While Facebook got its start on college campuses in the US, today it’s truly become a global phenomenon. Over 250 million people around the world use the site each month. Nevertheless, four years later, many university and college administrators are using Facebook to keep in touch with core constituencies: current students, prospective students, alumni, and fans. Those responsible for managing a university’s official Facebook efforts face a daunting task. Here, Inside Facebook takes a look at six key strategies all administrators should think about when building a Facebook presence.
1. Determine the institutional face and voice of the university on Facebook.
As a university that is looking to establish an identity on Facebook, the first question to contemplate is how to set the institutional tone and voice of your Facebook identity. Unlike other products and services that have a presence on Facebook, pushing promotions and sales don’t really apply. Rather, universities are concerned with upholding and creating their reputations as the leaders in research, innovation, sports, and more – and hoping that each year they will draw a brighter pool of students than the year before.
In addition, university communication programs are often decentralized. A university may operate several Facebook Pages, one for different schools (e.g., education, law, medicine) and different athletic departments (e.g., football, basketball, tennis). This makes it difficult for the official university Facebook Page to ensure that its tone is consistent. It’s important to develop a plan for how you will manage comments that are inappropriate and where you will draw the line between free discussion and making the decision to delete a comment.
2. Understand the power of the stream.
If you’re noticing that your page interactions (e.g. number of likes and comments) are greater than your page views, that’s telling of the fact that more of your Facebook Page fans are engaging with your Page through the stream and not directly within your Page itself. Know that the stream is dynamic, meaning that depending on how many friends or Facebook Pages a fan has, content may drop out of the stream quickly. Universities must be sure to generate content that appeals to a diverse fan base (e.g., prospective and current students, alumni, people from out of state and out of the country) at a frequency that doesn’t feel spammy. You can gauge this by analyzing your Page Insights.
3. Find ways of synchronizing online and offline communications via Facebook.
Universities are unique because some of their most important constituents are current students who live either on campus or in close proximity to it. This makes it possible for universities to take online communications offline and bring offline interactions online. As an example of the latter, Kansas University launched a new feature during its commencement ceremony in May. The university asked its graduates to take photos with their cell phones and email them for posting to its Facebook Page. The university received over 400 photos.
And in the case of online communications informing offline behavior, Ian Hsu, Director of Internet Media Outreach at Stanford, shared with us back in May:
“We’re incorporating Facebook (and Twitter) into our emergency communications plans. In the event of an earthquake or other emergency, we’ll be using Facebook as a key part of our communications mix. It may be the case that someday, a communication through the Stanford Facebook Page could help save someone’s life. In order for this to be effective, it’s essential for us to earn a trusted place in our Fans’ News Feeds today and over time.”
In other words, when you have thousands of students on a communication platform like Facebook, it can become an extremely effective means to spread and receive time-sensitive and critical information. Administrators of university Facebook Pages can award their fans by letting their Facebook communities find out about important announcements first. Kansas University did with the announcement of its new chancellor, Bernadette Gray-Little: fans of the Kansas University Facebook Page were the first of the public to find out.
4. Think about how to develop relationships with prospective students and maintain ties with alumni.
A university may find that many of its fans on Facebook have no official affiliation to the university, like prospective students. On the other end of the spectrum is the alumni community, which has a very strong connection with the university. This is a challenge for universities on Facebook with a diverse fan community: how to talk with fans who are connected to the university in varying degrees.
Similarly, while universities are based in certain locations, in some cases the majority of their audience can be elsewhere around the country or even around the world. Understanding how these individuals interact with your page (Do they like more than the comment? Do they ask questions more than they respond to stories?) will help inform how you can tailor content to their specific points of interest and curiosity.
5. Partner with existing Facebook applications to execute university campaigns.
While it may not make the most sense for universities to develop their own Facebook applications, there may be times when it’s appropriate to partner with existing apps to rally support for particular university campaigns. We’ve seen leading brands and advertisers do this successfully before – BMW and Graffiti, St. Martin’s Press and Visual Bookshelf, Ben & Jerry’s and Causes, etc. – and there’s no reason why universities shouldn’t be experimenting with and testing out application partnerships. CourseFeed, Teach the People, and Check My Campus come to mind.
Stanford University recently used the Causes app to recruit members of the Class of 2009 to donate money to the Stanford Fund. And while this isn’t an application sponsorship, it’s an example of how universities can tap into the user base of apps that are already out there to fulfill certain goals and objectives – in this case, fundraising. While the results weren’t overwhelming, we see the potential in future such campaigns and are looking forward to seeing more universities getting involved the app landscape.
6. Take advantage of Facebook’s newest features, such as the Live Stream widget.
With universities being a huge generator of online lectures and talks, it’s appropriate to consider how to make these experiences more social. With the launch of Facebook’s Live Stream widget, you can allow your community to watch videos live and actively participate in the discussion with real-time status updates that are linked to Facebook. We’ve seen this done successfully, especially in the TV broadcasting industry – most recently, with Michael Jackson’s memorial service. Brainstorm what opportunities there may be to implement Facebook Connect.
While universities should be approaching their Facebook efforts in unique ways, in the end, the same underlying concepts carry the day: know the tone you are trying to achieve and know how to reach your audience in ways that encourage your fans to participate. Facebook is becoming an increasingly important tool for universities to release with multiple constituencies, and we expect tools supporting those relationships to only be further developed in the future.
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