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If you went to Boston University, there’s a good chance that you at some point entered a discussion on whether the person behind the Twitter handle @BUDiningService is a hilarious student or a BU employee. Well, we found out that it’s the latter—the man behind it all is Robert Flynn, an employee for Aramark, a food service provider whose clients include BU’s Dining Services.
Flynn runs social media for all of the school’s food offerings, such as the campus convenience stores and the student union, but BU Dining Services stands out as most popular. Perhaps he connects so well with the community because he himself was once a student, having graduated with the class of ’96. He not only successfully runs BU Dining Services’ social media, but was also the first person at Aramark to start a social media account for its clients.
You wouldn’t think there’d be so much hype about a university dining services’ social media, but there is. The magic model behind the account’s fame within the BU community is its honesty—often referred to by followers as sassiness, but Flynn doesn’t like to call it that—and its perpetual engagement with students. Here, Flynn talks about his 24-hour social media cycle, keeping up with pop culture to connect with students, and sending them care packages:
Can you share what ignited BU to start up a social media account for its dining services?
I was a food service director when I came back to BU. Our bu.edu/dining website was getting an upgrade, and our marketing director just wanted some help writing content, so I talked to my boss and we thought it would be a nice little change to get me into a more creative role. I switched positions to help with the new website, and as I was doing that, I realized, ‘You know what? We really need to get into the social media game.’
So, have you been a full time social media manager since?
The title I gave myself is new media coordinator. I oversee all our digital signage, our website, our register systems on campus, and also assist our marketing director. There’s definitely a lot more than social, but social media is definitely my focus—without a doubt, 100%.
How do you manage all your social media accounts?
Very, very carefully is how. The BU Dining Services account really takes up all my time. It’s a constant thing. It’s 7 days a week—it’s from the time I get up in the morning until the time I go to bed. You know, we’re always available for the students, and that’s what it’s about. If the students are awake, we’ll try to be awake with them. I always say “we,” but it’s really only me.
You eat, breathe and sleep social media. Does it ever reach get exhausting?
…No (as he laughs). When I started this, I knew it was going to have to be 100% right out—that means 7 days a week, and I love it. The students really thrive on this and have fun, so we have fun. It’s just enjoyable, so no, social media doesn’t get exhausting.
What’s your favorite part about tweeting ?
Definitely when I have a conversation with a student. When a student tweets at us, sometimes it’s a random tweet where they’ll ask a question, or make an observance about something, and then we’ll reply. It’s basically what we set out to do when we started our Twitter. We want to have a conversation with you.
In three words, describe the voice and tone of your social media.
Honest, witty and dependable, if that’s a tone. I don’t know if dependable is a tone. Students often refer to our voice as sassy, but I don’t approve of that term. We’re not sassy—we’re honest.
What’s the weirdest, most surprising, or most outspoken feedback you’ve gotten via social media?
We’ve been lucky that there hasn’t been a major campaign against something we’ve done. We changed the plates in our West Campus Dining Hall, and someone started a Facebook page about that, but that’s about it.
You recently put together a shrimp cocktail after a student tweeted at you saying she wanted one. Tell us about this, because that’s awesome. Do you do this often?
I’ll do this from time to time, yes. A student tweeted at us that she was craving shrimp cocktail, so I thought it would be nice to put something like that together. It was a small gesture on my part, but it goes a long way with the students. On Tuesday a student studying in Grenoble, France received a care package from Dining with cookies and snacks. I try to do things like this throughout the year. The students have so much going on in their lives with studying, relationships, work, etc., so I think doing something small like delivering candy to a student that snuck out of class for a second to get a snack, which I did, or a care package while studying abroad, really helps someone’s mood and breaks up the monotony of their hectic college life at times.
— BU Dining Services (@BUDiningService) March 31, 2015
Since you’re constantly engaging with college students, do you feel the need to catch up with pop culture? I mean, you recently tweeted about Zayn leaving One Direction.
Definitely. I mean, you want to! Even if I wasn’t in this position, but was working at a college campus, I’d want to know what’s going on. I want to know what [students] are talking about, and what they’re doing. Students interest me. I don’t care if that means I have to spend time reading TMZ everyday, or watching The Wendy Williams Show sometimes. I want to make sure we’re not faking it. There’s a famous photo of President Nixon in the ’60s or ’70s. It’s supposed to capture a candid Richard Nixon, but he’s walking on the beach in a suit. It’s like, how fake is that? We don’t want to be Richard Nixon on the sand! If we tweet about Zayn leaving One Direction, it’s because we know people are really upset about Zayn leaving One Direction.
So, what’s your process for tweeting?
It depends. When we have special events coming up, I’ll have a big board with our social channels up on it, and then I’ve got big index cards. If I know we have Sargent Choice Night, I’ll start jotting some ideas about what we want to say. I’ll do that 20% of the time. The other 80% is off the top of my head—I just tweet out and reply back. A lot of the time I like to listen to what the students are doing first. We let the students dictate how we talk and how we present things. When I know the students are watching the MTV Music Awards, I’m watching the MTV Music Awards. When I first started and knew that students were watching Jersey Shore on Thursdays, I was watching Jersey Shore. I listen to the students, and that’s it.
But it’s not just about listening to the students because you’re also really funny. Is that natural? Are you that witty and funny in real life, or do you play the part for the students?
As much as I’d like to think it’s a character I play, it’s not. How I talk on Twitter is how I talk in person. There is no separation. It’s weird.
How strong would you consider BU Dining Services’ social media game?
You won’t see another higher ed’s social media presence like ours across the country. We have Instagram already, and now we’re doing Snapchat, too. I’m that good. Wow, I sound so arrogant—but really, I’m that good.
I’d agree. So if you had to pick, which social media account is the strongest channel and the “must-follow”?
Twitter has been our leading platform. It’s been our leading force and after that it’s been Instagram, but follow us on all of them!
Responses have been edited and condensed.