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.