Great Social Media Idea: Courage

Before I get started on today's post, do yourself a favor and go check out Varsity Outreach's still-ongoing series on higher ed Facebook pages in 2013. It's a staggering amount of work - 300,000+ posts from 700+ pages - and offers some invaluable insights. Its rankings come out on Thursday, which are great for indicating which pages you should check out to glean ideas from. Plus, they are always fun for bragging rights... I was more than a little excited when my UP page ranked 3rd in its size category last year.

These annual rankings are truly yeoman's work, and you really, really, really should go check out what they have put together. We are all richer for their incredible work.

Now onto today's post, which is going to sound very familiar to anyone who read my post about Willamette University from a few weeks ago

Earlier this week, University of Missouri football star and NFL prospect Michael Sam came out publicly, setting him up to possibly become the first active player of a major American sport to be openly gay. This is a big deal, and unless you live under a rock you've probably heard about it in the news.

Oh how I wish this weren't the case, but issues like this can sometimes be a bit touchy, especially for religious institutions and schools located in areas that have large numbers of evangelical Christians. I know this from personal experience, when a famous UP alumna - Megan Rapinoe of the US women's national soccer team, who got the assist on arguably the most famous goal in women's soccer history - made headlines by coming out prior to the 2012 Olympics. As much as I wanted to use UP's social media to congratulate her, I couldn't because UP is a Catholic school and there was a fear that posting something would upset and/or alienate people.

That whole experience has always left a sour taste in my mouth, which is possibly why I've been so very glad to see both Willamette University and University of Missouri give their full-throated support to their student-athletes coming out, naysayers be damned.

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Very soon after Sam's announcement, Mizzou posted this image on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, with the pitch-perfect quip We support tigers of all stripes at Mizzou. Where some schools and administrators may have instead opted to "not rock the boat," Mizzou basically said, "Screw that, we're supporting our student."

The result? Nearly 8,000 re-tweets, 1,500 Facebook shares, 2,000 likes on Instagram. They had the courage to not be afraid of negative reaction, and they were rewarded for it. They supported a student who just made a historic announcement.

Were there some ugly things posted in the comments? Absolutely. Did some people say they were unfollowing Mizzou on social media and that they would no longer support the university? Yes.

But those people ended up looking petty, and were stridently shouted down by people proud of Sam and of Mizzou for not being afraid to publicly and vociferously support him. I guarantee you that Missouri ended up with a lot more new followers than they lost. Check out this graph from Twitter counter, showing Mizzou's Twitter growth over the past month. One guess as to when they posted about Sam.

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That's more than 1,000 new followers in two days. Not too shabby, and a just reward for not being too afraid of possible negative blowback to post anything.

Higher-ups hate being put in a position where they could get angry phone calls from alumni and donors, and they hate anything that could put the university in a poor light, especially on social media where it can spread like wildfire. I get that.

But you can't live your life in fear, and you can't make the mistake of thinking that if your institution doesn't post about something that means nobody on social media will talk about it. No one can control what people post on their own social media accounts, and while staying quiet is certainly the correct approach for certain issues, it shouldn't become the default every time something potentially controversial arises.

So big ups to Mizzou for being so forthright with their support of Sam!

 

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