Social Networking Lesson

U of M works social network game-changer

Joe LaFurgey

Published: October 19, 2015, 11:33 am Updated: October 19, 2015, 6:47 pm

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It was the drop heard around Michigan. But the shock of Wolverine punter Blake O’Neill’s bobble, the recovery by Michigan State and the subsequent touchdown that won the Spartans the annual rivalry matchup in its last 10 seconds was nothing compared to some of the reactions posted on social media.

“Go to the equipment room and start chugging that bleach my friend” and “jump off of a cliff into a pool of spikes and cyanide” were just two of the most angry posts captured from various social networks — all over a football game.

Derek DeVries, who advises clients on social media for the public relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates, said University of Michigan officials managed to take the wind out of negative comments.

While most organizations are hesitant to address social media comments, Michigan’s Interim Athletic Director Jim Hackett, a former Steelcase CEO, responded Sunday morning.

“I’m asking that our community not lose this game twice by condoning thoughtless comments and remember the Fielding Yost comment that this is the ‘Michigan of ours,'” reads a portion of an open letter he posted to fans.

>>Online: The open letter from Hackett, courtesy

DeVries said the university’s response to some of the more vicious social media comments actually turned the tables on those would use the anonymity of social media to say whatever they want.

“They didn’t directly engage with any of the individuals that posted the comments, which might have emboldened them,” DeVries said. “Instead it was a good reminder to the U of M community that there are standards to be upheld in terms of behavior. And it was a really great message that found its audience and really went over well.”

The proof? Some posts were deleted by the sites and some accounts were deleted by the users.

Many online rallied around O’Neill, including former Michigan kicker Will Hagerup.

“You just saw first hand that punting is really hard. I challenge anyone to go catch a snap in 30 degree weather with 100,000 people watching. He had a terrific game and put our defense in great field position multiple times,” Hagerup posted on Facebook shortly after the game Saturday.

Additionally, a country music radio station based in Washtenaw County declared Monday #BlakeONeillDay and Facebook pages were created to support the punter.

“I think the shaming, the public shaming, was more effective than the reporting tools.” DeVries said. “The community’s response immediately following some of the threats that were made, some of the really heinous comments that were posted, was an excellent sample of the community policing itself. ”

DeVries said those who made some of the negative posts made feel the effects down the road. You can hit delete, he reminded, but posts are forever.

In the case of posts about Blake O’Neill, DeVries says many of the more vicious ones appear to have been written by teenagers — some of whom may apply to attend Michigan someday and could find themselves haunted by the things they wrote.