Recently, a major university’s Twitter accounts prompted alumni to react negatively after “accidental” posts by the students entrusted to actually manage the accounts, hour-to-hour, on behalf of the school.
In one case, an account representing one of the university’s most respected colleges, with a following of nearly 8,000, tweeted on Election Night “Woo Hoo!” in re-tweeting news that Colorado passed a ballot proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. In another case, the university Twitter account itself, followed by more than 17,000, tweeted that it was enjoying a Chick-Fil-A breakfast, even though there are no restaurants in that chain anywhere near campus. In both cases, it was a student posting personal tweets on the school’s accounts. In both cases, the students tried to apologize, in one case blaming the Hootsuite software, making the situation even worse, before the tweets were deleted.
Far beyond a PR lesson, there’s a cultural lesson here that extends far beyond one campus. This trouble didn’t start at the moment of careless students tweeting. It started because our culture has anointed college students as “social media experts.”
That is a flawed distinction because, really, college students, in the midst of a period of learning and growth, shouldn’t be deemed experts in anything. Think about it – many of them just learned how to make a bed when they arrived on campus. It’s time to end the “they’ve been online their whole lives, so they’re really good at it.” Well, I’ve lived in a home with indoor plumbing for my whole life. I use the plumbing every day. Does that make me qualified to be a plumber?
The same thing happens in the workplace. Too often, automatically, the youngest person in any office is the one “handling” social media. That’s a mistake. Just because someone “lives their life online” doesn’t mean they are the best communicator. Sure, on our teams, the younger members of our office tend to handle social media for clients day-to-day. But that’s because we have pre-qualified them as sharp writers with sound judgment, who handle other forms of client communications the rest of the day. They’re professional communicators.
As someone who started on the radio at age 11, nobody values a hands-on communications education more than I do. That’s why, like student newspapers and student radio stations have helped trained students for years, there should be student opportunities for social media. But when you turn over your online brand, you’re asking for trouble. I even worked in commercial, professional radio when I was in college, but never without editors, producers and other filters.
The mistakes made by student tweeters in recent weeks could have gotten them fired in The Real World. Instead, they probably got a “talking to” and, hopefully, an experience that will stay with them for the rest of their careers. They should be able to have those experiences, on accounts flagged as “student run.” But students should not be the greeters at the front door of your brand. Invest the extra dollars and leave that to the pros.