Social Networking – the New College Essential

Almost all American colleges use social media to reach potential students, conduct university business and keep the community connected. In fact, many media-savvy students even judge a school’s quality by its social media offerings. There is no doubt that social media has changed the way business is done at colleges everywhere but questions do remain about safety, privacy, and overdependence on social media networks in the college world.

Why Social Media Works

Social media in general allows a school to keep its students, faculty, and alumni connected in real time.  Not all colleges take advantage of the opportunities presented by a strong social media presence, though – and feedback from students and potential students suggests those schools may be missing out.

For many students, a strong social media presence is a major factor in choosing a college. A static website with no recent updates, or a complete absence from sites like Twitter and Facebook, can tell students that the school is not interested in communicating with them. Limited availability of social media in the classroom may also determine whether students will enroll in certain courses. On the other hand, schools committed to social media who maintain dynamic, frequently updated websites, make regular posts to Twitter and blogs, and keep current profiles on networking sites of all kinds help pique interest from students and further enhance the school’s brand. Making use of social media is a key part of the college profile in the classroom and campus life overall.

How Colleges Use Social Media

Facebook is the most-used social media site in higher education. Most schools have their own Facebook pages, where updates provide information about current events and activities and provide a place for students and faculty to interact. Twitter updates and school blogs also help keep students posted on events and information 24 hours a day. Many colleges and universities have also created their own social media platforms for members of the school community. Savvy schools dedicate a part of their public relations and information technology staffs to keeping up with social media trends and maintaining the school’s presence on its various social media platforms.

Social media networks are used in a variety of ways other than simply posting school news.  In the classroom, instructors use social media tools such as blogs, class websites, and course homepages to share course materials, encourage discussions about lessons and activities, and interact with students outside the classroom.

Colleges can also use social medial to foster a sense of community and school pride. College web pages and sites encourage students to interact and stay connected through contests, promotions, and the sale of school merchandise. College sites can also host blogs by student groups and individuals and give the entire campus a way to connect.

Social media has also revolutionized many schools’ relationships with one largely invisible but very influential group: students’ parents. Social media allows the school to reach out to parents and keep them informed about school news and events, and to keep them connected to their children who are attending. This fosters a feeling of partnership, with all parties working to ensure a student’s successful college career.

Social media is also especially important in recruiting new students. Since college visits can be expensive, more and more students are turning to virtual visits through social media channels, where they can talk to currently enrolled students and get a more candid picture of campus life than from the university’s publicity materials. The most active college sites post student content aimed at showcasing little known facts and events as a way to engage potential students and welcome newcomers.  Administrators tweet messages to incoming students and keep them informed of campus events well before they begin classes.

Social Media is Not Just for Students

Social media is for faculty, too. Instructors and other staff can use their school’s social media tools, as well as general networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, for professional development, connecting with colleagues at other campuses, and conducting joint projects. Administrators can also use social networking for fundraising and publicizing school initiatives and innovations. Social media is also an effective tool for keeping alumni connected to the campus community by providing updates and school news as well as opportunities for networking.

Drawbacks to Social Networking

Social media provides many useful ways to conduct campus business, but these tools bring risks as well as benefits.

While colleges use social media to connect with students, those students are also using it to connect with each other for a variety of reasons, both social and academic.  Social connectivity can help students create study groups, collaborate on projects and keep up with missed classwork.  Most colleges prominently involved with social media encourage this kind of connection and provide classroom tools for doing so.

The usual dangers of using social media are also present in the college environment, but they may be magnified because of the heavy use of social networking among college-age users, and a smaller pool of connected individuals. Students may place themselves at risk of stalking or assault by posting personal information on college or general social media sites. The careless posting of inappropriate material such as videos of heavy partying or sexual encounters can do harm both academically and professionally. Cyber-bullying and harassment can also occur, even when sites establish strict guidelines about appropriate behaviors.

Because college students are so heavily involved with social media, most colleges have instituted programs and initiatives to educate students about safe use of social networking sites and the consequences of misusing them. New student orientations include information on the use of social networks, and students are reminded about the risks of social media through brochures, posters, and workshops.

The same concerns apply to the use of social media by faculty and staff. Inappropriate postings can derail reputations and damage credibility, not only for the individual but for the college as well. Colleges using social media typically establish guidelines for the professional use of these networks.

Social media has become an essential part of all aspects of college life, offering opportunities for connecting, collaboration and academic enrichment. Although social networking can pose risks, it is an essential part of society today that helps colleges small and large to create a thriving campus community to support students throughout their college careers – and beyond.

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