what 15 freshmen taught me about social media.

On Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit the GST 120: Leadership in Action class, which consists of 15 of our more engaged freshman. It seemed a decent place to learn more about the social media and Web habits of our students. It’s a small sample size, but the students were bright, articulate and painfully honest … and the findings interesting. (View original Google document.)

What do they use and how often?
– All 15 use Facebook. They all check it daily. (Some would check it hourly if they could.)
– 10 use MySpace, but not much. One checks daily; most hardly ever visit any more.
– None are on Twitter. In retrospect, I should have asked why.

How do they form community on Facebook?
– 11 joined the Class of 2013 Facebook group (created by an incoming student)
– 7 joined our Official SUNY Oswego Fans page (others said they would join had they known it existed)
– They joined other campus-related Facebook groups because they were members of real-life groups (Scuba Club, field hockey team, WTOP, Oswegonian, club rugby, floor of Johnson Hall, Del Sarte dance)

I asked them if they thought joining a group was different than becoming a Fan of a page, and they admitted they didn’t even know the difference. Since we set up a Class of 2014 group, I asked if they would feel different joining a group started by an institution vs. one started by a student. The enlightening response: We don’t even look for that or care. We just want to meet other students. Some even said they would prefer the groups be created by the college because they would trust the information more.

As for our college Web site, 12 said they found it the best place for information. Others didn’t express a preference. None thought of social media as the destination for information because they see it more as a place to connect. For our Web site, their main concerns involved usability: forms that didn’t work, non-functional links, difficulty finding specialized information. A few admitted they used they mainly used the search box to navigate, although this isn’t totally atypical of the Web in general (that’s how I navigate Amazon, for example).

In terms of what we can do better, they mentioned it would be great if we had an AIM name or more available chat. One student mentioned a competing college had an AIM presence but disliked that they used it to contact him instead of vice versa. This is a cohort that likes to use communication on demand but isn’t necessarily keen on unwanted contact from institutions. This is the 21st century equivalent of don’t call us, we’ll call you. Other than that, they seemed to find our social media presence appropriate.

I want to jump back to the group/page, institution/student finding. We, as Web communicators, debate all kinds of things we find more important than our users. These students don’t care if it’s a 2014 group or 2014 page. They don’t really care if it’s launched by an institution or a student. They just want to connect. We see and think about tools. They just see an action, an outcome they want.

It’s also worth noting (as Karlyn Morissette points out in this fine blog entry) that students think of social media as social first and foremost. If they find information they can use on Facebook, that’s a bonus. But when they want information, they’ll go to your Web site. A reminder that while we can be distracted by all the shiny objects that are social media platforms, investing in your institutional Web site — and making sure it’s easy to use and functioning — remains as important as ever.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “what 15 freshmen taught me about social media.

  1. jesskry

    Great findings!

    Your thoughts echo my discussions this week around using social media for orientation/prospects – it doesn’t matter what WE want to do or communicate, but rather what THEY want to do or communicate with us or to each other. We need to stop thinking that we can control the interaction and just provide the space to do so.

  2. eff

    I heard a story on npr the other morning — just caught the very end of it, but the topic was social media and young people (not sure if it was HS or college).

    they were talking about the decline of myspace and how some think it’s poised for a comeback, (but i disagree). some students said facebook is on the way out and will be replaced by something new (i disagree that it’s on the way out NOW, but do think it will eventually be replaced by something new and shiny).

    as for twitter, the students said, “twitter is for old people.” i think that’s mostly true. i think the news media helped cement that when they started talking about it so much and when every news personality / show had thier own twitter page.

    i’ve always said my facebook friends are “real life” friends/contacts and the people i follow on twitter are people i just find interesting. said another way, to be my fb friend, i just have to know you. to get followed on twitter, you have to “earn it” with good content.

    ok, enough rambling. i’ll shut up now.

  3. It’s easy to forget that we look at social media as a tool for marketing where most users look at it as a way to connect with friends, family, peers, etc. This post is a good reality check. It reminds us that the non-marketing users out there generally are there to have fun and be social, not to have marketing crammed down their throats.

    That being said, I had an enlightening conversation with twelve student organization leaders earlier this week who were trying to get into social media to promote their organizations and the events they put on. Top takeaway? They have the same big problem we do as professional marketers: How do you get people to care about what you are saying and find a way to take online engagement and turn it into real life action?

  4. Hey, brave title. ;)

    Thanks for the post. It’s good to remember (and kinda funny to realize) that while we may endlessly debate the value of a page vs. a group on Facebook, we’re probably the only ones who care.

    It does get back though to the “how do you measure social media” question. If the goal of the students is to simply connect — with all the warm and fuzzy feelings that “connecting” engenders — can we measure the value of that to our institutions? Can we even measure whether or not we’re achieving that goal?

  5. Pingback: Wayne State Web Communications Blog » Blog Archive » [Friday Links] The TEDxDetroit Edition

  6. insidetimshead

    JESS: Exactly! I think it’s also being in an academic environment where administrators — not just scientists — can become enamored of formulas, methods, calculated outcomes until we see communication methods as tools to reach people but fail to consider the people themselves. As students tell us, they see them as tools to connect, not as communication vehicles and respond accordingly. The on-demand, don’t-call-us we’ll-call-you of social-media use is a takeaway I’ll try to remember.

    EFF: Stats show that Twitter is filtering down to the younger folks. I’ve seen that once one student gets beyond the “people talking about what they had for lunch” myth and figures how to use Twitter (often with a push from yours truly), use starts to spread by word of mouth. If just one of the students found a good use for Twitter, you’d see 15 users before long. And, as someone in both your Facebook and Twitter circles, I’m flattered!

    DEVIN: Interesting observation! Good to know even those who are more digital natives struggle with the same things. But I think the first part, as you well know, is to build the network, group or Fans pages or whatever. Can’t communicate to a crowd until you have a crowd. Oh and … go Lakers!

    LORI: Yes, that whole value-measuring thing becomes more complicated when you realize the audience isn’t playing by any set of rules. I love the data Mike Petroff and Emerson assembled involving incoming students and social media, how many were connected in advance, etc. But even with all that data, it’s hard to know if correlation equals causation. And as for the title … I tend to think I have as much to learn from other people, anyone really, as I ever do to teach.

  7. Great post. I agree with Devin that we think of social media as a marketing/recruitment platform (eg. contests, facebook ads, etc.) but that what the students (our targets) are mainly using it for is to connect.

    It reinforces for me that if we are going to connect and be successful with social media, it has to be personal. The more personal the better.

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  10. I have had similar finding re: twitter.. professional people love it.. prospective students have no idea about it.

    http://blog.mongooseresearch.com/2009/03/prospective-students-do-not-tweet.html

  11. Pingback: campus (dis)engagement: student organizations and facebook. « InsideTimsHead

  12. Thanks for writing about this. There’s a lot of important tech info on the internet. You’ve got a lot of that info here on your site. I’m impressed – I try to keep a couple blogs fairly live, but it’s a struggle sometimes. You’ve done a great job with this one. How do you do it?

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