Managing Online Discussion About Hot Topics

First of all, I shouldn’t have to tell you what SOPA / PIPA is.  If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume that you’ve followed a link of mine to this post from a social network.  Which means you should hate what that legislation is trying to do.  Anything I would be telling you about it would be choir preaching.  Instead, I urge you to use your circle of influence and urge your friends and family to call upon your local lawmaker.

Now that we have that out of the way, I wanted to talk briefly about approaching these kind of hot topics when you’re managing a social media voice for a public figure or entity.  I don’t advocate taking a side unless it’s something that everyone views as morally or ethically terrible.  Even then, it’s tough to maintain a sense of neutrality.  In virtually all cases, it’s best to just present positive messages and stay away from anything that could possibly be polarizing.

However, this morning I posted this image to the UAH Facebook Fan Page:

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I obviously have my own opinions about SOPA / PIPA, but I wanted to showcase the creativity of our students as well as promote the fact that UAH welcomes our students to express themselves (in a mature manner) through this outlet on campus.  I didn’t want to get involved in the debate, and would leave that to students, friends, and alumni in the comments.  The hands off approach was the only logical one here.

A few hours later, this happened:

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Posts on our fan page have always gotten light interaction, never to this sort of level.  The likes here are great, but what’s fantastic is the number of shares.  Many of those 78 shares also had shares of their own, creating a domino effect.  The views of that image have increased exponentially over just a few hours, showcasing the involvement and creativity of our students at a lightning pace.

It also generated a ton of discussion:

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The SOPA / PIPA debate isn’t really a “debate,” as nearly all informed individuals have the same stance.  Of course though, there is some off topic discussion and a light level of negativity and sarcasm.  In this context, it’s just to be expected.  Undergrad students are finding their voice, and usually have a loud one.  The more mature students tend to police their own, which is another reason the hands off approach is the right one here.

Any discussion is positive in this case.  It’s getting students and others involved with the university connecting, and it’s showing that potential students have an opportunity to become involved, express their opinion, and join these discussions.  Plus, it shows what an awesome “geeky” and technologically aware student body we have.

Many educators I’ve spoken with over the years love that moment when they see students “get it” and find themselves in a world of possibility.  I find tremendous value in that as well, but love moments like what you see above just as much.

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