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Social Media Use in Higher Education - Claire Field - The Social Penguin Blog

Social Media Use in Higher Education – Claire Field


In her maiden post for The Social Penguin Blog, Claire Field takes a look at the use of social networks by Universities as a comms platform between them and their students.

Social media usage is now everywhere, both in companies and institutions, as well as used by individuals. It’s infiltrated various industries, from the automotive industry - the more you like on Facebook, the less you pay for a Skoda , to the fashion industry – French Connection’s rather clever Youtique. London Mayor Boris Johnson tweets to over 120,000 followers, and we’d like to think that Her Majesty has a sneaky peak at The British Monarchy Facebook page, too.


"I don't want paper you buffoon, get me on Facebook!"

But, what these all have in common is that they all have a (potentially) long-term interested audience – their role as a customer (or a consumer) won’t really change over the years. And they could be getting involved for the potential reward for engaging with a company, like a discount or freebie, or perhaps they are hoping of a glimpse of insight into a politician’s or a celebrity’s life.

Higher Education is slightly different, especially in regards to current students who are effectively a university’s “customers” of today with limited time in the role of a student. The majority of HE institutions have internet space for students, providing course information and support in their own bespoke spaces, but the lines are beginning to blur and the likes of Facebook pages (Warwick Uni), YouTube channels (Uni of Sheffield) and Flickr photostreams (Cambridge) are being created by universities in the hope that they can engage with an audience that typically likes to disengage with their university in a social capacity. There’s a division for students between the serious and the social, but universities don’t tend to see it that way. They’re hoping that by engaging students at a social level, they can create a feeling of warmth which will translate into a benefit for the university in the future – whether it’s the student going on to recommend their place of study, offering to help future students through mentoring, or by donating their money.

It can also have a negative impact. Just like we’re sometimes prone to firing off an angry tweet when we feel a company has let us down, having an informal platform like Facebook for students – especially in current times of hiked up fees when reputation is key – can be dangerous. It offers up an instant area where students can moan without going through the, often lengthy formal complaint procedures, and negative messages can spread like wildfire once they are put out. Universities may choose not to deal with these because a student’s post on Facebook isn’t as perceived to be as valid as an official complaint.

It’s easier for retailers, for example, to deal with customers in a social media capacity as the relationship between the two is less formal, but in a university there is a need for these measures to be taken and the correct procedures to be followed. Using social media channels in Higher Education has potential, but the reality is that unless it’s course-related, it’s more than likely students will be using Facebook to connect with friends or YouTube to watch viral videos. They see these spaces as theirs and it may cause more harm than good if their university tries to interact with them in a way they don’t want.

Do you think universities can engage successfully with their current students through social media channels in a way that’s beneficial for both? Or do you think universities should stick to their own dedicated spaces to get their messages across?

Claire Field is an in-house web editor and community manager with a huge passion for social media and tea. Take a look at her site here

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  • http://twitter.com/butwait Shelley Krause

    Claire, you raise some interesting points in your post… universities’ seeming inability to recognize the persistence of the “serious vs. social” divide, and ongoing concerns about the ever-present possibility of inadvertently creating a “creepy treehouse” effect.

    Still, there are some schools that are coming up with interesting and innovative social media uses… I have facilitated a few conversations about this, and you might be interested to see some of the use-cases I’ve collected here.

  • http://www.ellefield.co.uk Claire

    Thanks for your comment, Shelley. And you’re right, it’s definitely not all universities who don’t understand how to utilise social media for the benefit of both the student AND the university.

    What I noticed from your brilliant examples though is that it is the US universities who are getting it right – perhaps because they have more of an awareness that alumni fundraising is key for their survival and they know they need to get it right from the onset of the student experience? Whatever the reason, I’ve not come across many UK institutions who’ve got it spot on.

  • http://www.flash-design-india.com/flash-media-server-application.php peter

    Social media tools can be used to engage the students, especially online, in the learning process; and more important in the interaction with instructors and class peers. The twitter and Facebook are the most used platforms and we can take advantage of this popularity in benefits of learning process.