Learning from Earthquakes: First person reports

Raw, Real, and Open: UCSA Communications

March 17, 2011 by
Filed under EERI Team Field Blog, Social Impacts

The University of Canterbury Student Association has a clear strategy for online communications with their students at the Uni: honest, unfiltered, and raw. “Facebook is designed to be conversational,” explained their student services manager, Steve Jukes, “we want bad press as well as good press and we respond to every single comment that is posted on our wall.”

The man responding to every single comment is a twenty-something guy named Ryan. In his spare time he runs an online comedic site, similar to The Onion in the U.S. He brings levity and spirit to his work at the UCSA Facebook site as he interprets official University communications for students, bringing news to them using “real language” that isn’t sugar coated.

This approach, according to Steve, seems to be working. The daily traffic to the UCSA Facebook site catapulted in the days following the earthquake and Ryan and other staff began to catalog the concerns being posted by students. As the University management made decisions to cancel spring graduation ceremonies, the UCSA caught wind of student discontent and advocated their rights to the Vice Chancellor. While University schedulers focused on classroom space and teaching schedules, students expressed concerns about non-academic issues relating to information flow and financial aid. Once again, by observing social networks online, the UCSA identified student needs and was able to relay them to University officials.

This intentional community dialog stands out among other University strategies for communication. Rather than control the flow of information, the UCSA has chosen to engage, allowing for snarky comments as well as words of thanks. Meeting the psycho-social needs of connection and honesty is viewed by UCSA staff as being just as valuable as the uni-directional and controlled message of university officials; perhaps more so.


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