Some Thoughts Before You Rant About The FAFSA “Twitter Fail”
Posted on June 24, 2014
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:
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 has had success with visual memes before.
This meme was funny:
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.