SALEM — When Salem State University went into lockdown recently after a stabbing incident on a campus shuttle bus, sophomore Tyler Carlton was one of the many who turned to social media for the latest updates and information from SSU.
He and his classmates are more apt to use Facebook or Twitter, he said, than to check email, search websites or make a phone call. And the university has taken notice.
From answering questions about registering for classes to the shuttle stabbing “shelter in place” order, social media outlets have proved another way for the university to respond to students, disseminate information and shape the college’s image.
In the past several months, the university has made a concerted effort to increase and improve its social media presence, starting with the hiring over the summer of Web manager Amanda Voodre, who manages the college’s social media.
That effort kicked into high gear during the lockdown — especially to interact with students and others who posted questions — in addition to reverse-911 messages, press releases and other more traditional forms of communication.
“We knew that all eyes were on us,” Voodre said of the stabbing and lockdown incident. “ ... (Social media) really helps with rumor control, (and) built a sense of confidence within our community that we had a sense of control.
“During the shelter-in-place order, students were in classrooms with their phones and watching this unfold. They had a lot of questions. I tried to answer everything that I could so everyone had the right information.”
On an average day, Voodre keeps a constant eye on the college’s social media accounts, posting information about campus events and responding to inquiries — from when the library closes to why a favorite parking spot is blocked off.
“We do get complaints ... (and) we address those and try and help position the student in the right direction so their experience turns into a positive one,” she said. “That conversation’s public. People can see (it), and see whether or not a student is happy.”
Voodre also looks for messages from non-students, including parents, concerning the college. If a prospective student tweets a list of colleges they’re considering, including Salem State, Voodre says she’ll reach out to them.
“It’s a more high-touch, more personal experience they’ll have. ... That makes an impact in that student’s mind that we’re there to help them,” she said. “... How do we drive a positive reputation for our university? Social media is playing a huge role in shaping that. It’s a channel, a tool, that we’re using.”
Voodre, who came to Salem in June after six years in a similar role at Simmons College, tracks Salem State’s social media on her desktop computer, iPad and cellphone. In the evenings, she and her colleagues from the college’s marketing and creative services department take turns monitoring the accounts.
“It’s 24/7, you can’t turn it off. It’s a conversation in real time,” she said. “You can pretty much reach Salem State (anytime). We do have to sleep, but your tweet will be responded to within hours. We try and get to them pretty quickly.”
In addition to Salem State’s main Twitter account, there are more than 70 Twitter accounts for university departments, professors and student groups, said Voodre. The college also has more than a dozen different Facebook pages, as well as accounts on YouTube, Instagram, Flickr and other social media.
Salem State has a total enrollment of roughly 9,600 this year, including graduate, undergraduate and part-time students.
Going forward, Voodre said she’d like to increase the university’s social media presence even more, and make it more uniform by giving social media tutorials to professors and others interested in managing an account.
Amy Ouellette, a senior communications major, said she’s noticed the college’s increased — and better — use of social media this fall.
“(In past years), if students were unhappy about something, via Twitter and Facebook, they weren’t addressed. It was just ignored,” she said. “The back-and-forth engagement has really made a difference.”
Ouellette, who went back to college in her 30s, says social media is the “primary way to communicate” for many of her 18- to 22-year-old classmates — much more so than email or talking on the phone.
“It’s an effective tool that students are going to respond to,” said Ouellette. “... I use it as much to communicate with people I don’t know (as) people who I do know. It’s so instantaneous.”
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.