Preparing for Constructive Criticism in Social Media

Matthew Anderson (@hewanderson) is the new media coordinator at Western Washington University.

I recently made a huge mistake when I posted to the Western Washington University Facebook page seeking critical opinions of the school.

The text of the post was simple: “If you could change one thing about Western, what would it be?

In short order, the post was awash in comments. For the first couple of hours, hardly a minute went by without a fan chiming in with something he or she doesn’t like about the university:

  • “Bring back FOOTBALL!!!”
  • “No gravel parking lots.”
  • “The freaking internet on campus.”
  • “More preparation for life after college.”

And even:

  • “The ‘f**k the students’ attitude the administration seems to have.”

Was it a mistake to ask our students, parents and alumni what they don’t like about Western Washington University? No, it wasn’t. The requisite trollish comments notwithstanding, we actually got some pretty good feedback and and are now actively looking to improve on the things we have power to change. Posts like this are fairly well self-policed, and we’re confident enough in what we’re doing at Western to take criticism as constructive feedback. That’s important.

So, what was the mistake? Well, it was twofold:

  • I didn’t warn anyone that it was coming.
  • I didn’t have a list handy for contacting the folks most capable of responding to certain complaints.

For example, no one from the parking committee was ready to thank students for their feedback on the parking situation or to explain the environmental reasons for not paving our lots. I didn’t have anyone from the technology office ready to guide students through tricky wi-fi login issues or to explain what improvements staff are making to the infrastructure down the road. I didn’t have anyone from dining services prepped to deal with potential complaints about food quality and choices or to explain how decisions are made regarding which restaurants we have on campus.

During the life of the post, thankfully, a few knowledgeable people chimed in to answer certain complaints, and I was able convince a few others to weigh in. However, the timeline on something like this is pretty tight—people will stop caring about this in a day or so, but what they take away from the experience will last much longer than that.

To obviate something like this from reoccurring with future posts, I’m compiling a list of names and numbers for the people on campus who use social media on behalf of the university. (I didn’t have this before, believe it or not—shame on me). That way, should the need arise, I can quickly contact the right person to respond to an issue.

And, the next time we seek constructive criticism on Facebook or another social media platform, I’ll alert the folks most able to deal with the common complaints in advance. And, after the fact, I’ll compile the complaints and send them out to the relevant experts—just to ensure they know what’s been said.

4 responses to “Preparing for Constructive Criticism in Social Media

  1. Pingback: Alumni Networks | Annotary·

  2. Next time, in a perfect world… the relevant experts shouldn’t need a heads up or a list of the complaints compiled in a format for offline consumption. The relevant experts should be part of the conversation all on their own, at the source, responding in realtime with *real* answers. A perfect world, where social web interactions become part of the job description for all employees and not just the new media, digital, social titles. A perfect world, where all employees are motivated to play on the social web for the good of the order. Kudos on rocking the boat!

    • Absolutely, Todd. Those scenarios are likely inevitable — someday — but whatever we can do to get folks on board now instead of later is important. Everyone younger than 30 (and this number gets higher every day) expects interaction to take place largely on the social web, so doing less than that is failing to meet expectations — and failing to provide good customer service.

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