by Jamie Lisanti
When Jacqui Gill was just another high school senior searching for the place to spend her next four years, she typed one of her choices into Facebook’s search bar, and found an inviting page and valuable information from current students.
It is not enough for a university to have an eye-catching website and to send out a colorful, shiny pamphlet to today’s prospective students. Facebook, as well Twitter and phone applications, are the new trend for colleges and universities around the U.S. But it takes more than installing an application for an institution to reap the benefits of the social media stream. Poorly managed accounts can do more harm than good.
More and more students, both current and potential, are logging on to colleges’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to find out how an institution advertises itself and what other people are saying about it. A 2010 study at the University of Massachusetts-Darmouth found that 100% of the universities surveyed used social media to interact with students.
Jasmery Davila, a freshman at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, NJ, said that she did not look at any of the Saint Peter’s social media streams while she was applying to schools, but only after she was already enrolled.
“Other schools made it noticeable on their websites, but I did not even know Saint Peter’s had a Facebook page or a Twitter until I came to orientation in the summer,” Davila said. Saint Peter’s may be one of the many institutions struggling with the maintaining and advertising their social media accounts, and this is potentially detrimental to their reputation among other schools.
Common problems among schools that do not have a positive following or do not gain anything from the social media accounts are lack of knowledge and experience with the websites, and disregard after the account is created. Several college officials are not familiar with the websites and do not know how to manage the accounts or what to do with it.
Kareem Najjar, a junior at Rutgers University, follows several Facebook and Twitter pages associated with Rutgers, and said he does not like when accounts have not been updated for months or years, and when posts or tweets are “pointless or old-fashioned.”
“Some of the accounts are good and keep me updated on school events or when there’s free food somewhere,” he said, “But other ones never get updated or use hashtags wrong and it’s annoying.”
Rutgers and Saint Peter’s are just two of the hundreds of schools who are facing problems, as well as benefits, because of their social media accounts. These schools also have tried to take advantage of another area of new media – mobile phone applications. A large number of institutions have developed apps for users to download on their iPhone or Android phones, which provide school information, weather, maps, athletic scores, and much more.
While the Saint Peter’s college app is a general information app and is free, Rutgers University does not have an official application and offers paid mobile applications, one for athletics and one called “RULost,” which includes bus routes, dining hall options, and a directory of phone numbers. Other schools have taken full advantage of mobile applications, such as The College of Saint Rose or The University of Virginia, whose apps are considered the high standard and best among all universities because of the scholarship calculator and other features, according to social media experts.
According to the study at UMass-Darmouth, when those surveyed were asked how successful social media tools have been for their schools, they raved about the experience, specifically finding a 95% success rate with Facebook use. It is clear that colleges and universities should take advantage of the benefits of social media outlets, while making sure that the accounts are frequently updated and managed correctly.
As a senior graduating this year from Saint Peter’s College, Jacqui Gill says that the school’s Facebook page and interaction with students ultimately helped in her decision process.
“You don’t want to hear what the people who are paid to write stuff have to say, but instead those who go there and actually get to experience the school,” she said, “I think it is great that Saint Peter’s and other schools are branching out and using things that our generation responds to.”