Sarah Blugis: GW can do more with its social media presence

I know very few people who appreciate memes as much as I do. But over the past few months – and most recently following a few of GW’s emoji-laden Thanksgiving tweets – I’ve noticed that maybe, I can count GW among those who admire the power of internet culture.

It’s no secret that the University has been trying to modernize its Internet and social media presence. The school’s official Twitter account posts original “funny” poems, we have seemingly endless Snapchat filters for everything from the Science and Engineering Hall to Thurston Hall, and a short video of Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski dancing to “Hotline Bling” spread throughout the GW community early last month.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Sarah Blugis

Of course, most of this is likely a marketing tactic meant to appeal to prospective students. Having a warm, upbeat and timely social media presence is now a part of how schools compete with one another, so it makes sense that GW has jumped on the bandwagon. But the University shouldn’t be using Twitter and Instagram just for marketing purposes. Instead, the University should do more to use social media to connect with and help current students, since it’s an easy and effective way of communicating quickly.

For prospective students, a school’s social media pages may not warrant more than a quick glance, just to see what a university’s Twitter or Facebook account is like. But for current students, social media acts as much more than that. It’s an outlet: a place to complain, celebrate and connect.

In all honesty, it’s actually kind of cool that the University is trying to get on our level and understand what we find interesting – if you ignore the fact that time and money had to be spent to do so. For a school that often has trouble communicating with the majority of its students, it’s probably for the best that they learn a little bit about us.

But it’s possible for GW to be doing so much more on a personal level. Sure, the school’s official Twitter account retweets students and answers questions here and there, and that’s a good start. The best parts of the University’s social media presence, though, are the ones that aren’t quite as polished as @GWtweets.

Konwerski, for example, is constantly communicating with students. In fact, he probably knows the student body better than any other official at GW – both because he has embraced Twitter and because he cares about students. All semester, he’s been hosting “student affairs chats” on Twitter using “#SAChat,” which involve multiple officials in his office and give students a chance to participate.

In addition to covering subjects like student affairs, GW should hone in on more topics about which students need answers and host chats similar to Konwerski’s. Study abroad and financial aid, for example, are two areas in which students and parents often have time-sensitive questions, and may not have time to sit through a phone call or schedule a meeting.

There’s no reason that GW’s social media has to only be memes or silly Instagram posts, either. GW could use its social media to connect with students about more serious issues too, like sexual assault prevention tips or mental health awareness. Tweets on those topics pop up every now and then, but sometimes they feel drowned out by the other more shareable items.

Clearly, the University knows how to reach out to current students on social media. Some GW affiliated Twitter accounts, like the FIXit and the library accounts, have been useful for students over the past few years. The Division of Operations said last year it would use the @FixItComeFixIt account to improve customer service related to FIXit, and @gelmanlibrary responds to students having trouble with the temperature or loud students in the library.

Plus, there are a lot of officials who are noticeably absent from the University’s social media campaigns. As GW’s social media presence has grown over the last year, it would make sense for the social media office to finally push administrators into participating – but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Officials in some departments should be more connected to students than others, like the University Police Department, for example. Though @GWPolice is an active account, Chief RaShall Brackney isn’t on Twitter, which closes off one important line of communication for students. And University President Steven Knapp still hasn’t joined Twitter either, meaning students can’t easily ask him questions or interact with him online.

Of course, we can’t see everything that GW is doing on social media. They could be connecting with students in less visible ways. But from the outside, the University’s main accounts and social media platforms mostly appear to be a marketing tactic meant to appeal to prospective students, not current ones.

Right now, social media is the best way for schools to connect with both current and prospective students in different ways – but that connection has to be constructive. Though, if you say you didn’t enjoy Konwerski’s interpretation of the “Hotline Bling” dance at least a little, I think you’re probably lying.

Sarah Blugis, a senior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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