When it comes to community building and management for incoming students, you can find many models involving various costs, commitment levels and features. Like other colleges, we’ve tried many things and sat through countless vendor pitches. So when our orientation coordinator approached me with a modest proposal to build two private invite-only Facebook groups — one for incoming freshmen, one for incoming transfers — it seemed worth a shot.
Like any other community-building attempt on social media, this meant addressing key points:
Staffing: Our orientation operation has many devoted, outgoing and tireless Laker Leaders and other student workers ready to help. Since they learn to be real-life ambassadors during orientation, they are well-suited to playing a similar role in social media.
Security: We had email addresses for incoming students and can invite them via sending a direct link. But coordinators were concerned this link could be shared around and others could get in, so they wanted to verify everyone who asked to join. This is especially hard when students are not using their full name or use a variation of their name as their Facebook handle. The positive about the security is that it keeps out spammers and creepers (and, some students would say happily, parents!), thus maintaining a good atmosphere for interaction.
Building: Security concerns and the added step for verification created a bottleneck for those wishing to join. Shortly after the initial email, I went to the group and found more than 100 students awaiting approval from the community’s coordinators! It is good to see that kind of enthusiastic response but if anyone is stuck in the queue too long it’s not the best introduction. Also, we already have a public-facing Class of 2016 Community on Facebook — which escorted students from interest to application to acceptance to enrollment to pre-orientation — that has more than 700 members and remains very active.
Sustaining: Student workers have done a nice job of generating conversations, posting photos and answering questions. The question-answering was a bit rocky at first but it’s improving. The incoming students have generated some great conversations on a variety of topics. One tool that may or may not see much use is our behind-the-scenes wiki with answers to a lot of commonly asked questions. The excitement on all sides is still high, so maybe this is a bit of a honeymoon phase, but other than some transfers concerned about room-assignment issues, the conversations have been decidedly upbeat.
This experiment bears watching, but we’ve already seen some nice wins. One involves an oft-praised employee in residence life who has made a lot of people happy by working her magic in accommodating students wanting to switch rooms. And transfer commuters — a group that often feels like they get less attention — started a wonderful, supportive conversation that has already cemented great connections. So while this is a preliminary snapshot, and I’m not sure how far into the lifecycle this project will run, I’ll track and report results as the project continues.