Applying to college has changed dramatically since I typed my essays, corrected them with whiteout and took them to the post office to mail. Today students fill out an online application that is seamlessly beamed though cyberspace to all of the colleges on their lists. It sounds great, and it is– until it doesn’t work.
My son, a high school senior, spent the past three days trying to upload and submit his application. I won’t bore you with the problems; they already have been chronicled in The New York Times, Washington Post and elsewhere.
I will tell you that while the Common App organization is trying to fix the many technical problems on its website (think healthcare.gov for college applicants); they have been incommunicado, making the experience all the more frustrating for students and schools.
After days of public criticism for refusing to apologize, the Common App issued a heartfelt mea culpa and committed to daily Facebook entries, blog posts and tweets updating their users on their progress fixing the bugs and glitches. It seemed like a good sign, transparent, honest, humble and dedicated.
But there is still a problem. Like my own college experience, this communications strategy is stuck in a previous century, back when one-way communication sufficed. Today, people expect a dialogue. Students, who are sending what feels like the most important email of their lives, don’t appreciate canned responses.
Common App posts daily to social media but they don’t respond to any comments. They publish updates but don’t interact with followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook. And because they don’t use these interactive communications tools to respond to concerns, their Facebook page is a long series of uninterrupted complaints.
I understand their desire to hunker in the bunker and code their way out of this mess. But their brand depends on their ability to transmit information well. And that means responding to users, and maybe even offering phone support or online chat.
Way back when I was applying to college the number one rule of crisis communications was: talk to your audience early and often. Today it is “talk with your audience early and often.”