Last fall, as the university prepared to host an event featuring the band N*E*R*D, organizers correctly anticipated that the popular musicians would attract a throng of SU students eager to see them interviewed by Director of Chamber and Instrumental Music Quinton Morris. The timing of the announcement was carefully managed to ensure that all the necessary logistical elements were ready. However, before the news could be shared officially, it hit Facebook…and spread like wildfire.
This is just one example of how social media is rewriting the rules on how news is disseminated and received. Here at SU, the university is adapting and integrating social media into its broader communications repertoire in order to keep up with a demand that shows no signs of slowing. Within the past year, the number of fans and friends on SU’s Facebook page has doubled and continues to grow.
At SU, the responsibility for feeding the ever insatiable beast that is social media falls primarily to DJ Weidner, the university’s social media coordinator in Marketing Communications. Constantly checking for updates and responding as quickly as possible, Weidner manages this round-the-clock stream of communication. “We aim for a response time that is within the hour,” says Weidner, “Social media grows when there are real people talking on the other end.” Weidner’s favorite quote came from a prospective student on Twitter who tweeted, “when Seattle U re-tweets me, it makes me want to go there even more.”
On SU’s Facebook page, topics range from athletics to social justice issues, and input from followers is always encouraged as an essential part of the dynamic. A lot of times the conversation turns practical. During the snowfall in November, for instance, Weidner found himself responding to numerous questions from students about whether the university would close the next day, encouraging them to stay tuned as the official word was awaited.
Weidner is something of an oddity among Jesuit institutions. While most Jesuit colleges and universities are represented in the social media sphere and have people managing the pages, SU is unique in having a dedicated social media coordinator to oversee its communications in the social media world.
Weidner’s role in SU’s social media efforts is akin to the tip of the iceberg. Each school and college at SU manage their own social media outlets, as do offices and divisions such as Athletics, Campus Ministry, Career Services, the Lemieux Library and Student Activities, just to name a few.
As a result of the growing numbers of fans and friends within the social media “Big 3” (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube), the university has created a comprehensive media policy that “adheres to the mission, values and vision of the university.” Weidner took the lead in creating this policy along with several other members of the Marketing and Communications staff. Seattle University has become a leader and model for other universities as they begin crafting their own social media guidelines and policies.
Weidner is excited and encouraging when he talks about social media. He says he would like to see more participation and dialogue among faculty, staff and students, adding “When we acknowledge our community members, it helps make our community stronger. We welcome constructive criticism on the page to be able to make change happen.”
Nicole Vukonich is a senior majoring in political science and French.