Facebook Class of 2012: 3 Months Later

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Web | Posted on 03-26-2008


It’s really hard to believe that nearly 3 months since I first posted about the Class of 2012 group on Facebook, and 2 months since I went public with the data tracking. I mentioned on that post that I would post occasional updates, and I thought the 3 month mark would be a good one.

Here’s the chart after 3 months, which is tracking Members, Wall Posts, and Discussion Posts:

(View full spreadsheet here)
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(While you’re at it, Subscribe to SquaredPeg here. :) )

Now, some general observations. The conversation has taken what I believe is a typical course for this type of online/community interaction: Starting at “where are you from?”, going to “what major”, then on to “what early reg date are you going to?” and finishing with a deeper connection level, such as Roommate surveys, what dorm to live in, meeting up this summer, etc.

Looking at growth, it’s been steady. We just had our first of 9 Early Registration Friday’s, so as more people realize they have their @butler.edu email and talk with others, I think the group will grow more. We have also added a flyer about the Bloggers and BUForums in their packet, so I’ll be tracking that group as well.

Discussion posts are starting to rise above the # of members, meaning that students are now engaging in dialogue and coming back to threads to post again.

For reference, the Butler Class of 2011 group ended with: 750 members, 2817 wall posts, and 2135 discussion posts. It’ll be interesting to see how the Class of 2012 stacks up against that.

In closing, Tom at thesablog.org covered this research and left some open ended questions at the end. Here are my answers, Tom and I would both love to hear yours!

  1. Should an official of the institution (probably someone within student affairs / admission) create groups for 2013, 14, 15?: I have considered it, but for now I think I will let the group evolve on its own.
  2. Will students use the group if it is school sponsored?: I have seen some examples of this failing, and not many/any of it succeeding. I think it is possible, if approached correctly. What’s the correct way? I’m not sure. I think it also depends on the type of school you are at and what your demographic of student is. From what I have seen, more affluent students will typically seek out these types of groups, whereas schools with a different student body will just show up in the fall and start taking classes.
  3. Are the students who create the groups student leaders in high school? What is their motivation?: I would like to talk to the student who created the group, but they have not deposited yet (another interesting thought: what if the student who starts the group doesn’t come to the school, but still has the administration over it? Refer to #1.)
  4. Are these students willing to work with (or even be hired by) the institution to manage the group?: I don’t think this would even cross their mind, but I bet they’d welcome it if approached. Again, approach delicately and consider your strategy for doing so. Would definitely be worth talking to admission counselor about the student.
  5. Are institutions willing to give up the control and outsource the work to an incoming freshman?: I am, but I am not the instutition, just 1 component of it. I think most (90+%) institutions are oblivious that this conversation is even taking place, so in a way it’s already been outsourced and is up to the students to create and cultivate the community.

Again, subscribe to the RSS to be reminded of the weekly updates, and I’ll post again early summer with more thoughts and findings.

Comments posted (8)

“2. Will students use the group if it is school sponsored?”

It has been a couple months since I’ve scoured Facebook for these groups, but I only found a few out of the dozens I bookmarked that had “official” college presence on them (i.e. someone from admissions) as an officer, admin, or simply someone answering questions.

From my experience “official” college presence in a Faceook group might be a slight deterrent to conversation (tough to detect, obviously), though I’ve found this to be less true with Facebook groups than with forums/bulletin boards set up by the college. Proactive promotion by admissions (in terms of invites, discussion topics, etc.) can spur a lot of conversation and have great benefits, as well.

Kids will still talk about parties, they’ll still swear, etc. Perhaps the tone of conversation is because it is easier to get a greater number of members in a Facebook group than on a forum on the college’s own site. Perhaps it is because they are used to being in the Facebook space and are more relaxed. Perhaps it is another reason.

As for admin control, there are a lot of reasons this may be desirable. At the very least, I would suggest that if you aren’t an admin of a Facebook group, start a random Facebook group up simply to see what controls the admin has.

One thing I’m curious about. Did you ever promote the unofficial 2012 group as a way for admits to meet each other/ask questions, or did you try to funnel them more to the bloggers? That’s one of the things we’re dealing with now: we have a fan page that we want to keep more promotional, and an unofficial group that’s been set up where there’s lots of discussion. So we’re trying to figure out if there are disadvantages to linking to the group, either from the fan page or even from our public site (where we’ll link to our fan page regardless).

Sarah – We have never officially promoted the 2012 group, we have our own forums (http://go.butler.edu/cs/forums) that we are trying to utilize. That might change next year, or we might use them both. We’re in the midst of some staffing changes right now, so there won’t be many decisions for awhile.

I have a Bloggers Fan Page that we were going to use to connect kids from Facebook –> Bloggers on Facebook –> Bloggers on .edu, but I did not get approval to use. Seems like everyone is extremely apprehensive about using Facebook as a recruiting tool, unfortunately.

I don’t think there is any disadvantage to linking to the unofficial group if you have some sort of presence/monitoring there to make sure proper information is getting distributed.


Which do you think has been the better resource for students the BUforums or Facebook group?

@ Sarah, the “class of” group has organically become a discussion destination for incoming prospective students to meet each other, regardless of the college. There is obviously power in that – prospective students are often starting and seeking out these groups without promotion by most colleges, and with active promotion these groups become even larger.

(I gained sole admin control of a Class of 2011 group about a month ago and grew membership 75% with one message to the group, and these groups are basically already dead when school starts. Why bother at this point? I’m thinking ahead to when they are alums…)

Ask a high school or college student and they’ve often never heard of Facebook fan pages (so far).

Beyond that, over time a fan page becomes a mix of current students, alumni, friends, and prospective students. That is much different than a discussion group for a specific incoming class where everyone is in the same boat: nervous and excited about college, looking for a roommate, etc.

There is nothing wrong with having a fan page for promotional purposes, and fan pages do allow different features, such as custom apps for RSS feeds, etc. My personal bias is that if you are looking to engage in conversation with prospective students, or looking for a home where they will help yield each other, “class of” groups simply work better.

@Brad, you’ve mentioned the apprehension others have about using Facebook for recruiting. I’m curious what reasons they give.

@Jamie, I’ve gone the forum route in the past and the Facebook group route this year, and for me Facebook yielded about 2.5 times the membership and overwhelmingly more activity in terms of discussion (with active promotion) than forums (also with active promotion) did.

Just checked: 580ish members (financial aid is out, so members are joining and leaving daily, so far with little net loss in membership), 583 wall posts, 115 topics, and oodles of posts within those topics (it would take some effort to add those up, and no benefit in doing so). My incoming class will be around 700.

Facebook groups are lacking in noteworthy ways as a forum tool, but given the greater buy-in by prospective students, I’m not going back to forums or even switching to something like Ning anytime soon.

@Rob – Thanks for the info! I want to come up with a proposal for this Fall and it’s going to be a tough sell since we haven’t done anything similar in the past.

Jamie – my suggestion is….. ‘Just Do It’ :) After the 12-page proposal just to get Bloggers, I changed my way of working on social media. Build it up and show them after. Just IMO though.

This is sometimes referred to as “innovation without permission” and, not surprisingly, is often associated with web 2.0 technologies and credited to/blamed on millennials in the work force.

Gone are the days when a software/technology project needs to be formally requested through proper channels and built by IT. Honestly, much of this technology can be used without the assistance of a Webmaster. Anyone can create a Facebook or Ning account and a group for admitted students. Anyone can create a document on Google and share it, or collaborate with a group of coworkers via an online spreadsheet or wiki. Anyone can upload videos to YouTube…

This is something that IT departments are struggling with. The struggle has less to do with their own relevance than with very legitimate concerns about protecting trade secrets, business intelligence and legal compliance. I worked for a major health care system where one of the physician/teachers kept a schedule on Yahoo! and shared it with his medical residents. It raises a few flags in terms of HIPAA, ACGME and tracking requirements, etc.

Why was it done, especially when there was a secure, in-house calendaring system on the health care system’s intranet? Adding permissions to view the attending’s intranet calendar to a diverse and frequently changing group of medical residents required a request through IT each time. IT could track who viewed the internal calendar, and this was necessary for privacy and legal compliance issues.

Do a Web search for “innovation without permission” and you’ll find quite a few articles and blog posts on the topic. The general discussion is about the culture within your organization. Is innovation without permission tolerated or even encouraged? Are there business intelligence, legal, or even productivity reasons it should be reined in? Are you likely to get your hand slapped or more strongly reprimanded if you use these technologies?

One could potentially argue that admissions should proactively set up the Class of 2013 Facebook group for reasons of privacy and protecting business intelligence. I won’t lay out the steps of how it could be done, but I could in theory (but DON’T in practice) check my competitors Facebook groups and proactively go after their students. (Brad could drive the point home to his superiors: competitors who know they cost less could find applicants in the Butler Class of 2012 group and steal those kids away. Maybe a competitor’s coach could even stumble upon the name of an athlete being recruited. Etc.)

If you set up the Class of Facebook group yourself, as the admin you can make it a closed group, so competitor’s can’t easily take a peek. One could also argue that you are protecting the privacy of your prospective students to some degree by keeping the group private and not viewable by non-members. (Some “official” college forums are also set up so only members can access the forum, though others are viewable by anyone.)

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