Why Universities Want in on Social Media

It seems no matter how social media expands and evolves, it stays true to its roots: college and university campuses. However, this time around, the…

It seems no matter how social media expands and evolves, it stays true to its roots: college and university campuses. However, this time around, the schools themselves want to get in on the action. Here's why institutions of higher education are just the next group to jump on the social media bandwagon.

Universities Facebook

Target Audience

Much of social media today is geared towards “young people.” Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook as an exclusive college network while at Harvard. Twitter’s co-founder Jack Dorsey came up with the concept for the Twitter status update while still at NYU. David Karp launched Tumblr at the age of 20, and the list goes on. Colleges and universities understand the mass appeal that social media brings to their young target audience. According to statistics from the Nielsen company, social networking such as Twitter, Facebook, personal blogs accounts for over 22.7% of all time we spend online. College administrations have much to gain by using social media to extend their reach and market themselves to high school students.

How Colleges are Using Social Media Tools

1. Catching and Keeping Prospective Students

These days, a high school senior isn’t uninformed about his options in higher education. Beyond brochures and campus tours, there is a virtual tour going on through various web forums such as CollegeConfidential as well as through traditional social network sites such as Facebook. Writer Elizabeth Schiffman for Politics Daily states,

“Facebook's mounting presence in the decision-making process affords students unprecedented access to direct sources and accurate information.”

The information found through social media plays a huge role in where students choose to apply and how they make this decision. Prospective students can find information about their university nightlife or dining options from current students as well as connect with other potential applicants who share common interests. Smaller social media sites such as RateMyProfessors and Unigo help students get a taste of the school’s academic landscape. Students who accept their admissions are now using Facebook to find their roommates and discover student organizations before they even set foot on campus.

Maintaining a good presence on these sites is integral for these universities to attract more applicants, but it works both ways. Schiffman writes that, “For a hopeful high school senior with questionable content on their online profiles, there's a new risk: a Kaplan survey of 320 admissions officers from the top 500 schools found that one in ten visited applicants' social networking profiles during their decision-making process. Of those visiting student pages, 38 percent reported that what they saw generally had a negative impact on their admissions evaluation...” Not only is social media a tool for students to use, it is also a way for universities to ensure that they admit students who will represent them well.

2. Establishing Alumni Networks

Twitter Grad

Alumni contribute a sizable portion of a university’s revenue. But just as important is the sense of community that should exist between alumni and current students. Alumni are role models, resources, and potential job offers to students at their alma maters. Traditionally, colleges could send separate alumni newsletters to their alums, but many schools such as UT Law School are now opting for alumni networks on LinkedIn. Twitter is another way for alums to stay looped into campus happenings, and many schools such as Arizona State offer separate Twitter pages for their alumni.

3. Building Community on Campus

Universities are taking advantage of mass communication available through social media. Ohio State takes it a step further with President E. Gordon Gee using Twitter to reach OSU students in a more personal way.

OSU President

Stanford University has made use of FourSquare, an application that allows users to “Check-In” and leave tips at various locations, as well as creating an iPhone app called iStanford for their students. With a large, spread out campus, NYU uses Twitter to reach out and connect the community, with separate twitters for different academic departments, on-campus venues, and study abroad sites. Many schools also Tweet in addition to text in cases of natural disasters or urgent campus-wide news.

TX Emergency

Every college or university today has a Facebook page and most likely a Twitter. Forward-thinking schools have set up Youtube, Flickr, Foursquare, a school blog or similar programs to better connect with students. Dan Klamm, a writer for Mashable, has ideas for colleges who want to maximize their social media,

“Think of other ideas like having students live-tweeting campus events, doing online Q&A sessions with prospective students, or interviewing successful alumni to feature on YouTube.The key is for school administrators to loosen the reigns just a bit, allowing for students to express their own school spirit and get creative.”


While many universities such as those featured on USA Today’s “20 Colleges Making Good use of Social Media” are creating strong online presences, I think it will be those who can reach across numerous platforms and make the extra effort that will create the best sense of community and cohesiveness on campus. Students who come to a university confident that they have made the right choice boost the esteem of the student body and foster school spirit.

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