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.