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University Web Developers

A recent trend in higher ed has been the creation of niche social networks for Accepted Students. With the new academic year underway, a common question around these sites is how should they transition from year to year. Should members be deleted and the site start fresh with each new cohort? Should existing members be encouraged to move to a new network? Will members be mad if there posts, photos, friendships, etc. get deleted?

These are interesting and challenging questions. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Seems like it should start with activity. Is the activity dead? The traffic might tell you about the investment. The challenge will be the vocal minority that still want to go in there - I hope Rachel weighs in on this, I think she's had this convo at new paltz for a bit.

I would expect they would transition back to Facebook for most of their interaction, but I've not seen usage stats on any of these types of Nings. What percentage of the class signed up?

Is there any reason not to just set up a new class of 2014 group for next year?

Perhaps next year it could be a function of setting expectations from the start - e.g. "This will be a 6 month transition space for you."
This is the email I sent when cleaning out to prepare for this year's group:

Hi friends,

We are so glad that you all made use of OC Community to help get ready to start your adventure at OC. As we prepare for next year's incoming class, we are going to clean house and clear out our old members to make way for the new freshmen, so they can feel like it's their place like it was yours.

If you're interested in sticking around and helping to answer questions our future eaglets may have, let me know at and we will put you back in.

Thanks for everything. You're the best!

Ann White
OC Marketing

Last year there were no problems with people wanting to stay. I might direct them to the 2013 FB group if they want. I will probably give them a warning of about a month.

I will probably do this within the next month or two. I can see via google analytics that site usage is way down, and that's great because it's means they're here and having fun. :) They're connecting on Facebook now also, which is great- that was the plan.

Time to set the kiddos free. :) The hard part, at least last year on Ning, was having to individually "ban" members to clean them out. :-/ That was a pain.
I'm really curious to see how folks weigh in on this topic.

This is one of the areas we've been asking a number of colleges about. We've built a Facebook Application for admissions offices and we thought this would be one of the big benefits of our Application. Users of the Application would not need to transition the relationships they had created within our community back to Facebook since they were already in Facebook.

Interestingly, we found that a number of colleges we spoke with that had already or were about to set up private social networks didn't have a clear stance on this question. Many in their first year of using a private social network hadn't decided what to do with admitted students, while others planned to shut down the network once students were on campus. A few had discussed transitioning the network to a student life department, at least for the students' first year, anticipating its use as a retention tool. Since these private social networks are new for many schools, we weren't able to get a sense for how these transitions had gone.

I'm also curious to hear how students reacted at those schools where the network was shut down. Did you communicate the shutdown well in advance? Were students ok with the shutdown? Had usage tapered as the beginning of school approached?
We've been struggling with this very issue with Café New Paltz, our online community for fall 2009 accepted students. (I wrote several articles on if you want to read more about it.) Here's the Cliff Notes version & what we've done about transitioning.

We launched the site in Jan. 2009 for early action accepted students. At the end of Feb. we invited all general accepts. In April we started a discussion forum asking those who paid or were planning to pay their deposit what they want the future of Café New Paltz to be. The overwhelming response was for us to keep it open through Orientation and their first semester, so that's what we've committed to at this point.

In May, after the May 1 national deposit deadline, we sent an e-mail to all members who hadn't paid their deposit wishing them well in their post- high school plans and told them they would lose access to Café New Paltz in one week. We sent a separate e-mail to everyone who paid their deposit who wasn't already a member of the Café to invite them into the community. We changed our focus from being a yield tool to being a first year and new student community (we invited transfer students too).

The Office of Undergraduate Admission turned over the oversight of the community to the Coordinator of First Year Programming (FYP) in Student Development (division of Student Affairs). Although I haven't been actively involved in this community in the last couple of months, I understand from the Coordinator of FYP that the traffic and activity are down from it's peak April through June.

As we've internally talked about next steps, my feeling has been once they actually move on campus and meet more of their friends "IRL," they will communicate more via Facebook, and we've seen that exact trend. In October we plan to start another forum asking if they'd like to see this resource/community continue after December, but more than likely we will close it at that point.

The Office of Undergraduate Admission definitely wants to do some version of Café New Paltz again this winter for fall '10 accepts. Until we know if the new student community is continuing, we won't know what to call it. We've tossed around ideas including "Café New Paltz '14" and such, but we'll use the existing name/URL if the new student community closes in December before we launch the new in January. I believe we'd technically start a new Ning community (if we chose to go with that platform again), rather than delete the old one.

We'll know more in the next month or so, so I'd be happy to update you guys again at that point.
I would definitely be interested in hearing an update. Is it easy to copy the template of one ning community to another, expediting next year's set up?
I honestly don't know - I've never done this before. Cafe New Paltz was the first time I used Ning from an admin perspective. We may or may not go with Ning again for this next round, but interested to hear from others who have used Ning 2+ years in a row how they handled this.
I finally went through and found data evidence for my earlier statements:
Thanks for sharing. So to re-use your ning community, you removed individuals one by one. After doing this, are you pretty much all ready to go for the next incoming class?
Yep. I may do some seeding for the next class with people/groups/topics, but that's about it.
This discussion as well as my experience at Butler are largely in line with my thought of utilizing tools such as Facebook instead of a private social network. Your primary goal and strategy should extend beyond admissions and yielding. You want to be connected with them as current students, young alumni and beyond (and also be aware that tools and tactics may change over time). I think the transition is much easier to manage in Facebook, where they usually already are and already will continue to be.
Same story at SUNY-ESF -- Ning network for accepteds rolled out 1/08 with a plan to 'retire' it... well, NOW actually, and then to relaunch for the next class. The network had student ambassador and admissions staff members, and it included dedicated news and events feeds, as well as other worthwhile modules/apps for accepteds.

Same story, but what's the next chapter?

Our current ideal scenario is to have a dedicated, private, whole-student-body SN (Ning? SocialGo?), and to 'merge in' the accepted student network each year. Unfortunately, you can't merge networks in Ning -- only interlink. Nor, as all know, can you migrate member content to a different SN.

In fact, to the extent that I've researched it, there is no dedicated SN provider that offers a merge path at this point. A SocialGo rep I spoke with promised a tool was forthcoming. Still waiting.

Without a way to merge -- or, conversely, to completely isolate a sub-network within a larger one -- our current vision seems unworkable. ...any ideas out there? I'm really looking hard now since rollout time for the next accepted network is here.

Note: It was a grad/undergrad student ad hoc committee that chose the whole-student-body SN option as their top choice. We discussed the status quo -- a temporary dedicated accepteds SN + numerous external SN groups with no College participation + College Facebook fan page -- and they still wished to try out a dedicated ESF SN.

All thoughts and ideas welcomed.

Paul Otteson
We've been exploring SocialEngine for the last few weeks and just made the purchase this morning. It has "subnetworks" within your installation, which I believe will help you keep folks separate and achieve what you're looking for. We bought one license with every plug-in they offer, and it cost $620.



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