Confessions Pages are a PR Nightmare for University Student Societies

As president of a large society at my university, confessions pages are my worst nightmare. There has been a Facebook confessions page for my university for about 2 years now; at first it was fun and exciting but now they just cause havoc.

As a page for anonymous posting, people can have their say on anything and everything. From a PR perspective, this is a nightmare for reputation, there’s not much stopping these people from saying their opinion about a society and as we have learnt from the internet, anonymity heightens trolling.

Below I talk about how to be prepared for confessions posts a society but it can apply to anyone.

PR point of view

So, PR is about reputation- the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you (CIPR). Confessions pages = what others say about you.

Just like company exposé’s, university confessions pages are a place where people reveal the truths about societies, sports teams, departments, lecturers and specific people. These sort of posts affect your reputation, as an individual or as a group.

The scary thing about confessions pages is that they’re posted regularly and unexpectedly. There’s no knowing when the next post about your organisation could be uploaded or what the post will be about. Most of the time the page’s administrator is anonymous too, which means if you have any issues you message the page – hopefully they’re lenient.

Preparedness

You can be as prepared as you want when it comes to these sorts of things, but confessions page’s are unpredictable.

One of my modules this semester included crisis management and we looked at having a crisis management plan. Preparedness means that an organisation can respond quickly, balance different demands that the organisation will be facing, minimise reputational damage, control the narrative (to some extent) and to help recover from any damage caused.

Not everything posted on a confession’s page can be considered as a “crisis” and reputational damage for societies is much different than that of a well known company. Student’s behave differently and react differently. Determining which posts are serious and which are just trolls helps decide what actions you need to take. Are people just posting for bait? or is there an serious accusation?

My tips for being prepared:

  1. Have a generic response that can be personalised for a confession post– sometimes you may think it needs addressing, so prepare a response that represents your society and is professional.
  2. Have plans for certain scenarios– if a serious accusation has been made towards your society or someone in it and it will need to be handled properly, having a plan and knowing your university’s procedures is key in addressing the issue.
  3. Have certain people in charge of handling anything said on a confessions page– societies don’t usually have a role specifically for PR as it’s not really needed, so pick anyone on your executive committee and someone in a communications role (publicity, welfare, engagement officer etc).
  4. Decide whether it’s worth responding to a post– confessions pages are mainly used for click bait and trolling, so not every post needs a response. Some posts are jokes, or some posts are there just to annoy the committee.
  5. Try make your society confession free– this is hard as people will always have something to say, but if there’s nothing bad to be said then you should be fine, right?

Basically, have a plan, determine your approach and know what/who to prioritise.

My experience

There have been a lot of posts about the society that I run and to be honest, the posts are mostly negative. The society I’m a part of is a fundraising society, our main purpose is to organise fundraising events and volunteering so our work has a positive impact on the community. However, the past culture of our society was pretty toxic and that’s the main topic of many confession posts about us.

How I use the above tips in our society:

Tip 1: We used to have a generic post which we comments when posts were less frequent last year. It was along the lines of “Hi OP (original poster), we’re sorry to hear about your experience with our society” then include how as a society we have procedures in place to prevent these sorts of things from happening, and end it with “Please contact *president or welfare officer* and we can discuss this further and work on improving our society”.

Tip 4: However, we don’t use this as often anymore as a lot of the posts are just baiting us as committee and are posted just to provoke a response.

Tip 2: As a society we’ve had some serious situations arise and it has involved more than just a response; working with the original poster to take a situation further and including the student’s union. Unfortunately, people post on confessions pages as it is anonymous and therefore want to keep it that way, meaning it can be difficult to resolve.

In response to some of the confessions, our welfare officer has created anonymous feedback forms and organised discussion groups to improve our society.

Tip 3: With most of the confessions it is usually the welfare officer and I who handle it. We’re aware of the student’s union and university’s procedures so understand how situations need to be handled.

Tip 5: As I previously mentioned, our welfare officer and I are working on ways to improve our society. Along with the rest of our committee, we’re finding ways to forget the past culture of our society and put our society back in a positive light. A lot of the confession’s about our society are based around things that happened in previous years, but they’re connected to our society which is why it affects our reputation now.

Confessions pages are hard, especially when they’re personal and targeted towards certain people. A lot of the time they’re not worth a response and you shouldn’t dwell on them too much. There are many posts and examples of bullying on confessions pages and there are many universities struggling to work out how to handle confession’s pages.

The biggest struggle with them is the unpredictability, something we just have to get used to and manage.

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