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UI, other schools upping social media

BY JANET LAWLER | SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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University officials say they don't have an official policy governing university-branded social media following a gaffe last week in which the university apologized for an "inappropriate" tweet.

However, tweets, posts, and "pics" are now contributing to the greater recruiting endeavors at the University of Iowa including many of its different departments. And university officials say a centralized policy is in the works.

Eric Page, an assistant director of University Creative Services, said there is no time frame set for the centralized policy's release.

"We need to remember to be somewhat reined in and remember that we represent an institution, not ourselves," he said.

Earlier this month, @UIowaPolitics posted a message on Twitter saying, "I didn't know Bachmann was in town. Bah-dum-bum" after news that a cougar had been spotted in Iowa City. Shortly thereafter, the tweet was removed and university officials apologized.

"You know, I think we'll probably look at this opportunity to examine whether a policy would be appropriate," UI President Sally Mason told The Daily Iowan this week. "These technologies are evolving so quickly that it's sometimes hard to figure out exactly what we should be doing, and we should be monitoring it."

Despite the controversy over the Bachmann tweet, officials say social media has been mostly positive for the university.

Page is the main manager of the official @uiowa Twitter account and does day-to-day maintenance of the official UI Facebook page. Although many departments in the university have accounts, Page said the main Twitter page currently has 11,000 followers.

"[Social media] is a great way to reach an audience; it's a direct avenue to them and doesn't require issuing a press release to traditional media," Page said. "Our main goal is to engage the audience in a way that tells the university's story."

There are more than 15 UI affiliated departments or organizations that have Twitter accounts in addition to the official Twitter page, something Assistant Professor Petya Eckler, who studies health communication at the University of Iowa, said could potentially cause problems for any institution with a similar situation.

"Institutions are not people; they are huge organizations, and it's hard to get a unified voice from all of those people," she said.

"It's harder to mandate things here because universities value freedom of opinion but are much more decentralized," Eckler said.

Social-media policies at Iowa's public colleges vary.

Annette Hacker, a spokeswoman for Iowa State University, said there was no central policy for the university, but some departments that chose to have social-media sites would have their own policies, whether it be formal or more general guidelines such as they have in the Code of Computer Ethics and Acceptable Usage.

"Social media is one more tool to reach out to a fragmented audience," Hacker said. "We can no longer rely on just paper, just TV, just email."

Jim O'Connor, assistant vice president of marketing and public relations at University of Northern Iowa, said finishing touches were being placed on a Best Practices document for social media.

O'Connor said the document will cover effective use, managing profiles, appropriate icons, how to deal with negative posts, and in general what departments should consider when creating social media sites for the institution. The University of Northern Iowa is holding a seminar in three weeks to discuss how institutional social media should be handled across the campus in both the technical and content aspect.

Forrest Meyer, the executive director of Strategic Communications for the UI Foundation, has a social media presence as well. Meyer said the foundation is in the process of developing a formal social media policy hopefully to be implemented in a few months.

"The policy is just as much to help people to use social media effectively," he said.


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