I had a crazy day yesterday … not that I am complaining, as I spent it with smart people near or at the top of the decision making chain here at PSU. I spent all morning and into the afternoon talking to a couple of groups about social media, social networks, and their potential for impact on students. I was asked over and over again how we as administrators and as an Institution should take advantage of Facebook (and blogs and twitter, and …). The rooms were filled with people of varying levels of comfort with social media sites so you could almost draw a line down the middle between “these sites make no sense” and “we absolutely need to be there.” The interesting thing I kept hearing was that students don’t want us there and that has me thinking about one simple question — Should Universities maintain an official Facebook presence?
Before I get too far down the path let me say that I am not talking about individual professors adding students as friends. I am talking strictly about an Institutional commitment to taking part in the network. As an example I can point you to my alma mater, West Virginia University, where they have (as it appears) made a serious decision about embracing everyone’s favorite social network.
What I wonder is if we need to be there? Should we use our resources (in time and people) to build a strong brand in FB? What does it yield? A place for alumni to reconnect (do they need us for that)? A place where we can do targeted marketing (can’t we do that in FB without a space)? A place to alert students of issues on campus (I hate to think we are relying on FB as our broadcast engine)? I’m just not sure.
There’s been all sorts of chatter about how to deal with the rapidly expanding demographic and how to personally segment the network based on who you want to see your updates. To me what that means is that we are seeing a network that is growing up. What was once the haven of a few geeks and a whole bunch of college kids has turned into a social network with an emerging identity crisis. It is no longer the land of twenty somethings … my Mom, Mother-in-Law, as are parents of my friends are on FB and know how to use it relatively well so something is afoot. Take into account the following from iStrategyLabs as an example …
The biggest surprise (perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising) was that Facebook’s 35-54 year old demographic segment not only continued to grow the fastest, but it accelerated to a 276.4% growth rate over the past 6 months.
Basically what I’m saying is that it isn’t just for college kids anymore … there are now lots of people to think about. So, I’ll return to my question, should Universities maintain an official Facebook presence? Anyone have any thoughts?