Now Defending the Liberal Arts on Twitter: a Couple of Cartoons

Two characters, Libby and Art, have 140 at their disposal.
August 20, 2014

A man in Fort Worth recently offered his friends advice on Twitter: "Do not go to college for a major in liberal arts you will have no job!!" Soon after, a Twitter account he’d probably never heard of called his tweet a myth. "FACT: The unemployment rate of liberal arts majors is roughly the same as most other majors," said a follow-up tweet, which linked to a report with more information.

The intervention came from a Twitter account fronted by two cartoon characters who swoop in whenever the value of the liberal arts is besmirched on Twitter: "Libby," an auburn-haired student, and "Art," a bespectacled, tweed-wearing counselor.

Libby and Art’s tweets are one prong of a public-information campaign organized by the Council of Independent Colleges to respond to a rush of "really negative, incorrect, factless stories," about college affordability and outcomes, says Laura Wilcox, the association’s vice president for communications.

The Twitter feed is intended to reach people, like prospective students and families, as well as guidance counselors, who may not run across the association’s other messages.

While their Twitter bio says Libby shares "student insights" and Art "tweets the facts," the two characters often speak in one undifferentiated voice. But it’s a voice different from the one a higher-ed association or college president would typically use, says S. Georgia Nugent, president emerita of Kenyon College and a senior fellow at the council.

She points to a tweet that Libby and Art posted in response to a story on Slate about struggling small private colleges. A response in the presidential voice, Ms. Nugent says, would have gone something like: "I’m afraid your facts are incorrect." Libby and Art’s began: "Dude, where’s your editor?"

Libby and Art’s tweets are written by Jeffrey Davis, a Baltimore-based social-media expert who’s helping the council with this part of its campaign. Early each morning, Mr. Davis receives an email listing mentions in social media of some 150 keywords and keyword combinations for which he’s set up searches. He sifts through them looking for opportunities to correct misperceptions. He tries to avoid picking fights or responding to automated Twitter accounts.

Over the past seven months, the Libby and Art account, @smartcolleges, has posted more than 1,600 tweets and attracted some 1,500 followers. The tweets are most powerful when they are shared, Mr. Davis says. Images are particularly popular, whether a CIC-supplied infographic or a student’s shot of campus buildings blanketed in snow. The latter are especially useful, since focus groups organized by the council found that prospective students don’t always know what liberal-arts colleges are.

No one expects one Twitter account to stem the tide of naysayers. But Libby and Art’s tweets do offer liberal-arts champions some ready-made ammunition for fighting back.

Tactical Tweeting by Libby and Art

The myth/fact:

The retweet:

The infographic:

The faux quiz:

The leading question:

The shout-out:

The pushback:

The retweeted reminder that campuses are pretty: