The Importance of Reputational Audits in Higher Education

Higher Education Online Reputation Audits for Commencement Speakers

Colleges and universities across the country are gearing up for commencement season and looking forward to welcoming graduates and their families to campus. Many institutions are also finalizing who will appear as potential speakers and honorary degree recipients. Some will consider alumni who have exemplified the mission of the university, while others will invite a rising star to inspire graduates. All too often, these announcements backfire into a full-blown crisis, and the root cause is often lack of research.

Nobody likes surprises, especially when they come at what is supposed to be an exciting time. The announcement of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients is a positive moment for colleges. However, these announcements can often turn into nightmare situations that are equally avoidable and embarrassing.

The importance of a reputation audit

You’ve seen this scenario play out repeatedly: A speaker or honorary degree is announced with great enthusiasm, complete with an official news release, social media, and media blitz. Excitement typically follows, along with some initial grumblings. It’s quiet for a few days, or even weeks. Then the real noise starts. Maybe it’s the discovery of a questionable tweet or “like” from five years ago. Maybe it’s a little-known affiliation with a controversial organization. Or maybe it’s a personal belief or position on a social, intellectual, or political issue that isn’t in line with what the institution and community stands for.

Nine times out of 10 this nightmare can be avoided if institutions simply take the time to appropriately vet speaker candidates and potential honorary degree recipients.  

Examples of what to look for when performing a reputation audit

“Appropriately vet” isn’t having a student intern look at social media feeds. It isn’t doing a quick review of two pages of Google results. And it sure isn’t blindly assigning value to whomever is the “big name” person of the moment.

Colleges and universities really can’t risk the bad publicity and embarrassment that comes with failing to adequately evaluate publicly-available information – especially when that information is out there for anyone with an Internet connection to find. 

That’s why an increasing number of institutions are asking the Castle team to perform reputational audits prior to extending invitations to commencement speakers, nominating individuals for honorary degrees, and making high profile job offers. Audits like these entail an intensive scan (typically at least seven years’ worth, maybe less or more depending on an individual’s online footprint) of social media accounts, mainstream media presence, personal and professional profiles, and statements and positions on issues of national significance (racial/gender equity, social justice, politics, abortion and women’s rights, voting rights, healthcare, etc.). We then evaluate and analyze specific concerns and their potential impact on the institution and key stakeholders, including identifying potential issues/challenges/reputational risks that could result from the university’s affiliation with the individual.

Vet your commencement speaker with an online reputation audit – Castle is here to help

Checking the past before awarding the present is not just prudent, it is absolutely necessary to lessen the possibility of future problems. With the power of the Internet, and in particular social media, reputational audits are one the easiest – and most effective – ways to minimize, or at least mitigate, disruption to what should otherwise be an exciting time on campus. It’s not too late to ensure your commencement guests align with your institution’s mission – contact us today.

The Castle Group, Senior Vice President, Crisis Communications, Philip T. Hauserman
Written By: Philip Hauserman


Outdoors of the Castle Group office