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/ November 8, 2012
It Took A Disaster For NYU To Embrace Social Media, But Will It Last?


We were pretty impressed with NYU’s communication during and after Hurricane Sandy. The University’s website was updated quickly with alerts, cancellation notices and pages for relief donation and volunteer opportunities; so many emails passed through our inboxes that we nearly fulfilled Bloomberg’s recommendation to read a book; and numerous University-affiliated social media channels were bursting with answers.

For the first time in God-knows-when, we saw NYU using Facebook to communicate relevant information. On Sunday at 10:37 am, NYU’s official Facebook page announced the cancellation of Monday classes. Since the University does such a poor job engaging with students through their Facebook page, few noticed the news until we and others picked it up.

Jules Martin’s 431-word email announcement came at 1 pm, nearly an hour and a half after news broke on Facebook. (With, of course, more detailed information.) Five hours later, NYU remembered the emergency Twitter account (@nyuinfoalert) they last posted to in February and updated it with the announcement:

NYU cancels classes and will be closed on Mon, Oct 29, due to Hurricane Sandy.

Since then, they’ve been updating this account constantly, keeping announcements perfectly concise and, when necessary, linking to more information on the Info Alert webpage.

The account is a tease. It shows how useful Twitter could be as a platform for NYU to quickly communicate with students and faculty. The character limit means the University is forced to overcome two of its fatal communication faults: (1) long, periodic emails and (2) ambiguous subject lines that almost always use the words “important.” Despite a surge of followers over the last week, the account is still about 1/100th the size of the NYU’s Facebook page. As a result, University spokesman John Beckman says it seems like investing in their Facebook presence is a better idea.

Well, duh. But that’s because they do a crappy job promoting Twitter accounts. Did you even know there was an @nyuinfoalert Twitter? Or how about NYU’s official Twitter account (@NYUniversity), which has sat in dormancy since April of 2009?

John Beckman suggested the unevenness of NYU’s social media communication was partly a staffing issue. How could it write a 140-character tweet when busy perfecting 800-word emails like “IMPORTANT: Please Read This Because It’s Important” and “Update About Something That Affects You But You Can’t Tell From This Subject Line Or The First Four Paragraphs.” Remember that time we all freaked out because NYU suddenly gave us access to every NYU email address? Turns out, NYU had announced the policy change in an email stupidly titled University Compliance with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), which all of 7 people read. If NYU were a PowerPoint user, it would be the kind that fills slides with paragraph-length bullets.

The other reality is that reaching every kind of NYU-affiliated human requires so many platforms: it may be quickest to reach some students via social media, some via text messaging, and others with email and phone calls. Flexing and bending to reach everyone in the fastest way possible is a huge job. Well, unless you have one of those all-in-one marketing management tools that the rest of the functioning world uses.

It’s embarrassing that we don’t have a centralized voice on Twitter. Until the Office of Digital Communications hires personnel to strategize and coordinate social and mobile media—which we’re told is in the future—NYU’s communication will be fragmented across social channels. Hurricane Sandy proved to NYU how useful social media could be. We only hope that the feeling will last.