Is FacebookGate ‘Troll Marketing’?

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Ethics, Facebook, Recruitment | Posted on 12-08-2010

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Note from Brad – Today, for the first time ever, I lend the SquaredPeg platform to another higher ed colleague.  Meet Lougan Bishop, Web Specialist at Belmont University (@lougan).  Lougan has been at the forefront of ‘FacebookGate 3.0′ since November, and has done an excellent job behind the curtains of helping bring this situation to light for yet another year. After breaking the first FacebookGate in 2008 and covering it again last year, I wanted to provide you a new perspective this year & Lougan has done an excellent job of that.

Take it away, Lougan!
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Remember a couple of years ago when FacebookGate rocked the higher education world?   Then earlier this year, the folks behind the original controversy started a new company called URoomSurf with the promise of more transparency?  Once again, Justin Gaither and his crew are back to their old tricks- except this time under the guise of a company called RoomSurf.

While it may be aggravating to see that particular group going back to their old playbook, I think these days we should expect these kinds of things to happen.  Higher Education has been dealing with this for three years now and nothing we have done has prevented it from happening.  My question is has it really had any significant effect on higher education’s efforts on Facebook?   It has definitely affected our workload as we write blogs and petition the media to get the word out about these folks who are stealing our brand and deceiving our incoming students.  Some of us have even gotten into heated exchanges with Justin Gaither himself.

So where has this gotten us?  Sadly, it appears we’re back to square one.  Can we really expect Facebook to do something about this?   Can we expect the media to get the word out for us?   Maybe, but I really do not think so.  Do we stir up a controversy?  Definitely, but really I think we’re just spinning our wheels and playing straight into RoomSurf’s hands. I honestly can’t say that FacebookGate has had any significant impact on any institution’s enrollment numbers.  They theoretically could, but right now it doesn’t seem like they are.  If anything, the attention that is given to FacebookGate appears to only be fueling Mr. Gaither’s marketing enterprise.

In the past day or so, I’ve begun to think its time to look at this from a different light. Back when I was in college a few years ago, I was really into posting on different forums online.   The more I thought about it, I began to realize that RoomSurf’s behavior might actually be a form of trolling.  Essentially, a troll surfs internet communities trying to get a rise out of members of the community by posting inflammatory or completely off-topic comments.  You could also compare this to fish trolling, the technique of dragging a lure behind a moving boat waiting for fish to bite.  Both interpretations work for RoomSurf.  Institutions react to them and they get stories in the NY Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.  They get a rise out of us by hanging the bait of a “Class of 2015” group and getting our students to bite.

So is this the birth of a new type of marketing or is this a new type of Troll?  No matter how you look at it, it’s pretty ingenious.  There is nothing inherently illegal about it.  The biggest plus seems to be that it’s working for them.  If it didn’t, they would not continue to do it year after year.  Though I haven’t had the best interactions with this company, I have to give them credit.  They know how to work Facebook, and they know how to keep up what they are doing.

So where does that leave higher education?  What can YOU as a higher education professional do to stop them?   The short answer is… not a lot.  It appears that RoomSurf is here to stay (unless they change their name again).  If the combined power of all of higher education can do nothing, you can’t do much yourself.  In the end, you’ll waste time & resources dealing with them.

You may be asking, “What about the students?! We can’t just ignore this, right?”   Well, there are some things you can do.  Essentially, you’ve got to starve out the competition, because honestly, that’s what they are doing.  Here is how you can do it:

  • Create Facebook groups before they do (but you know that right?)
  • Keep your Facebook group energized.  Engage students and help them engage each other.  Activity keeps your community going, and makes it look enticing to new members.
  • Make a very clear distinction between your Facebook groups and those others create.  It’s also a good idea to a webpage with a listing of all university sanctioned social media sites.
  • Educate your incoming students.  When you invite them to your Class of 2015 pages, it might be helpful to warn them about Facebook groups not created by the university.   Though many of them are just fine to join and could be helpful, others may be companies creating Facebook pages to market to them.  Linking to the NY Times article this year wouldn’t hurt either.

My final word of advice is to make plans to do this every year.   The RoomSurf folks and their Facebook groups are here to stay.  Who knows, maybe one day they’ll work with us.  Either way, you have to give them credit.  They know how to use social media.

Here are some other great articles on this topic:

Facebook Pages Admin: New Changes!

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 10-26-2010

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There’s nothing like waking up on a Tuesday and having an email you sent yesterday about the Admin Panel of a Facebook Page be completely wrong now.

That’s right, Facebook has redesigned again.

If you’re the admin of a Facebook Page, just click edit page underneath your profile image to see the changes.  I just want to quickly highlight a few changes, as well as share some tips that we pass along to clients.

Initial Changes

The first changes you’ll notice are that Basic Information and Profile Picture can now be managed from the back end. The best change I see in this is that on the Profile Picture area you can edit your thumbnail.  Schools miss the mark on this all the time.  Your miniature avatar in the news feed is how people see/perceive you.  They see you there more than on the actual page, where your full logo is.  (You could previously (and still can) change this by hovering over the profile image on your page, clicking the pencil, then clicking edit thumbnail. Lots of people missed that area, so Facebook has brought it out front.)

Click Settings… Then Options…

It used to be a complicated multiple click manuever to get to the Page settings.  Now, these permissions are all hosted on the back panel as well. You can hide your page (which used to be in a dropdown titled ‘unpublished’, but is now a checkbox), country restrictions (very useful from an international standpoint), and decide what the wall tab shows (please choose All Posts and avoid ‘Just Others Syndrome’, a common higher ed mistake I’ll cover another day.)

Admins (HALLELUJAH!)

I used to answer this question at least twice a month, and actually just have a template email queued up for it.  You might have heard it before too.

I can make you an admin of the page, but we need to be friends on Facebook first.

Wrong.

There used to be a small area at the bottom where you could add an email (we called this the “Don’t want to be your boss’ friend on Facebook” option), but it was overlooked by many.

Now, adding by name (friends) or email is the standard option, and much more streamlined. Simply type in the friend’s name OR the email and you’ll get the same results.

Change your Page Name!

I honestly can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a client create a Facebook Page, have an internal discussion about the name of the Page, delete and re-create, then again, then again… then finally come up with the name they like best.

No more.

If you have fewer than 100 likes on Facebook, the admin panel will let you change the name of the Page! Just open your panel and click to edit under Basic Information.

What’s missing?

One thing is missing, and it’s the one thing I emailed a client to do yesterday. I hope they got to it in time. :-/

I currently don’t see a way to stop new events from going directly to your news feed, unfortunately.  This was useful for schools who were creating multiple events at once, or just created a lot of events in general.  Events is no longer listed in the Applications section, so I don’t see where this change can be made.  This was the old way:

Anything Else?

This new design is similar to the new admin panel of the redesigned Groups.  Do you see anything different or out of the ordinary? Leave a comment below!

Has Twitter Hit A Ceiling in Higher Ed?

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 10-14-2010

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The other day, Evan Williams from Twitter commented that ‘Twitter will get to a billion members‘.

I’ll talk to that in a moment, but I want to give you some background on my thought process first. If you want to skip straight to the data, see the lower sections.

Why don’t you tweet anymore?

I get asked about Twitter a lot. Sometimes in regards to my personal (declining) use of the tool.  Often, it’s about Twitter for marketing or recruitment.  I used to be excited about the possibilities of this tool but as of late, it’s probably apparent that I’ve dramatically changed my thoughts on it.

There are a few simple reasons why I’ve cut back.  For one, I have thoughts longer than 140 characters that I want to share. Tweets can quickly get taken out of context at this character limit, so I find myself expressing thoughts and opinions on other platforms instead, where I have more room. I also think that ‘sharing’ can be beneficial, but in a large group it hampers innovation. And that’s what I often see on Twitter. (Which, ironically, was my last blog post here in August.) You can be “working” all day, and yet not accomplish anything at all.

I’ve also read a few books that have made me re-think a lot of my digital life. Here are a few quotes that resonate with me:

–” The more connected we are, the more we depend on the world outside ourselves to tell us how to think and live.”

– “We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth.  Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do.  Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”

– “The goal is not longer to be ‘in touch’ but to erase the possibility of ever being out of touch. [...] Although we think of our screens as productivity tools, they actually undermine the serial focus that’s the essence of true productivity. And the faster and more intense our connectedness becomes, the further we move away from that ideal.  Digital busyness is the enemy of depth.”

– “When a crowd adopts a point of view en masse, all critical thinking effectively stops.”

– “By virtue of its interactivity, the digital medium is a source of constant confirmation that yes, you do indeed exist and matter. Thus we’re forced to go back again and again for verification. Who dropped my name? Are there any comments on my comments? Who’s paying attention to me now?”

Quotes from Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers

There’s quite a bit to unpack here.  But it boils down to this for me: I’m in the knowledge industry. (You probably are too.)  My job to think and implement.  When I impede the process of thinking and learning, I become less valuable.  The opportunity cost of spending excessive amounts of time on Twitter is too great. It took me nearly a year to learn this. To paraphrase another great book, I want to go where my competitors don’t go and read what they don’t read.  That just doesn’t happen on Twitter. I no longer look there for verification either. I don’t care how many people follow me (although we will look at this data next). I also don’t care how many RSS subscribers I have.  I want deeper, more meaningful thoughts and interactions instead. I seek verification through a successful client project, not a single tweet.

Depth.

On a side note, I’d also encourage you to take a moment to read what Joel Goodman says about the state of higher ed web. There is great value in contrarian opinions.

Has Twitter Hit a Ceiling?

Now, to finally expand on the original topic of this post.  Twitter and 1 billion members. My response? Not Likely, and only if the growth is in international countries.  At a conference earlier this year I responded to a question about Twitter’s growth as follows:

You’re either on Twitter, or you’re so sick of hearing people talk about it that at this point, you’ll never join it.

This would not be the case in countries where Twitter has not taken off, leaving  potential growth there.

We know Twitter is great for one-to-many communication. And breaking news. And listening to your customers. I get all that.

Facebook sits at 500 million users, with approximately 70% of users outside of the USA. Twitter sits at 100 million users, and I honestly see no direct way for them to reach 1 billion members. Realistically, I think Twitter is approaching the end of its growth cycle.

That’s the world.  Let’s talk about Higher Ed.

My follower numbers on Twitter have essentially crawled to a halt. It might be because I don’t use it as much, or because I don’t seek validation there, but I think the biggest reason is that Twitter has hit a ceiling in higher ed.

[I'm talking about professional/personal usage by employees in the industry here, not our audience's usage. But on that side of things, BlueFuego tracked nearly 2,500 higher ed accounts in 2009 and many were seeing 50-100% growth month over month over month. We stopped research in early 2010 because growth was slowing very rapidly.]

2009 was a huge year for Twitter usage/adoption in the higher ed community. But, I think everyone who is hereis here. This is our community. There will be some people that filter in and out of the industry, but for the most part, we are our audience at this point. We’ll slowly grow, and may actually decline, but the cast has been set.

To confirm my thoughts, I started looking at data of other users in higher ed.  I pulled the 3 month growth rate of the 50 most influential people in higher ed (determined by WeFollow.com) using TwitterCounter. I also split the audience into 3 areas: Student Affairs, Marketing/PR, and Blog/News/Company.

You can see all of the data here

The list shows that higher ed blog/news/company accounts continue to see strong follower growth (an average of 17%).  There is the underlying incentive for them to grow an audience: more traffic, more ads, more business, etc.

The student affairs crowd in higher ed has seen an average of 11% growth since July 15th. And for good reason.  They are a very strong group.  #SAChat (article) is allowing student affairs professionals to find each other and connect.

Then, we have “the rest of us”.   The marketers, the bloggers, etc. Average growth for us: 5%.  We’re a bit different than student affairs.  SA already has their students and wants to help each other communicate with them better.  We… well, we’re competing for students and might not want to share quite as much to everyone. :)

If we haven’t hit the ceiling yet, we’re approaching it.  Either fewer people are joining, or we’re less likely to follow others.  I acknowledge that there are a wide range of variables that come in to play, but I think it’s quite clear that we’re at the top of the rollercoaster ride, and it’s only a matter of time until it heads back down the slope.

I’ll never have 4,000 followers on Twitter. I might never even reach 3,500. And you know what? I’m fine with that.

Because I need to do a better job at connecting with the 3,300 that are already there.

Which makes me think about my (your) job.

At what point do we stop investing all our time and resources in growing these new online communities and focus more on who’s already listening?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Discovering Your Own Voice

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education | Posted on 08-16-2010

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I’ve been making a conscious effort to get back to blogging both here and over on the BlueFuego blog. After my blog post last Friday, I got an email from a friend/subscriber.

The email, in a nutshell, was this: “Less theory, more application.” They noted that my early posts on here (2007-2008) were more how-to’s and walkthroughs with the web! Or in other words, the content has gone from micro to macro, providing more top-level ideas and thoughts that take some consideration and application to make it relevant to what you do. It’s not just a “do this”, it’s a “think about this in regards to what you do.”

There’s plenty of reason for that. On one level, my work has shifted from being very hands-on with one school to now consulting 10-15 institutions at a time, where we seek to educate and empower them to do great work. Also, I believe the culture of sharing in higher ed marketing has gone awry. I’m very purposeful in what I post here now vs. then. I think this section from the book Rework sums it up well, especially for me as I continue to discover my blog voice. Read this:

Don’t Copy

Sometimes copying can be part of the learning process, like when you are an art student replicating a painting in a museum or a drummer playing along to John Bonham’s solo on Led Zepplin’s ‘Moby Dick.’ Where you’re a student, this sort of imitation can be a helpful tool on the path to discovering your own voice.

Unfortunately, copying in the business arena is usually more nefarious. Maybe it’s because of the copy-and-paste world we live in these days. You can steal someone’s word, images or code instantly. and that means it’s tempting to try to build a business by being a copycat.

That’s a formula for failure though. The problem with this sort of copying is it skips understanding — and understanding is how you grow. You have to understand why something works or why something is the way it is. When you just copy and paste, you miss that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of all the layers underneath.

[...]

Plus, if you’re a copycat, you can never keep up. You’re always in a passive position. You never lead; you always follow. You give birth to something that’s already behind the times — just a knockoff, an inferior version of the original. That’s no way to live.

How do you know if you’re copying someone? If someone else is doing the bulk of the work, you’re copying. Be influenced, but don’t steal.

Understanding is how you grow. Copycats never lead. What you create is a knockoff. Isn’t that reason enough to want to do something on your own? To spend the extra time actually learning what it means than just copying it and moving on?

I am very purposeful about this, about not asking “I need examples of universities using ____ well” or “can you share examples in higher ed with me of schools that are doing _______”. There’s no real value in that, in my opinion. Plus, I am paid for what I know and truly understand, not what I can Google and regurgitate

Copying verbatim is just a shortcut to the end, skipping the steps in between to understand how and why something works on the web. (Don’t get me started on the other vendors and consultants who do this and then just repurpose your answers for their clients or presentations. :) )

Legwork. It’s a constant statement in my workplace. Legwork always, ALWAYS wins. But not everyone wants to put forth that level of effort. Do you?

And to close with my favorite quote from President Steven Sample at USC: “You cannot copy your way to excellence; rather, true excellence can only be achieved through original thinking and unconventional approaches.”

Setting the Precedent

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 08-13-2010

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I got my car serviced today. A 60,000 mile tune-up. I never did tune-ups before I owned this vehicle.

As I sat there for 3 hours, working from the lobby and making calls, my mind drifted to why I sat there. Why I do this, with this car. We’ve never done any tune-ups on my wife’s car. Or my last vehicle. Or any other car I’ve ever owned.  But this one… it’s at the dealer every 7,500 miles.

It’s because of the precedent that has been set.

Before I bought this vehicle, I rummaged through the service records in the glove box.  Immaculate.  Literally. Take a look below. The person before me not only hit every service interval, but often did it 1-3,000 miles before it was even due. Proactive maintenance.

As I sat there, I thought about precedent. The one that had been set before me on this car.  The fact that I knew what I was taking over from the person who owned this vehicle before me (perfection). And finally… the fact that, for the first time in my history of owning a vehicle, I felt compelled enough by seeing a page with stamps and signatures on it that I continue to follow the maintenance/service intervals. Again, it all came down to the precedent.

Your Job

You’re not going to be at your job forever. Agreed?

But the precedents you set, they’ll stick around.  Your work ethic. Your management and leadership.  The way you run meetings. How you handle conflict.  How much time you waste on Twitter. The small things, the big things, and everything in between.

What kind of framework are you laying down? When the person who steps into your place next takes over, what are you leaving them? Hopefully, something that’s exciting to be a part of.

Care. Care enough to want to do better than the person who had your job before you, and care enough to leave something worthwhile for the person after you.

Instead of an expectation of mediocrity in your workplace, what would a precedent of excellence look like? Where dragging out deadlines and pushing things to “phase 2″ was simply not good enough? And “work hours” actually meant “productive work hours”?

Create a precedent in everything you do that makes people want to continue it and take it further, even if they never met you, and regardless of the cost.

Can I have your attention, please?

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Analytics, Higher Education, Marketing, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Viral, YouTube | Posted on 06-16-2010

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I ran across this interesting graph at ThoughtGadgets, which shows data from TubeMogul, news outlets and “YouTube stars”.  The lifecycle of a typical YouTube video.

The half-life of a viral YouTube video is now 6 days. Charlie bit me.  David after Dentist.  Evolution of Dance.  Videos have typically stuck around for awhile.  Now, with increasing saturation of content and decreasing attention span (are you still there?), the shelf life of your efforts is quickly diminishing.  75% of eyeballs on a video happen in the first 20 days.  Viral lasted twice as long in 2008.  What’s the future hold?  More of the same.  I’d expect the half-life of a viral video to be 3-4 days within 18 months.

In the future, viral trends will come and go so quickly that most won’t even know they existed. This is huge to understand.  As the web continues to evolve into many micro-communities that make up the whole, it’s possible for trends and memes to sweep through certain areas but not others.   This isn’t the Twittersphere of 2008 anymore.

How to stay relevant and successful? Think narrow, not broad.  Focus on your direct, relevant audience. And most of all, just hope that luck is on your side.

Never Stop Learning.

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education | Posted on 06-10-2010

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If you’re working with the web, I truly hope you enjoy learning.  A hunger for learning will not only help you with your web efforts, but also make them more productive and fruitful. Never stop learning.

This is just one (very simple) snippet I shared during my keynote presentation at the Penn State Web Conference on Tuesday. Learning is not just vital, it’s necessary for anyone who’s going to deal with the web.

A few quick examples of why I’ve seen the importance of learning this week:

1) On Monday, I presented a two hour workshop on Facebook at the Penn State Web Conference.  One thing we talked about was Facebook Insights.  Sure enough, as I was presenting, Facebook released, a new, more robust platform for Insights. (You can find it at http://facebook.com/insights).  These new Insights are now giving us valuable data on referrers, tab visits, what content is getting the most interaction, and much more.  It’s a huge step for measuring metrics on Facebook.

2) On Wednesday, I presented twice at EduComm (one with Scott Kilmer from ACU, and one with Diane McDonald from Texas A&M).  A question that came up (actually, it came up in Monday’s workshop as well as last Friday’s workshop with the Independent Colleges of Indiana!) was regarding Facebook Page Administrators.  It’s been a long issue that the original page creator/administrator was forever hooked to the Facebook Page. (The “known bug” is still listed in the FAQ.)  This is a question we hear a lot, and we’ve honestly never had a great answer for other than to put administrator rights as high up on the chain of command as possible.

After noticing this on our own BlueFuego Facebook Page, checked approximately 45 pages that I am an administrator on, and the option to remove any Administrator was consistent throughout.

Now, it appears that you can remove any administrator from a Page, regardless of who started it.  This solves huge problems for employee turnover in higher ed, as well as even shifting responsibility of Pages within the organizational structure.   The small changes really do make the difference, some days. :)

6 presentations in the last 6 days, and the things I’ve said and shared are correct now… but for how long?  Two of the things I shared are already outdated, and we’re not even to Friday yet!  Have a thirst for knowledge and you’ll go very, very far.

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Brad is the CEO at BlueFuego, Inc.  Be sure to subscribe via RSS or email for future posts, including some tips on how to never stop learning.

Bird on a Wire?

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 05-13-2010

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This is an article that I wrote for the May/June 2010 issue of CASE Currents, and it has been republished with their permission. Would love your thoughts and comments. Enjoy!

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Bird on a Wire: Twitter the next big thing or dead on arrival?

By Brad J. Ward

The baby bird has officially left the nest.

Since its launch in 2006, the social media tool Twitter has grown from a “wait-and-see” communications site to a mainstream media darling. Last year was the tipping point for this site, which is as easy to use as it is to confuse. As its popularity has grown, there has been a shift in the way Twitter is used. Early Twitter adopters would follow thousands of users they’d never met, but as the platform has become more mainstream, the norm has changed.

According to a recent report from media analysis firm Sysomos.com, 92.4 percent of Twitter users follow less than 100 people. New users are more reserved, tweet less, and follow a more select group of people that they know. This means that institutions need to provide value in their Twitter feeds, or they simply won’t be followed by the audience they want to reach.

While Twitter can be effective, its traffic still falls far behind other social Web platforms in the United States. According to Compete.com, Facebook’s traffic is 467 percent higher than Twitter’s, with YouTube seeing 314 percent more use, and even MySpace getting 115 percent more traffic.

Regardless of the hits that each site receives, many institutions are launching official Twitter accounts. According to a March 2009 study conducted by BlueFuego, only 9.4 percent of 1,387 alumni association home pages had social Web page links. In December 2009, the number had risen to 34.8 percent, with the presence of a Twitter callout on alumni home pages increasing 327.8 percent since the initial study. LinkedIn increased 12.5 percent, and Facebook increased 5.1 percent.

What type are you?

BlueFuego wanted to dig deeper, so in April 2009, we began classifying more than 2,000 higher education Twitter accounts to better understand how colleges and universities are using the tool to interact with their followers. All accounts were divided into five categories based on the type of updates that they publish. (See charts on page 34.)

Type 1 accounts (32 percent of higher education accounts) provide only news and do not engage in conversation with their followers. These accounts use tools like Twitterfeed.com to push an existing news feed of information to Twitter. Their accounts consistently tweet links that take followers back to their .edu site or an institutional Facebook page. Updates are typically about press releases and events.

Type 1 accounts regularly push out more updates than other accounts. This is due to the publishing of an RSS feed, which results in several updates daily. On average, these Twitter accounts push out 40-60 updates per month. (By comparison, our research of 1,300 Facebook pages in higher education shows an average of 22 updates per month, two to three times less content.)

Type 2 accounts (15 percent) are similar to Type 1 but interject occasional conversation into their tweet streams. If someone were to send an @reply, he or she would likely get a response. About 75 percent or more of the time, however, a Type 2 account is still just pushing news updates.

Type 3 accounts (22 percent) provide limited information but do not share links or attempt to engage with others who follow them. They may offer updates on the institution’s cafeteria menu or list the admissions counselors’ travel schedules, but little more. Type 3 accounts appear to have been created so that the institution has a presence on Twitter. On average, these accounts have fewer followers, follow less people, and have the least amount of updates.

Type 4 accounts (11 percent) are somewhat conversational–they occasionally interact with followers but generally just share 140-character updates about what’s happening on campus. Whereas Type 2 account updates consist primarily of links that send followers away from Twitter, Type 4 accounts do not link away from the site.

Type 5 accounts (20 percent) are very conversational. It’s obvious that staff members are actively monitoring the account and sharing a wide range of information through updates, including links, photos, and videos. They retweet information from other followers and provide varied information to their audience. Type 5 accounts average the most followers and follow back the most, a testament to having a person or team of people actively monitoring the account and engaging with followers.


The 50:25:25 rule

We recommend that our clients adopt a 50:25:25 model when communicating on social Web platforms. Try to make 50 percent of your tweets informational: deadlines, links to press releases and events, and other information that needs to be shared.

The next 25 percent of your tweets should focus on conversations about your brand. Engage your audience with questions or statements regarding your institution, such as: “Snow Day at State! How’s the weather where you are?”

For the remaining 25 percent of updates, engage your audience with conversations that are not about your brand. These updates can be about pop culture, world news, interesting events, and more. The goal is to get them to interact with your institution, but not necessarily about the institution.

The conversation myth?

“Social media gurus” have long argued that Twitter is about the conversation and that accounts that strictly share links aren’t effective. However, our research shows that these assumptions aren’t necessarily true.

Within the five types of Twitter accounts, we further segmented the groups according to who maintains them: admissions, alumni relations, athletics, PR/news, general institution accounts, and an individual college or department within an institution.

Athletics and PR/news have the highest percentage of Type 1 accounts–those only sharing links–at 58 percent and 55 percent, respectively. When looking at the accounts that average the highest number of followers, PR/news is at the top. Athletics averages the most updates per month and follows the most people.

These data show us that Type 1 accounts certainly have a place on Twitter. The audience doesn’t necessarily want to engage or interact with each of your accounts directly and might just be interested in receiving your content in their tweet stream.

However, accounts run by admissions and alumni relations, areas that tend to be more relationship-focused, average more followers and updates when they fall in the Type 5 category, as they are strengthening relationships through conversation and have more to talk about with more people.

Twitter for institutional advancement

Many institutions are now interacting with students in ways that would not have happened pre-Twitter. For example, Abilene Christian University in Texas (www.twitter.com/acuedu), which has a Type 5 account, was actively monitoring a situation in which an enrolled student would occasionally mention on Twitter that she was having a poor experience at ACU. The student’s updates escalated one day, and she exclaimed that she couldn’t wait to transfer.

Scott Kilmer, director of new media, had been monitoring these tweets and stepped in to reply to the student from the ACU Twitter account, saying, “Sorry you’re having a bad day. Send us an e-mail to feedback@acu.edu to let us know how we can help.”

By that afternoon, the student had e-mailed and was referred to student services to talk about how her experience could be better. Later that evening, her Twitter update read, “ACU has the best people. Beth and Haley are two of the most loving people ever.” She was referring to the student services manager and a retention officer that Kilmer put her in touch with after the initial contact.

“Using Twitter to listen to our constituency has been a great way to understand customer feedback,” Kilmer says. “With access to this kind of information, we can identify areas of need and act on them with a certain amount of validation from the average customer.”

Other successful Twitter accounts

Twitter can also help create stronger bonds with followers who have a pre-established affinity for the institution. It didn’t take long for Tim Cigelske, communication specialist at Wisconsin’s Marquette University, to see the value and take advantage of his institution’s Twitter presence.

Marquette (www.twitter.com/marquetteu) is a Type 5 and is one of a handful of accounts to fall in the top 10 percent of higher education institutions in the nation for number of followers, number of accounts followed, number of updates, and number of @mentions. The school recently launched the “Give Marquette” campaign, which was promoted through all institutional media, including Twitter.

One alumnus, who was one of the first and most active followers of @MarquetteU, stepped forward to donate after seeing a tweet about the campaign.

“He direct messaged Marquette via Twitter and asked how he could donate, so I connected him with someone who could work with him personally,” Cigelske explains. “In this case, he was looking to specifically support families and students [who] are ‘working their butts off to send their average-grade students to Marquette,’ since that was the case with him and his family. We gave him information on a fund that would do just that, and it worked out beautifully.”

Twitter can also be used to garner press, as Indiana University East has quickly learned through its @IUEast account. Nasser Paydar (www.twitter.com/paydar), IU East’s chancellor, was one of the first institutional leaders on Twitter, tweeting as early as January 2009. Sending out updates about topics such as campus events, student life and athletics, and the daily life of a chancellor, he is focused on making connections with the local community.

Shortly after Paydar started tweeting, the local newspaper’s education reporter wrote a story about it, and in the process created a Twitter profile for himself. The reporter now follows several official IU East Twitter accounts, which has led to an increase in coverage for the institution.

The future

Even though institutions are finding success with Twitter, the platform is not without its weaknesses. To put the site into perspective, there are more people playing the online game FarmVille on Facebook than using Twitter. Traffic has stalled in recent months (up only 2.5 percent in the past eight months), leaving many to wonder what is next for the site. It’s in an extremely volatile position, and 2010 will be a make-or-break year.

Furthermore, a January 2010 study of Twitter by Sysomos.com found that 50.88 percent of Twitter users and 56.59 percent of tweets are from people living in the United States. Compare this with Facebook, where 70 percent of traffic is outside the United States, and YouTube, where 76 percent of video views are from outside the United States, and it is clear that the international reach of Twitter is limited. An earlier 2009 study by Sysomos.com also revealed that 5 percent of Twitter users account for 75 percent of updates, which also shows that there is a limited audience engaging on Twitter.

Regardless of Twitter’s future, the shift in communication methods and preferences that the platform has created will last beyond Twitter itself. While Twitter is not, and will never be, a magical tool to solve all advancement communications issues, it can still be effective in communicating to your audience.

Shorter, asynchronous updates have become the norm across the Web, as people and brands share more frequent updates with their audiences. The one-to-many communication method allows institutions to reach a larger audience more quickly, but it also requires more time if an institution responds to each person and interaction.

Twitter should not be at the core of your university’s marketing strategy, but it is definitely a tool to be considered when developing your overall plan.

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Brad J. Ward is the CEO at BlueFuego Inc., an international higher education consulting firm specializing in new media marketing integration.

Copyright ©2010 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education; reprinted with permission from the May/June 2010 issue of CASE CURRENTS. All rights reserved.

Free Webinar this Friday!

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Higher Education | Posted on 03-15-2010

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Hey SquaredPeg Fans! Just wanted to pass along information about the Free on Friday Webcast that I’ll be participating in this Friday. I’m flying out to Philadelphia to do a live video webcast with Adrienne from TargetX on the 5 Fundamentals of Social Web Strategy.

See below and register at http://bit.ly/5Fundamentals for free.  Hope you can tune in at 3pm EST Friday!

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March 19th
“Social Web Strategy: The Five Fundamentals”
with TargetX’s Adrienne Bartlett and Brad J Ward of BlueFuego, Inc.

Two of the people who know most about using social media to recruit students will cover the five things you should be doing in your web strategy. Brad J. Ward, CEO of BlueFuego, Inc., will join Adrienne Bartlett to review the state of social recruiting.

They’ll focus on real-world examples and provide practical advice for building relationships with prospects.

Spend a fun and informative half-hour and learn the keys to building a social web strategy that works.
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Location Based Campus Tours with Gowalla

Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Marketing, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 01-28-2010

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Let me start by saying this is NOT going to be a blog post telling you to run to Foursquare and Gowalla because it’s the hottest thing since Twitter and you’re definitely going to want to invest all of your time and resources there. Because that’s not the case (yet?).

Gowalla, my preferred location based social network, has intrigued colleges and universities for months with its ‘Trips’ section of the site.  Trips provide a list of suggested spots for you to go to, and was previously a list up to the discretion of the Gowalla team.    It might be 5 famous restaurants in an area, or 10 great photography lookouts on the shore, or a bar crawl in Austin.  But until now, it’s been a headache trying to submit yours to the site.

That changed today.

According to the post, “You’ll be able to name your trip, give it a description, add up to 20 spots of your choosing, then publish it to Gowalla. Your published trips will be viewable in the Gowalla app by your friends. [...] Also, for now, you may only complete featured trips and trips created by your friends.”

I’m excited for this, particularly for one BlueFuego client that happens to have a very saturated population of iPhone users on its campus. I see value for First Week/Orientation, for visitors, and much more. But again, it works for some schools and will be extremely pointless for others. And if you create a trip for your university at this time, the only people who can see it are your friends. This might create a future headache of multiple tours of campus once everything is merged publicly.

Take a good look at your audience before investing too much time in these platforms.  But if you want to have some fun and try the newest toy, check out Gowalla or Foursquare today!