Universities Social Networks

It’s a sign of the times.  People’s phones are more advanced than their own computers.  Paper and ink books are being ousted by electronic reading devices.  Now, colleges and universities are making use of social networking websites.

A new study released by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research (conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes, Ph. D. and Ava M. Lescault, MBA) analyzes the extent to which four accredited universities are incorporating social media websites into their classrooms.  This study, conducted between the years of 2010 and 2011, confirms the hypothesis that colleges and universities are increasingly using social networking websites not only to reach out to current students but also to research prospective students.

Admissions officers from large and small schools were interviewed, and the findings were compiled from the results of more than four hundred interviews.  According to this study, “100 percent” of colleges and universities studied are using some form of social media.  They use these websites for everything from increasing student awareness about on-campus activities and programs to getting an idea of what people are thinking and saying about their university.

This should come as no surprise.  Social networking sites have mushroomed into  some of the most prevalent forces on the internet.  Nearly everyone has a Facebook or a MySpace page, and even more  have at least heard of these sites.

Employers and certain kinds of law enforcement officers already use social networking sites to learn everything about another person from their birthday to their favorite color, and it was only a matter of time before universities joined the fray.  After all, what better way to get to know prospective students?

Social networking sites already have their foot in the door as far as classroom integration is concerned.  I myself just took a class last summer session where the teacher made a Facebook page for students of the class.  She used this as her primary avenue for class announcements, and she encouraged us to use the page to voice questions and seek assistance from our peers.  She even admitted that she checked her Facebook account more often than she checked her own e-mail.

Besides this one example, I think UC Irvine makes pretty generous use of Facebook.  You can “like” UCI’s pages and receive alerts and reminders about on-campus programs and activities.  Even Peter the Anteater has his own Facebook page.

As far as this goes, I don’t have a problem with UCI making use of Facebook.  After all, it’s not like being a student here forces you to “like” their page.  If a university wants to make use of the significant societal in-roads and networks provided by these kinds of websites, I’m all for it, especially if it will help make the school a better place and improve my experience here as a student.

One thing I do have a problem with, however, is the use of social media by high-ranking school officials.  Apparently, Chancellor Drake has a Twitter account and “tweets fairly regularly.”  I wouldn’t know because I don’t have a Twitter account.  Frankly, I think that Facebook pushes the limits of “people-sharing-useless-crap-I-don’t-want-to-know”, and Twitter takes that to an entirely different, even more outrageous level.  In my eyes, if someone has a Twitter account and “tweets fairly regularly,” I think a little less of that person.  They strike me as more concerned with what they have or haven’t told 50 million people in the last five minutes than with what is really important in life, like one’s job or one’s tangible, corporeal friends.

If Chancellor Drake (or any other high-ranking school official, for that matter) has time to “tweet,” that raises questions in my mind.  Why are they wasting time “tweeting?”  Shouldn’t they be spending their time doing things that are a little more important like, oh, I don’t know, improving the quality of my education?  “What about some help with these tuition hikes, huh?  Have some mercy!” cries my wallet.

Despite my prejudice, I can understand why school officials might want to personally tap into the social media surrounding them.  After all, they’re people too, aren’t they?  Chancellor Drake (and others like him) may want nothing more than to seem more relatable to their students.

Whatever the goal, I think that the use of social media sites (especially Twitter) by high-ranking school officials does much more harm to their image than it does good.  Save Facebook for the classroom discussions.  Besides, can you really tell me that you can imagine Chancellor Drake cuddling up with his Blackberry, scrolling through all the “tweets” he missed in the last half hour, and chuckling contentedly to himself — all while keeping a straight face?  Because I sure can’t .

Spencer Grimes is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at sgrimes@uci.edu.