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Undergrads and Institutional Facebook Pages: The chicken and the egg?

One part of my job that I absolutely love is interacting with students. It’s so easy to get sucked into the world of social media in higher education and work from spreadsheets, calendars and scheduled posts to get the word out about events and research happening on campus that I forget how beneficial it is to meet the students halfway to do some really unscientific boots-on-the-ground surveying.

This week, I met with the student leaders who helped us put on an amazing TEDxUND event in January to debrief. I was in charge of running social media to promote the event before, during and after and I primarily devoted my efforts to Twitter. We grabbed the URL for a Facebook page in case we needed it,  but that wasn’t put into place until about a month before the event and I made the decision to not focus on that network as it takes an incredibly long time and a lot of dedication (that I could not commit running four other accounts, including the overall institutional account) to build a following on a Facebook page. Plus, the real-time nature of updates from a TEDx event lend themselves more to Twitter than Facebook. We decided that if we began to use the Facebook page we should do so after the event when it could be a great place to promote the videos of our TEDx speeches.

Monday night, we were discussing this year’s event as we decide what our game plan is moving forward for next year’s and two students in the room said, “I think we definitely need to start using the Facebook page to promote the event…” Curious, I pushed to see why they thought that and they said, “I refuse to get on Twitter. I’m on Facebook all the the time, though.”

It’s interesting. There are so many articles claiming that young people are fleeing Facebook and the network is dying, but data still supports our focus on the social network as visitors spend an average of 6 hours and 33 minutes on the site each month, compared to the 36 minutes that users spend on Twitter (socialmediaexaminer.com). However, there’s also a heavy amount of internal data that I see regularly that tells me that if I want to reach current students I need to find a way to do that other than using our institutional Facebook page.

In the grand scheme of things, I talk to alumni, parents and friends on Facebook, current and recently accepted students on Twitter, and prospective students, current students and young alumni on Instagram. Students don’t see my Facebook posts and whether that is due to Facebook’s algorithm not placing it in their news feed, them not liking the page or them not logging into Facebook enough to engage with most of the things I post, I’m not sure.

But here I was confronted by two seniors saying they’ve never been on Twitter with a group of other students saying they only use Twitter “for business” – to rep clubs they’re involved in or connect with others who can help them with projects or career aspirations. It’s probably frowned upon to call students weird, but they don’t fit into the pattern that I’ve found of social media interactions in higher ed over the past year, so I said as much: Current students do not see our posts or, if they do, they aren’t engaging with them heavily like our alumni, parents and friends are. And they told me, “Well, they probably don’t like the institutional account because that’s not what they’re getting on Facebook for.”

And therein lies the rub: I was told they wanted to see TEDx event news on a Facebook page, I published TEDx news on the institutional Facebook page and then I was told they weren’t seeking that kind of interaction with a Facebook page.

So what does this mean: Is it a Facebook algorithm issue? A brand issue? Or a miscommunication of what’s already available on the page?

I feel like these questions are very chicken vs. egg. What I did learn, however, is that students – especially the upperclassmen – are still using Facebook, but they aren’t necessarily using it in a way that is beneficial to marketers. The movement from public to one-to-one communication services or private sharing apps like Kik and Snapchat seems to have originated with the way undergrads are using Facebook. It’s a place for these students to connect to friends and family and possibly some of their favorite sports teams. Higher ed accounts may be seen as “big brother” or “boring” so they don’t want to follow us, so we need to combat that idea. Connecting with students didn’t just give me some insights into how they think socially, it allowed me to communicate that we’re already sharing the content students are saying they want to see and hopefully gained a couple new fans of our institutional page.

What about you, are you seeing engagement with people aged 17-23 on your Facebook pages?

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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