According to a survey of 226 colleges conducted by Varsity Outreach in 2010, an overwhelming majority (88%) of colleges and universities have already created a Facebook presence for their school. So, how are Admissions Offices utilizing Facebook as a community-building tool for their accepted students and incoming classes?
Two popular options are Facebook Groups and Facebook Pages. In the same Varsity Outreach survey, 89% of Admissions Offices said they used Facebook Pages and 77% used Groups, while 78% used a combination of Pages, Groups or Facebook Applications.
To learn more about how Facebook Pages compare with Groups for community-building, I reached out to Lougan Bishop, an admin of the Facebook Group for Belmont University’s incoming class. I wanted to compare how our Emerson College Class of 2015 Facebook Page differed from the Belmont University Class of 2015 Official Group. At Emerson College, we also created a private community using Inigral’s Schools App with great results. I will compare our incoming student Facebook Page with the Inigral Schools App in a post later this summer.
Marketing and Inviting Students to an Online Community
Mike (Facebook Page): The Emerson College Class of 2015 Page was first marketed as a “Next Step” in our online decisions for accepted students. It’s incredibly important to invite accepted students immediately after they receive letters so they can celebrate with other accepted students and current students invited to the Page. We also listed our Facebook Page on our accepted student public website, internal portal, and in promoted a custom URL in mailed postcards. Finally, we ran a campaign called “Hats Off To You!” in which we mailed Emerson winter caps to accepted students, inviting them to post pictures to Facebook, wearing their new hats.
Lougan (Facebook Group): Belmont promotes its Class of 2015 group mostly by email marketing and word of mouth. About two weeks after a student has been admitted to the university, an email is sent to their primary email address explaining the group and how to join it. We’ve also created fliers which are handed out to students during our special admitted student only events. Finally, we created a redirect URL that counselors can give students via phone or email so that its easier to direct them to the right group. Next year, we plan to promote the group even further.
Public Page vs. Invite-Only Group
Mike (Facebook Page): Opening our incoming student community to the public has some very key benefits. Allowing all members of our Emerson community (current students, staff, faculty and alumni) to participate freely and converse with incoming students is a huge benefit. I want our incoming students to not only meet each other, but also be able to ask questions to a wide variety of Emersonians and get a more ‘true’ perspective of life at Emerson. Plus it allows more passive users (like parents and siblings) to view public posts and see the excitement of our incoming students.
While I can’t control who “Likes” our Facebook Page, I can easily control spam by removing posts (and users) if they are not participating in our community-building efforts.
Lougan (Facebook Group): We wanted to create an invite only group for several reasons. Having a closed group allows you to keep the folks you don’t want out and it lets the students have peace of mind that someone isn’t trying to sell them something. Closed groups also help control misinformation, especially in regards to scholarships, financial aid, and housing. I find it easier to manage our message in a closed group, where I can answer the questions directly.
Exclusivity is also a huge reason why we have a closed group. Students feel special knowing that they are the students who were admitted to the university. The people they are talking to could potentially be their future classmates. I also believe that having a closed group gives students within the group piece of mind, that the entire world isn’t looking at the things they are saying. I know that students in our group are more open with others because they know the public isn’t watching, and in turn this energizes conversation.
Mike (Facebok Page): As the admin of a Page, it’s important to know the key ways that users will return to your Page wall and interact with other Page fans (or “Likes”). Posting a status, link or photo as the Page will push that update to the News Feeds the incoming students, which is a great way to update them with important information or just get them talking to each other. Using the Discussions area of Pages is very useful in creating topics for conversation without overloading the Page wall with posts. Our Class of 2015 Page has over 100 discussion topics, with more popular threads including over 80 posts.
Lougan (Facebook Group): I’ve never really had to create conversations in the group because of how the group is set up. Students are notified when others post in the group from their homepage. They can also be notified by email when someone posts in the group, or posts in a thread they are subscribed to. On average students post about 300-400 topics and comments per day, though I believe this will pick up over the summer as students are out of school and bored. Typically, I sit in awe of what the students are talking about, make a random funny comment from time to time, and answer lots of questions directly on the group.
Having notifications show up on the homepage of Facebook is the key to the groups success. It’s a constant reminder that there is something going on in the group. I believe that having that link there drives people to the group. It encourages you to leave your news feed and actually click on something. Pages lack that kind of font page access, and thus I believe a lot of interaction takes place on a users news feed, rather than the actual page. This is why I believe that groups have the potential to generate far more interaction than a Page could.
Mike (Facebook Page): Creating a Facebook Page may only take a few minutes, but it requires a strong time commitment to create a sense of community and gain the trust of the incoming students. Be prepared to answer questions on Sunday nights (if there’s a Monday deadline approaching), check your Facebook messages as often as your e-mail, and get your current students actively involved. From January to July, I’m spending about three to five hours a week maintaining our Facebook Pages.
Lougan (Facebook Group): I’ve devoted a good chunk of time to the Facebook group. I’m available to answer questions pretty much at any time. I also constantly monitor the group and encourage discussion through interaction with the students. The attention seems to have to paid off, since the group encompasses close to 80% of the incoming class and is still incredibly active. Parents have even approached us during orientation and have praised how the group has really helped their student feel comfortable and build strong friendships before the students stepped foot on campus.
It’s important to note that Facebook is the only platform for creating communities for incoming students – but it is one of the most popular. Having an active community involves a strong combination of the following:
- Be where your students are
- Make it easy for them to join
- Give them a reason to join
- Don’t censor them or get too involved (think: What would a chaperone do?)
- Provide excellent customer service
- Invite current students and encourage authenticity
How are you building online communities for your incoming students? What’s working well for your school? I’d love to hear your examples and opinions in the comments.