Some Thoughts Before You Rant About The FAFSA “Twitter Fail”

Tonight, the @FAFSA Twitter account got a lot of attention. It was mentioned by ABC News and Vox.com, and I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before it hits the Huffington Post and Mashable. One of the leaders of #FAchat (the Financial Aid Twitter Chat) has also weighed in on their blog. The tweet every one is talking about, which has since been deleted, was this:

FAFSA Help Me I'm Poor Tweet

I’m not writing this post to jump on the band wagon and condemn FAFSA. Rather, I’m writing it to draw attention to the fine line social media managers must walk in an attempt to remain relevant and connect with their audience.

I’m a social media and market research strategist for a student loan servicer. My target audience is very close to that of @FAFSA—it’s the same students just a few months or years later, they’ve gotten their loans and are thinking about paying them back. I’m very familiar with the conversation that happens online regarding financial aid and student loans. I’ve considered sending a similar tweet. Here’s why.

The tweet reflects the language of the audience.

#HelpMeImPoor is commonly used by students when they refer to their struggles paying for college. This exact meme has been used by students in that context. These are their words. Here’s just one example.

FAFSA Tweet

FAFSA has had success with visual memes before.

This meme was funny:

FAFSA Right Meow Tweet

But it only received 127 retweets. It was cute and catchy, but not 100% aligned with their audience. It was safe.

The tweet may have been a calculated risk.

Social media pros are constantly preaching that we should “fail fast, fail often.” But why then, are we so quick to jump on the back of any social account that is deemed a failure with one tweet? @FAFSA has sent over 6,000 other tweets, and has been trying to add more attention-getting imagery to their tweets as of late. Yeah, maybe this one may have benefited from one more reviewer’s perspective. But I can understand the thought process that resulted in this tweet. And I’m not going to condemn a social media team that has been among some of the most innovative in government for one message that received criticism.

What happens tomorrow is important.

When execution fails to hit the mark (or an unexpected reaction is received), your recovery is extremely important. While it would be great if @FAFSA was addressing this tonight, I imagine that a government bureaucracy that tends to plan announcements weeks or months in advance is not going to convene close to midnight to respond to a “Twitter fail.”
Update: They apologized right as I published this post.

Why The FAFSA Tweet Makes Me Fearful

I’m afraid that the backlash from one tweet will cause a chain reaction that stalls or shuts down the FAFSA social media program. They are doing the best they can to make federal financial aid accessible to the millennial generation. They’ve created helpful tweets, informative YouTube videos, and infographics that break down incredibly complicated concepts so teenagers (and learners at all stages of life) feel confident navigating the financial aid process. For a government agency, they’ve been fairly nimble. They participate in monthly live Twitter chats. They respond to Facebook comments. And they take some risks. Some risks turn into learning opportunities. I’m confident they’ll learn from this one.

Full Disclosure: I’m acquainted with some of the people the run the @FAFSA account. I’m also acquainted with some of the more vocal critics of this tweet. I did not communicate with any of them before writing this post. I work in the student loan industry. These views are 100% my own and in no way represent the views of my employer.

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8 Comments on “Some Thoughts Before You Rant About The FAFSA “Twitter Fail”

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Part of me thought it was funny/ true because that WAS me when I wanted to go back to school. The context of the tweet made me sad because the movie is about a woman who couldn’t get her stuff together. Basically she’s pathetic. Furthermore, the other part that isn’t funny is that upon graduation, a huge chunk of money goes out the door each month without a 100% guarantee on return. If poor equals a sum of 0, then having student loans is sort of like being negative poor. But it’s cool, I’m an adult who remembers the 80′s and 90′s so I know that it’s more about the marathon than sprint.

    For me the FAFSA account is about education, not retweets or popularity. Youths understand that and if they don’t, they will need to understand that. I know that it’s hard when trying to justify social media but…

    Where I get freaked out is that there’s all of this emphasis on how college isn’t affordable. On top of that certain groups in Washington and beyond will use any excuse to get rid of student loans. Certain political leanings get branded as “elitist” and I fear that this tweet will help add to that rhetoric.

    Even though I owe a buttload, I’m still a billion percent grateful for aid.

  2. Let us face it.. ONE) the people who need FAFSA are not only the Poor, but Anyone who wants to go to college that doesn’t have a rich daddy. College is expensive. But might be worth it.

    TWO) If you are complaining about paying your student loans –> you probably went for the wrong degree –> DIDN’T SOMEONE tell you that a History Degree is worthless? You can teach with it, but what else? Do Some Research! There are all sorts of publications that tell you the expected salary of every profession in the world.

    AND

    MOVE!!!!! OMG the number of college students I run into that WA WA about this. I ask them where they are looking for a job and they look at me funny. Why near my MOMMY..

    POP THE T_T out of your mouth and GO WHERE THE JOB IS. If you have one of those LAME degrees where there are no jobs in the US, join the peace corp or something.

    MAN KIDS THESE DAYS ARE whiners!

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  8. Pingback: Great Work, FAFSA !

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