The “At” and “About” of Communication

Last week, an Inside Higher Ed article about a collection of Tweets written about professors was released, titled “What Are Students Tweeting About Us?“, was released. As a social media content curator for my office, I see what students are Tweeting about us, about their professors, and about their lives in general. Perhaps because I spend so much of my day looking at what students have to say, it doesn’t seem so foreign to me to see frustrations, triumphs, and everything in between play out in 140 character increments.

With that said, I’d like to address the question posed by the article. I’ll give my response, and then I’ll explain it.

What are students Tweeting about us? I don’t care.

To explain myself, I’m going to offer two scenarios that I’ve encountered in our first two weeks of classes. Hopefully, the pair of experiences offered will make my stance clear. If not, by all means, feel free to argue with me. That’s what the comments section is for 🙂

Scenario One: “This process is Wicked unfair!”

We do our reservations for ticketed events through Eventbrite, and our first event of the semester was Wicked. We expected ticket demand to be high, and for tickets to move quickly. So I was distressed to learn that we had a glitch in Eventbrite on the Thursday morning that sales began, where our ticket block was hidden for roughly the first half hour they were available. As soon as I was made aware of the error, I fixed it and notified students via our student portal and social media outlets. The tickets moved quickly, and I was thankful for the students who were patient as the kinks were worked out. One student, however, made her distress and frustration heard via Twitter.
Later in the day, our marketing department sent me an email alerting me of a student complaining that the ticket system was “the worst ever” and “totally unfair”

Scenario Two: “This is a waste of time.”

Fast forward to Sunday, where we held our re-engineered Student Organization Planning Day. The SGA, our office, and I were excited to debut a new format of this event, one whose name had elicited groans, sighs, eye rolling, and the simultaneous onset of colds, flu, and sick relatives across campus. As the event went on, we were confident that many of the students there appreciated the hard work, openness, and creativity with which the students and I approached the program. But one of our class officers realized that a student was Tweeting about how the event was a waste of time during our VPSA’s speech. We weren’t broadcasting tweets in real time, so this was really only something that those on Twitter at the time who followed this student could see.

Both students expressed disdain with a process that they didn’t like, wishing that the outcome were different. Both students fell victim to processes that were in “beta” mode, but could only be changed so much to fit their demands. So what was the difference?

The first student’s Tweet wasn’t a surprise to me when I received word of it…because the student contacted me just after she Tweeted. She reached out to let me know via email how she felt the process was unfair, and explained some of the concerns that she had. It turns out that much of her frustration lay in her struggle to get tickets for the past three years. (Please note, I’ve been on campus for a year, and this process has been in place for less than a semester.) So in an effort to get feedback and improve our processes, I responded to her message to apologize and ask in earnest how we could fix her concern. She responded with a suggestion that I plan to use in the future, should we have a glitch in the system once again.

In stark contrast, the second student was one we likely weren’t going to be able to please. We learned later that she was a last-minute write in to the executive board, filling an unexpected vacancy and essentially forced into her current station. She didn’t want to be there, and no level of flash, entertainment, or showmanship was going to change that fact.

This is why I worry little about what is Tweeted about me. What is Tweeted about me, my office, or my institution, is generally independent of the work my colleagues and I are trying to do.

But Tweets to us? Those I care about very much. Those students are reaching out, confronting their concerns, and seeking constructive feedback and assistance. Those are students in a productive mindset. Those are students who want to engage. Those are students I can help.

As you continue your year, and sift through direct and indirect feedback, don’t let the negative feedback get to you too much. Focus on what you can fix, focus on what you can make better, and focus on the students who are ready to receive your help. The rest will come around…and you can be there when they’re in the position to accept you.

One thought on “The “At” and “About” of Communication

  1. I like the second piece of this, you can only help the students that want help. Its challenging to engage with students who are venting and unwilling or unready to have a conversation about the event and their attendance. Engage when the opportunity is there but when its not? Let it be and keep doing the best work you can possibly do. Well said

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