BYU is working in conjunction with students in the School of Communications AdLab to encourage safe behavior, but not everyone is on board.
This semester, University Communications is using social media platforms to communicate what’s coming from leadership and explain why guidelines are important. An example of this social media strategy is the AdLab’s “Compassion is Contagious” campaign.
The campaign focuses on Christlike love and service rather than fear and guilt, advertising students explained in an Instagram takeover on BYU’s account. Signage all over campus reminds students how to stay safe from coronavirus. Since the start of the semester, a rise in cases has led the university to give more direct warnings on social media.
“In the AdLab, we’re taught to kind of flip every problem on its head and think out of the box,” said Hope Knudson, one of the advertising students who helped create the campaign.
Knudson said her group wanted to find a way to make a global pandemic promote kindness, love and unity instead of fear. The students asked themselves why people wear masks, and she said all of the reasons came down to compassion.
Cal Haynes, an advertising junior from Mesa, Arizona, then came up with the slogan “Compassion is Contagious.”
“It’s kind of a play on words,” Knudson said, explaining how “compassion” contrasts with the negative connotations of “contagious.” The goal was to make people less bitter about following COVID-19 guidelines.
While Knudson said she thinks people were pleasantly surprised by the campaign, those who weren’t made it known.
Some comments on the Instagram takeover claimed the campaign was shaming and manipulative, with one user even calling it “disgusting propaganda.”
“Few voices are very loud voices,” she said. “I’m sure there were a lot of people who loved it, but people who didn’t love it were very vocal about it.”
The social media backlash was hard on the students, especially those who came up with the idea. “It kind of put a target on our backs,” Knudson said, adding that she feels there will be some negativity with any Instagram takeover.
Even though the students tried to make the campaign non-political or controversial, there was still opposition. “No matter what, you’re never going to please everyone,” she said.
Jon McBride, Director of Digital Communications at BYU, said University Communications worked with the AdLab students to create and execute the campaign. The BYU Academic Vice President’s Office had wanted a campaign focused on campus safety and aimed at BYU students. McBride said social media employees are working to make sure this COVID-19 messaging is effective.
One of University Communications’s goals is to answer the question of why students should change their behavior, McBride said. The ultimate goal should be students motivated by compassion.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that we’ve gotten more pushback than we expected,” McBride said. “We’ve pivoted a little bit to also talk very clearly about enforcement and discipline.”
BYU President Kevin J Worthen and UVU President Astrid S. Tuminez sent out a joint letter on Sept. 22. The letter expressed concern over rising cases and demanded a change in behavior, warning that dramatic action might be necessary. When BYU shared the letter on Instagram, students commented on their frustrations at restrictions.
McBride usually responds to Instagram comments, collaborating with full-time employees in the office. “Obviously, there’s a lot of nuance in responding to comments right now,” he said. “It’s more of an art than a science, I think.”
Employees do not respond to every comment. “We do have some criteria that we have to weigh before responding to every single angry comment. A lot of times those comments don’t get responses just because there’s not a productive conversation that’s going to come from it,” McBride said.
Despite the backlash, there are still students in support of the outreach. Employees often respond to positive student comments so that other people see them.
“Peer-to-peer communication is so important,” McBride said. A student saying why they wear a mask and follow the rules is more powerful than the Instagram account saying the same thing over and over, he added.
BYU nursing student Ella Duce was featured in a #MyViewFromBYU spotlight after her Tweet went viral.
“IF I GET ONE MORE FREAKING ZIT ON MY CHIN FROM WEARING MY MASK IM GONNA continue wearing my mask because I care more about people than a couple blemishes on my face,” the Tweet says.
In the spotlight, Duce said she finds masks inconvenient and frustrating, but sees them as a way to respect human life. “Whether you believe that it works or not, it doesn’t matter. It’s about showing the people around you that you respect them and you’re willing to make a couple sacrifices.”
Duce said that as a healthy 20-year-old, she wants to be going to parties and socializing. However, that part of her life can wait. “Right now what matters is loving and caring for other people and doing what we’ve been asked to keep everyone safe and healthy.”
Julia Gehring, a senior from Washington majoring in geography, said she thinks BYU is doing the best they can with outreach, but there is only so much they can do. “I think it’s worked to an extent. The thing is, people who are going to wear masks and be careful were already going to do that regardless of Instagram and outreach.”
Gehring said she doesn’t think BYU will be able to stay open until Thanksgiving. “I think it would be irresponsible. With our exponential growth in cases, it seems like every day I hear about more people being quarantined,” she said. “I totally understand the desire BYU had to have an on-campus experience, but it’s been very stressful.”
“It’s been hard to watch, for sure,” McBride said. “We wish things could have gone better here and people could have bought in earlier and we weren’t on the brink of closing the campus, as President Worthen said.”
McBride said University Communications is also focusing on students who are taking the pandemic seriously, with messages helping them stay socially connected while physically distanced. “At this point, we’re just trying to do what we can.”