Putting your university on Facebook

The online phenomenon of recent years has been, as we all know, the story of Facebook. Celebrated in a Hollywood movie and, equally significantly, on Wall Street, the social networking site has not just become the platform of choice for young people’s online experience, it has redefined what for many it actually means to be online. It has become so fashionable that some young people now have Facebook as their sole online location – they never access any other part of the internet.

One big question raised by this trend is what higher education institutions should be doing about this. So far, while most universities have a presence on Facebook and many are probably wondering whether they should expand their visibility on it, the majority use it unimaginatively. Some – and Stanford University is an example – treat it as they would Twitter (which they will also use unimaginatively), putting on news items that the typical Facebook user will simply ignore. Another example is Oxford University, whose Facebook site is worthy – and that would not be a compliment in the eyes of typical readers there. Just occasionally you get a university trying something different: an example is Texas A&M University, who have made an effort to give their Facebook page a different look and feel.

Overall, however, universities are too often building a social networking presence without apparently having any idea what social networking actually is. Much of the material uploads tend to be automated, and no attempt is made to catch the typical Facebook mood.

Universities may not want to adopt social networking sites as the platform on which to conduct education or provide educational tools, but at least in networking and marketing terms they should take a much more professional approach. If they want to engage students, then at least when advertising their wares they need to do it on the students’ terms. And so far there is very little sign of that.

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9 Comments on “Putting your university on Facebook”

  1. Mary B Says:

    Can I just comment on the nature of discussion on social networking sites and the like? I have in the past contributed to blogs on the THE website and I’ve largely given up as people are often really nasty! Even with moderation, there isn’t debate where people can disagree and respect each other’s views – it’s more like an online shouting match, sort of reminiscent of televised UK parliamentary ‘debates’. I don’t know if people who contribute to this blog are just naturally polite, but there does seem to be a genuine desire to debate and discuss. If Facebook could be used in this way (with the usual more ‘relaxed’ stuff!) it would certainly add value, but how would you ensure it reflected what you wanted for your HEI? As the nature of FB and suchlike is that you can’t really ‘police’ them, can you??

  2. jfryar Says:

    Personally I think things are going to change rather dramatically in this area. The problem is that every five years or so, some new ‘fad’ in social networking appears. And everyone follows the fad until the next one emerges (anyone remember bebo? myspace?). Universities cannot ultimately keep getting caught up in this nonsense, subscribing to this site or that, having this presence or that, having lecturers on one site but not the other, etc. What sites people use in their personal time is their business, but as a university strategy, I don’t see how this mixing and matching can possibly work.

    What I think will happen is that someone big (google maybe) will roll out some form of academic system that combines the function of these separate sites. Universities subscribe, students and lecturers know where everything is, and people use the external sites for anything new, novel or experimental.

  3. […] “The online phenomenon of recent years has been, as we all know, the story of Facebook. Celebrated in a Hollywood movie and, equally significantly, on Wall Street, the social networking site has not just become the platform of choice for young people’s online experience, it has redefined what for many it actually means to be online …” (more) […]

  4. Vincent Says:

    They were never all that good at communication in the older media what on earth would give you the notion this new stuff would change them.

  5. Mary B Says:

    I like Anna’s ‘intellectually inclined’! Wonder what happens when you are so intellectual you fall over :o)

  6. no-name Says:

    Isn’t Facebook a private company? Why should universities pander to individuals willing to plaster their private lives across the pages of a private company, which makes huge profits from their obvious disregard for their own privacy and privacy of others, whose lives they comment on?

    Do you think that universities should also have daily ads running on the television during shows popular with teenagers?

    Facebook has dubious merit for managing private relationships. The merit is even more questionable in the case of professional relationships.

    Is it really appropriate to encourage youth to think that they have hundreds of friends, several universities among them?

    What university would have the poor judgement to friend or defriend any individual?

    Universities have websites. Why duplicate the information provided on those in Facebook? It’s easy to see the forces of natural selection swiftly eliminating individuals who don’t access other internet locations or other means of obtaining information about the world in which they live.

  7. Kate Pickles Says:

    Interesting blog – I have been moved to comment.

    Facebook’s original aim was primarily to connect people with people but the public profiles or pages do give organisations the opportunity to join the conversation with Facebook users.

    There are some ‘side benefits’ too : Search Engine Optimisation, connecting with friends by checking out who else is a fan, listening to the conversations – what’s happening and who is asking what without getting directly involved.

    Its original intention was not for organisational use other than providing a sense of exclusivity (you can’t be in the community unless you are a member) – but clearly it has been exploited to great effect by many organisations. University is where it all started – is Harvard’s Facebook any better/worse than the norm? and by whose standards? With a view to improving our social media presence, we recently asked people what and how they used social media. Results so far indicate that most users would like to see us post ‘a bit more’ or ‘it’s about right’ and the vast majority feel more connected to the University as a result. Not many ‘imaginative’ suggestions for use have been apparent as yet.

    Research I carried out in a previous life gave lie to the assertion that young people were unanimously looking for creative, edgy and different from the web all the time. One thing that was very apparent was the issue of reputation, validity and trust. And young people expect organisational content wherever it is to be that bit more worthy and valid and informative and reliable. Creative and different can sometime result in failure of trust. That may be unpalatable – but is actually the case.

    Our young people (or student population who are not all young) are as traditional (or not ) as the rest of the population.
    So by necessity Universities will be a bit more middle of the road. These media were designed for person to person interaction. Organisations have joined the ‘conversation’ and exploited to great effect but really – there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ where social media are concerned – except perhaps in relation to privacy. However, communicating via Facebook or Twitter as an organisation rather than as an individual carries with it more responsibility in relation to the entire community. Where you can push our the boundaries a bit with friends, even there I’ll apologies if too much bad language is involved in a third party posting. But as an organisation you don’t want to hack off the audience with too many postings of no relevance or too few to make it worthwhile – it is a tricky one to pitch.

    Don’t be too hard on the faceless Universities which use social media – behind each account there will be a real person beavering away trying to do a job alongside many others and really trying to do their best.

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