photo of themselves holding a lit candle and post the picture on Facebook.
“In light of everything that has happened, the people that need our support the most are being overshadowed,” the PSU Facebook page said. “These are the victims — the ones who were abused — the ones who were hurt the most.”
“The keys to using social media in a crisis are listening, informing, and channeling energy in productive ways,” said Julie Germany, cofounder of the Association for Social Media and Higher Education, and former director of the George Washington University’s Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet.
The university has posted a series of reminders asking its Facebook fans to “remember profanity, spam … and attacks on other posters will need to be deleted.”The PSU page, especially in the hours after Paterno was fired, was littered with comments laced with profanities and personal attacks on university officials and people mentioned in the 23-page grand jury report that outlined Sandusky’s many crimes against boys.
“They probably need to realize that students and alums are going to use their Facebook page to vent anyway, whether they want them to or not,” Germany said. “So they should be prepared with extra staff to respond.”
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