facebook and colleges: from outhouse to penthouse?

I was invited to talk last week to all of our admissions counselors about our college’s presence in social media. When I noted this on Twitter (I’m a dork), one of my followers asked if I would discuss searching and screening applying students via their Facebook profiles.

Obviously: Not. (Who has that kind of staffing, let alone mindset?) But it reminded me how the narrative, the relationship between colleges and Facebook has changed so quickly. When I first heard about The Facebook a few years ago, it was in the context of colleges wanting to block Facebook usage because of underage students disclosing their drinking habits, pics of groups conducting hazing, concerns about stalking, etc. Conclusion: Facebook bad!

But during a Web roundtable at a SUNYCUAD conference a couple years ago, I encountered a feeling that colleges wanted to find ways to work productively on/with Facebook. Of course my friend Rachel Reuben at New Paltz was already ahead of the curve, but the attitudes of many college communicators, myself included, started to evolve to Facebook as an opportunity — not a crisis.

The tipping point for colleges’ relationships with Facebook probably came with the introduction of Fans pages in November 2007 [date corrected, merci to Karine Joly], providing for official presences in the Web’s most active social-media community. We were among the institutions who explored Fans pages early and — lo and behold — not only did people come out of the woodwork to become fans of SUNY Oswego but they started asking questions, sharing memories and making connections. Now the question isn’t Should we be on Facebook? but What more can we do with Facebook?

Historians and sociologists could chronicle the length of time it takes for movements or ideas to go from outhouse to penthouse in terms of acceptability. In the world of Web 2.0, the cycle grows ever shorter. Student blogs, considered a novelty seemingly yesterday, are now reportedly used by more than half the colleges in the U.S. YouTube, once considered a place to be embarrassed, not promoted, has become a hot property with colleges everywhere creating their own channels.

At the end of my presentation to admissions counselors, I received a nice round of applause. During the break, some counselors also said thanks and even good job! All that seemed inconceivable a couple years ago, but it’s great how people see the advantages of social media as a legitimate channel of communication. Doesn’t it make you wonder what idea that today colleges find improbable will soon win widespread acceptance?


1 Comment

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One response to “facebook and colleges: from outhouse to penthouse?

  1. Tim, Facebook pages were launched in early November 2007 – not December. I even have an old artifact to prove it: a post on collegewebeditor.com 😉

    Sorry, couldn’t resist correcting the timeline of the historian in chief 😉

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