A very interesting experiment in the power of social networks occurred on Friday. Several higher ed professionals uncovered evidence of a marketing scheme utilizing the very popular incoming freshman “Class Of” groups in Facebook and were sharing their findings on Twitter. Upon further digging they found hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country with Class of 2013 groups created by the same small group of people. Additional detective work identified a college marketing group behind most of the pages, likely with the intent of mining students’ comments and posts on the Class of 2013 group pages. Our university was the lucky recipient of two of these pages.
As we enroll a freshman class in the range of 4,500 students, it is not policy that we create and maintain official class pages for each new group of students. Instead we let the network of Facebook groups develop naturally. The Class of 2012 group last year had more than 1,200 student members and hundreds of discussion board conversations.
Armed with information from the Twitter discussion with other higher ed colleagues, I was able to identify that the Class of 2013 group creators and admins were not prospective students. I posted links to the story on each page and highlighted the group admins that were attempting to pose as our students. Next, I messaged a couple of students who were engaged in the groups and encouraged them to take ownership. By Friday afternoon, the marketing groups had relinquished admin rights on one page and switched admins on the other. I emailed the new admin requesting that he name our students as admins. After a couple of snarky email replies, he gave up his admin rights by the next evening. The students who took admin rights for the pages are now cross-posting on each group and building relationships with the other student admins.
We have no official obligation to monitor or engage students on Facebook or other social networking sites to protect them from indiscriminate sharing of information or spam marketing. But just as I would stop a preoccupied person from stepping off a curb into oncoming traffic, it felt appropriate to empower students with all available information regarding their decisions. Particularly if that decision may ultimately affect their enrollment and engagement with the university.
What’s your take on all of this?
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At the final semester banquet for our student leaders, lots of fun stories and jokes from throughout the past year were shared. These students were part of a year-long program of leadership and development training that includes first-year seminar course facilitation in the fall semester.
As we were enjoying dessert, one of our seniors, Adam, mentioned that in his last class he shared with his students that I was the reason he was still in college. His co-leader, Kelsey, chimed in that Adam had indeed given a presentation on how he had made it through college with my help. Curious as to the reasoning, I asked Adam how I was of influence.
“You kicked my butt. And you didn’t stop kicking my butt until I straightened out.”
You see, Adam had a little difficulty with academic focus early on in his college career. We spent many an afternoon chatting about goals, grades, and graduation and why his current choices were not getting him closer to any of them. Eventually, Adam got it figured out. This year he is president of the academic club in his major in addition to serving as a peer mentor in our program. He will graduate in May.
And that is why I do what I do. The financial rewards in higher education will never rival CEO pay. Our hours are crazy, we don’t travel in private jets, and the temperature control in our buildings never seems to coincide with the season. But every once in a while, we get these little gems of appreciation from students that remind us that we touch lives. And kick butt. Which makes for a pretty nice end-of-the-year bonus in my book.