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University Web Developers

So, we're growing a little Facebook fan page for our institution. We're at around 2500 fans at this point.

Up until now, we've left it "locked" so that only "official" posts are allowed on the fan page's Wall.

However, I noticed while looking around at some of our "competitor" schools that most university fan pages (of the ones I looked at, at least) are "open" and allow fans to post on the Wall in addition to "official" posts.

So, I ran it by the "powers that be" around here, and it sounds like the biggest concern is how to deal with the potential for "bad publicity" if someone posts something negative/inappropriate/critical/etc. Since it is the "official" Facebook fan page for the institution, will such comments be perceived as coming from our institution in some sort of "official" capacity?

At any rate, I am personally of the opinion that we should open it up and truly make it a social media instead of a glorified bulletin board.

Does anyone have experience dealing with this sort of question (to open or not to open)? Or, does anyone know of any guidelines anywhere that deal with this sort of issue?

Thanks in advance for any help,

Doug Thompson
Manager of Web and Electronic Communications
Ohio Wesleyan University
dethomps@owu.edu

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I work for a small school in MA and we've got about ~2000 fans on our FB page. I made the decision about 2 months ago to "open it up" and just see what happens. Aside from the once-a-week marketing promotion post to college students, there's a lot of good content... too much to reject. We had parents writing super embarrassing "Happy Graduation" posts to their kids, which were hilarious... And that was well worth it.

Generally, though, I like the idea of it being open just so that it gives the feeling of being more social -- even if I unilaterally delete anything that I don't want on the page.
I think you should view Facebook simply as a communication tool. It has certain strengths and certain weaknesses. It was designed to be an open format - encouraging two-way communication. I don't think there is necessarily a right way and a wrong way to use it. Sure, it is possible to try and force FB to be something it's not or to try and prevent it from being what it really is. But I think you have to find out what is the best way for your school to use FB. It may not be exactly the same way in which other schools use it.
Hi Doug, one of the things that we have done is create a Social Media Policy that goes through the whole process of how our institution 'does' social media (from students, to faculty, to staff) and this is a great guide to manage all of this. It goes above and beyond what appears in the student handbook regarding Internet usage and social media things that students should be careful about.

Also, you have to remember that social media is 'social' and that means that there needs to be that interactive, personalized and trustworthy approach to engaging students. We made the decision when we started using Facebook that it was strictly for recruitment purposes. It was not an additional avenue to bombard users with repurposed content that we are publishing on our main Website.

We use Facebook with the following model: The Social Web Recruitment Funnel - Seek students (we use traditional advertising to drive prospective students to our social Web efforts), then engage them (we interact with these prospective students, connect with them and engage them in conversation from the moment that they show interest to the moment they step on campus) and then retain them (after the applications are in, we create community and allow them to interact with each other, ie. look for roomates, ask questions about 'what is there to do') and it is all done with the purpose and goals of getting them excited about the college and the brand; engaging them at every step of the way to enhance these connections and to network the students together.

Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets MUST ONLY be used to focusing on delivering a unique experience through tailored messages depending on who is your target audience, what the intention of the message is, and how each social media tool best fits each individual content. Our expectation is that by providing something unique, this will give prospective students a new experience for them to recommend us, to blog about us, and to tweet about us to their friends and family.

I read somewhere (I can't remember who said this) that "we are the channel and we are the distribution," so take advantage of these tools, not for posting press releases or news items (you can do that on your main site) but use it to create a stronger bond with followers who have a pre-established affinity for the institution. You have to open it up and you have to deal on a case-by-case basis when someone posts things that might be deleted. Having a Social Media Policy will guide you as to what can be deleted, what will not be deleted, and what will have to go up the chain of command (things that are right on the border line) for final review.

We've encountered alumni posting advertisements for voting for their child to appear on a magazine, to businesses posting spam, to students complaining or trying to be funny with a demeaning character towards the institution. Some of these we have deleted and some of these we have kept. If you want to walk the 'social media' journey, your institution must be willing to take on the heat and deal with it. Sometimes doing this in a public place allows others to see that you are being transparent at all times, that you are interested in their thoughts and comments and that once posted, you will address them. Transparency and openness create value and trust to the student and to the parent. If you can create that, then you are one step closer to social media heaven!

One last thing (to end this never-ending post), we just started using Facebook and Twitter about 3 months ago so we are newbies (as my oldest son calls me) at this, but we started with a good Social Media Policy foundation that walks us through everything imaginable. We even have items that dictate who can create sub accounts for Facebook/Twitter (Athletic department, clubs, etc) and who can't, how we deal with the creation and management of officially recognized college social media accounts, security and privacy policies (FERPA), how we manage profile image/avatars for these, content guidelines, how we deal with spam and advertisements, how we deal with vulgar and offensive comments, etc. I urge you to start there and then have that policy to guide you once you open it up to the public.

steve thurston • webmaster
marketing department
digital media communications adjunct
valley forge christian college • phoenixville, pa
610.917.1476 • vfcc.edu

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