K-State University President on why and how he used Twitter to defuse Basketball Coach crisis #highered

April 4th, 2012 Karine Joly 10 Comments

March Madness took an unexpected turn last week for K-State University when Basketball Head Coach Martin announced his decision to leave for South Carolina.

While the news was announced through a very formal press conference held last Tuesday morning, President Schulz didn’t quite follow the University President PlayBook when it comes to communications around bad news or crises. You know what I mean –sticking to traditional news outlets and keeping a distance with unhappy fans and mean critics. No, President Schulz didn’t dodge the ball He caught it in mid-air and scored in a very refreshing, authentic and human way by… using Twitter to engage with them directly in real time.

Just look at a couple of his tweets:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/kstate_pres/status/184725769044500480″]

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/kstate_pres/status/184757226446131202″]

With more than 8,000 Twitter followers and 2,300 tweets under his belt, K-State President is NOT the new or clueless kid on the Twitter block.

If you take a few minutes to go over his tweets (@kstate_pres), you’ll see that he knows how to reply, retweet and post to engage his followers.

Choosing what to retweet is also something he does very well as shown below.

So, when Bill Herndon, Director of Web Services at K-State emailed me about this last Tuesday, I asked right away – following the proper channels – if President Schultz would answer a few questions so we can all understand why he chose Twitter in this specific instance. I got my short email interview back the same day just a few hours after my initial request (so, K-State President is pretty good with email as well).

Kirk H. Schulz

K-State President

1) President Schulz, you’ve recently used Twitter to answer tough questions about the departure of K-State Head Basketball Coach. Why Twitter?

Twitter allows for immediate feedback and interaction with many members of the K-State alumni base – including sports media. Since people had posted items which I thought were not correct, I wanted to provide some real time dialoging opportunities for people to ask about things associated with athletics. I also felt it was appropropriate to tackle some of the more aggressive questions and not try and dodge difficult issues related to our basketball program.

2) You seem to be very active on your Twitter account. Are you the only one managing your Twitter presence or do you get help from staffers?

I do manage my account by myself, and do 95% of it on my iPhone. I can do a Twitter posting from virtually anywhere and at anytime – which means I can do it between meetings. Also, by doing it myself my Twitter postings are reflective of my personality – as opposed to “corporate twittering” which is often simply posting weblinks.

3) What would you say to other university/college presidents who are still hesitant to embrace Twitter as a communication channel?

I would encourage them to embrace Twitter and Social Media – which is here to stay! I believe that often people don’t know what Presidents do with their time – and this also allows a larger group of people to keep attuned to what their President is doing to advance the university.

10 Responses

  1. This is a great case study, Karine. President Schultz appears to be one of a very few leaders in higher ed who embrace Twitter as a tool for immediate and transparent communication. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lance says:

    As someone fairly close to the situation, I can tell you that the whole thing was a train wreck and I am embarrassed by the administration. It was like watching amateurs try to do surgery. They got killed on Twitter.

  3. Bill Herndon says:

    Thanks Karine, we are very proud of the boss. President Shulz has been very supportive of our efforts and we have just established a social media center here (complete with 46″ monitors) to track and display the conversations happening.

  4. Karine Joly says:

    @Lance – care to give us some examples?

  5. Donna says:

    This is great. Thanks for sharing. Our president is active on Facebook and he is very interested in starting Twitter as well. I will have to share this interview with him.

  6. Chris Syme says:

    Good piece, Karine. This stuff happens all the time in athletics at big schools (coaching changes), so I hesitate to call it a crisis, but I’m sure it seems so to them. I am excited to see a college president take to Twitter and use it to communicate with fans. Good move by a smart guy. One of the things social media is really good for is taking your knocks, and getting back on track. I wish more college presidents would follow his example. Thanks for the find.

  7. Karine Joly says:

    @Chris The timing of the announcement was pretty sub-optimal though.

  8. cksyme says:

    @Karine. How so?

  9. Katye Hanlin says:

    This is great coverage of what is going on with President Schulz. I love how complete this blog is, giving actual pictures of the tweets, and you did a thorough job with the copied tweets and interview questions. I can tell that the President of K-State University knows how to reach people and use technology carefully in order to express himself and let everyone know what’s truly going on. It’s refreshing to see a person with authority use something like Twitter in such a positive and effective way.

  10. Alex Aguilar says:

    With so much news of social media PR disasters from clueless executives it’s refreshing to see an executive who actually knows how to use social media. Regardless of the finer details of this incident, this should be a textbook example for upper management on how to properly use social media in a PR crisis.

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