Penn State’s Facebook Woes
Everybody knows Penn State rarely cancels classes at University Park because of snow. We’ve been told this since before enrollment and it’s been repeated since. Yet, like clockwork, every time a snowstorm comes into Happy Valley, the students start clamoring for classes to be canceled. The Office of the Physical Plant works very hard to ensure that campus walkways and roads are safe for students to traverse, same can be said for the State College Department of Public Works. Now, I’m not going to discuss whether classes should have been canceled, I am going to discuss the issues that Penn State had with their Facebook account regarding the snow.
First off, stop complaining on Facebook, I’m tired of my feed being filled with people moaning that they have to get up and go to class, as if they haven’t been doing that since age 5. It’s State College, it snows, buy some boots and deal with it. Secondly, posting angry profanity-laced messages on Penn State’s Facebook page isn’t going to get anyone anywhere. While moderately unfair that several of the commonwealth campuses got their classes canceled, complaining on Facebook isn’t going to change anything. It’s immature, unnecessary, and inappropriate.
That being said, the way that the University handled those posts was also inappropriate at times. While they reserve the right to moderate their page (as they absolutely should), I feel as though they went a little too far in regards to responding to their criticisms. The University needs to understand that while the “Official News Source” of Penn State is Penn State Live, their Facebook page still provides Penn Staters valuable information regarding their University. As someone who has studied how organizations utilize social media, I’ve seen this issue come up before.
Organizations typically have very well thought out and comprehensive plans for disseminating information, but those plans end up going out the window as soon as social media is added to the equation. It’s very easy to ignore criticisms of an organization when they’re being randomly posted on the Internet or written about in the media, but as soon as something to this effect appears on the organization’s own pages (be it their website, Twitter, or Facebook), the issue becomes much more real. Somebody interested in that organization can have their opinion swayed upon viewing criticisms of the organization on their own site.
Penn State is obviously trying to avoid negative criticism in this instance (as one would expect them to). They felt that they needed to respond to these criticisms. Perhaps they did, but becoming engaged in a “flame war” of sorts was the wrong way to go about it. They fell into a trap that a lot of organizations fall into when it comes to social media. The Daily Collegian recognized this trap when they started expanding their Twitter presence and instituted the policy that (I’m told) only allows four of their editors access to their Twitter account and all tweets must be approved by at least one other editor. THON has a similar system in place in regards to their social media pages. Perhaps it’s time that the University institute a similar plan.