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Facebook: Pages vs. Groups & how many is too many (if possible)

This morning my friend Jess (@jesskry) started the following conversation on Twitter:
Higher ed peeps: how many Twitter/FB Groups are too many? Is there ...

This started a good discussion without our highered Twitter community, but Jess & I took it over to e-mail to discuss in more depth than 140 characters allow. We're bringing it over here to Ning, as we feel there are lots of different viewpoints and settings that will make the answers different for each institution, instead of potentially creating one standard best practice. Here's our conversation below. Can you weigh-in and tell us what you think?

Rachel to Jess:
My initial feeling is that it depends on the size of the university, the culture, and the structure. For my university, we're small enough (enrollment of 8,000, about 1,000 employees) that everyone knows me & that I'm the go-to person for all things Web-related, including social media. For us I think it makes most sense to have one official university FB page. I think anyone else in our university wanting a presence on FB should have groups, and I happily link to them from our groups channel.

I've heard from others who work for much larger institutions, such as the University of Buffalo, who are so huge, there's no central Web/marketing function. There may be for individual schools within the university, but not one big central one. For them, it may make more sense to go with pages. The big thing is, if they're going to use it as true marketers, they need the Insights for tracking/measurement. But, groups has the great advantage of having messages sent to everyone go to their inbox, whereas the Pages stick it in the "notifications" box & I think gets lost up there (especially for those kids super active with all the apps).

What are your thoughts?

(Jess will post her reply in just a bit....)

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I work at the University at Buffalo and I am very interested to get the community's thoughts on this. We have begun to think about these issues at the university level. I always return to my mantra - what business problem(s) are we trying to solve. At an institution the size of UB, there will be a variety of problems with a variety of solutions.

Looking forward to this discussion.
At Wayne State University we are pretty large (33,000 students) and we have a a central marketing department with marketing coordinators in each school/college within the university. We have been lucky enough that none of the marketing coordinators have taken it upon themselves to create the official pages (except the Alumni department but that is a whole different story). So in central marketing we have created the official Wayne State page and basically told all the deans that we are taking a central approach, getting the most bang for the buck and if they wanted to have social media presence they should partner with us to determine an appropriate strategy.

We have been lucky enough to get the dean's attention (something I think is almost impossible at other universities). We choose to have an official page instead of a group because we are able to install apps and be able to pull in external information that we could not do with groups. We are encouraging groups for prospective student involvement and the page for current students/alumni.
As the default social media person here, I keep our official Facebook Fans pages, which are only three: our main SUNY Oswego page, a new Athletics Page and a project page. I advise on other pages as necessary; if any *responsible* entity asks me about putting up a page, I advise them to, checking in from time to time. I tell other users it would be nice if it linked to our official page. There are also a couple of really small (<10 member) pages for student groups, but I'm more concerned with large ('>100 member) pages within our orbit.

The only groups I've set up are ones that are extraneous to my job. I think pages are better than groups for the usual reasons: more official, ability to read statistics, administrative advantages.

Overall, the main drawbacks to having a multiplicity of pages are the concern about watering down the brand -- which is, again, why it's important to reference our main Fans page, and people who are fans of the other pages are almost always fans of our main page -- and time constraints. The time issue is why I don't create more pages, though I am generally happy to link to other well-done pages within our college community.
IC has just over 6000 students, and a history of Balkanization between the individual academic units, so a single institutional voice is important. Also, as marketing has often been diffused to the individual schools and departments with disastrous effect, it's key for us to keep messaging centralized.

That said, there are certainly benefits to offering exclusive pages or groups to specific audiences (accepted students, alums, honor societies). For those we use tools beyond FB, such as our proprietary SNS for yield.

Essentially I'm of the opinion that FB should almost exclusively be the domain of organic communities, and NOT foisted onto students by the institution. The one major exception is the main institutional page.
IMHO, there are two broad approaches to Facebook. The first appraoch is that it is a way to market in the traditional sense. Given the 150 million users, you can easily bring your school added visibility. A university-created page/group is best for this.

The second approach is to engage your constituents in dialog to build long lasting relationships. Numerous organic pages/groups are the best for this.

You need to do both and resist the urge to control. In addition, "listening" to all this activity and responding accordingly (and not responding accordingly) is important.
Listening is the critical component, and often the most overlooked and shelved, for lack of resources/time.

I think Facebook can be treated a lot like our Web site. There's only one official university home page. Every department/program has their own micro site. We could never do a "one size fits all" Facebook page or group to encompass all of the different aspects of our universities, or effectively build communities and relationships that way.

But, for those of us who are at reasonably-sized institutions, I think it benefits us to have our pulse on what all of the various departments are doing with social media (same with Web development, marketing initiatives, etc.).
Rachel - treating Facebook like we treat our .edu Web site is a great analogy! I hadn't thought of it that way before. That approach will work for schools or all sizes.
Just an addendum to a great post on a fascinating topic ... Facebook now claims 175+ million active users. Or, as I say to give a context, more than 5x the population of Canada.
This is a really interesting question. In many ways, it probably makes sense to have a centralized presence on Facebook (when I want information about University X, I know where to go). One page with a unified message. However, do you want to stifle a department, school, or organization within the university community that wants to make an effort to promote themselves and the university as a whole, in the process? Additionally, it can allow for effective segmentation of your target audience.

Your alumni may want to see sports scores and general university news. Current students may be more interested in a listing of events around campus and links to Facebook Groups for student clubs. And prospective students may want information about majors that you offer and admission requirements. That doesn't even start to take into account other potential uses for pages... your athletic department could use it to share the upcoming schedule of games, to post highlight videos of the best plays the previous month, and to link to a website where fans can buy tickets.

Additionally, the barriers to becoming a fan of a Facebook Page are fairly low. A user clicks on a link one time and it's done. The big challenge is not getting a user to become a fan. It's getting them to engage with the Facebook Page, to become an active participant, to look to the Page as a resource for answering their questions, providing entertainment, or getting information. That seems more likely if the Pages are more targeted to specific segments of users.

Is it possible to lay out guidelines / best practices for creating Facebook pages and groups? Maybe create a primer on the pros and cons of Facebook Groups vs. Facebook Pages so organizations / departments / etc on campus can better understand their options and can decide what level of functionality they need. You could also strongly encourage them to add you as an adminstrator on any Facebook Page so you can make edits, if necessary. You'll also be able to see stats for the Facebook Page, so you may start to notice patterns regarding what works and what doesn't. Or strongly recommend a link back to the main Facebook Page as Tim Nekritz suggested.

I'm interested to hear others weigh in.
Would love to join in the conversation, but running late on other things. We're just getting started in FB at Vassar College, and developing our strategy -- an old strategy needs to be revisited/articulated. Debating what offshoot pages we need -- figuring the main one is for "everyone" -- very simple page people can be a fan of. Then we're considering other pages -- a news page or group that would post stories, events, etc. for those who want the info in their feed. And groups for departments, like the one Career Development has built up quite well. Then which offices? All? What's the focus? All swimming in my head, but good discussions are underway in house. I'd love to hear more about what folks have experienced, are building, and hope for.
We are currently debating what do with clubs. I was approached by the student senate and they wanted to create a page for each individual club. I've been trying to wrap my head around this and I believe that would be a poor choice. The problem trying to be solved is to keep club information up-to-date on our web site at the same time handing the keys over to a new club president or a new senate.

This discussion has helped me come up with a new plan. I don't want our main page to get washed out in the search results. So I would create one page for the student senate and link to that from our schools Facebook page. Then the student senate page could like to each club group.

What are your thoughts on this? Has your school experienced a similar dilemma and what do you do?
Our student senate did a very awesome thing in my book. they created a Ning page for current students in which students can create groups within the Ning environment. It is mostly student run but our marketing dept. keeps an eye on it from time to time.

As far as Facebook goes, I am in the same situation as Rachel, the school is small enough that they know, since I was hired and we got on the social media train, to come to our department now if they have questions. We set up an "In the know" committee to be kept up to date on university happenings and announced that any facebook queries should come through us. Since then people have checked in with us on questions about facebook and creating fan pages and getting them launch ready.

I think if there is a central place to have these things at least cycle through to keep a consistent message in them all there is no issue with making multiple fan pages for the big dogs (colleges, main university page) but when it comes to clubs, or a more student level groups would probably be better, or like our school a ning community. The student level seems to evolve more quickly than the faculty/staff level of a university and fan page is a little more constant than a group. So to reflect the evolution of both sides and i think groups and fan pages reflect the needs of the student and college/university respectively.

awesome discussion all :)

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