President Smatresk active in social media world

President Smatresk active in social media world

President Smatresk active in social media world
April 15
23:56 2015

Kelsey Medina / Staff Writer

On April 2, UNT President Neal Smatresk was dressed in a navy blue suit with a polka-dot tie on in response to a tweet he received from one of his 4,500 followers on Twitter.

“I am, in theory, the top presidential tweeter in the country,” Smatresk said, iPhone in hand.

Business freshman Hannah Frosch sent out a tweet to the president on April 1 asking the president to join her, along with her organization, Chi Omega, and the rest of the world, in wearing blue for World Autism Awareness Day. The day of awareness is recognized worldwide annually on April 2.

“After I tagged him in the tweet, he retweeted, favorited and replied back to me more than once,” Frosch said. “Having a president that directly replies to concerns, comments and questions is so helpful and thoughtful. I feel it makes a better connection between the students and the university.”

Communication with students, both directly and indirectly, has always been a passion of Smatresk’s, he said.

“I love wandering the campus and sitting down just talking to groups of students,” Smatresk said. “Of course your reach is limited when you depend on face-to-face contact.”

Smatresk said he started using social media as a way to further reach out to his students when he was president at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He began with videos on YouTube but later switched to Twitter when he started his term at UNT.

“You just can’t do YouTube videos every day, and the management of the content wasn’t always student-centric,” Smatresk said. “By the time I got here, I knew I needed another strategy. In the summer of last year, I started tweeting.”

Smatresk said he believes Twitter is the new Facebook, and is a more useful tool than most other forms of social media.

“People want to live in a connected world, where people are listening and care,” Smatresk said. “I can do that better by using Twitter.”

Smatresk said he has found Twitter to be a great way for him to engage students who might want to come to UNT, but it requires some help from his staff.

“I don’t want anyone to think I do it all by myself,” Smatresk said. “There are times where I’m just wall-to-wall, and I get caught in embarrassing moments where I am trying to send a tweet.”

Earnestine Bousquet, a representative of the President’s Office of Communications, has been the front person for Smatresk when he doesn’t have the time to tweet himself. He said she is most present when it comes to communicating with incoming students.

Bousquet is not the only faculty member who assists with the president’s social media presence. UNT has a social media team within the Department of University Relations, Communications and Marketing that helps support Smatresk’s Twitter account.

Web content manager Michelle Hale is in charge of assembling the social media team that aides the president with favoriting and retweeting from his Twitter, as well as overseeing UNT’s primary institutional web sites, news and event systems, and social media channels.

In addition to assisting with the @UNTPrez Twitter account, Hale is in charge of maintaining many of the university’s other accounts as well, including @UNTEagleAlert, @UNTnews, @UNTsocial, and @NorthTexan. When a crisis arises at the university, Hale said the social media team breaks into shifts on the Internet.

“One person will manage Facebook for four hours, one will manage Twitter for four hours, and then we will bring in two more people to manage those accounts,” Hale said. “You have to stay on it because people are asking questions, they are confused about things and they want to be heard. They want someone to listen and respond to them.”

Social media can be just as detrimental as it is useful, Smatresk said. He said he has encountered Twitter users who want to hijack the conversation around their agenda, but he chooses to ignore it. The university’s goal for Twitter is to create a sense of community, not dampen it, he said.

“If someone is saying inflammatory things, wrongheaded things or is broadly insulting to the community, I block them,” Smatresk said. “I don’t view that as useful.”

When Smatresk is tweeting, he runs his own policy of what he should post in the social media world. Smatresk said he is still finding a balance between the two, though there is a line he does not cross.

“Anything that is really half-baked or sensitive I don’t tweet on,” Smatresk said. “If it is a fluid situation, you don’t want to have to retract your tweet.”

Smatresk said the closest he has come to dealing with these types of fluid situations was with the recent snow days. While Smatresk is the one who makes the final call on campus closures, Eagle Alert is the official vehicle of delivering the message.

“If you read an Eagle Alert that says the campus is closed, then campus is closed,” Smatresk said. “If you read it from me, while I hope you can trust it, it isn’t official.”

Making the call to close campus is a tough one, and the president said there was one time the university didn’t get it right.

“We closed the campus down because everyone else was closing, and we probably shouldn’t have, because the roads were fine by noon,” Smatresk said. “But hey, everyone enjoys a snow day. Plus, I got some new followers.”

Undeclared freshman Javier Garza said having the president on Twitter is convenient for when the university faces these types of closures.

“I usually heard about one of his tweets before I got an Eagle Alert,” Garza said. “It made it easier to plan my days in advance because Twitter was a faster mode of communication.”

Garza said he recently tweeted to the president in hopes of getting appliances at Bruce Hall fixed.

The president said he would like to know what his followers get out of interacting with him on Twitter, and hopes it makes students feel more connected on campus.

“Social media is an experiment that we have all kind of joined into,” Smatresk said. “I suspect it will be evolving continuously, and we are going to have to keep switching strategies as time goes by.”

Featured Image of President Neal Smatresk courtesy of UNT News

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