Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Blogging, Community, Concepts, Ethics, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Viral, Web | Posted on 12-18-2008
I really need you to listen up for this post. Please.
Something is going down on Facebook, and it has implications for your school.
Several weeks ago I was contacted by my friend and colleague Michelle at Winthrop about some questions pertaining to her Class of 2013 Facebook Group. The email read:
Since we are on rolling admissions I’ve been watching to see when a 2013 group would spring up. Interestingly we have no info on 18 of the 23 members. In fact, even though they are all out of state they all (include two 08 alum of Miami) seem to be connected. My only thought is that they could be a group of squatters? Would that even be beneficial to them? Have you see anything like this or have any thoughts?
I did some research for her, and looked through the friends of Patrick Kelly, the creator of the group. At first, I saw nothing out of the ordinary other than the two ’08 alumni and the fact that this small group of 16-18 students were all interconnected with each other, like she said.
Yesterday, we sent out our admit packets. Today, I got on Facebook to see if a Class of 2013 group had popped up yet. I found 2. One has the exact logo that was used for last year’s group, a non-Butler bulldog image, so I click on that one. And I look at the Creator of the group. Patrick Kelly, Plano Senior High School. I check our system. No Patrick Kelly that has applied and been admitted to Butler.
I dig deeper into Facebook, searching for ‘Class of 2013′ groups. And here’s a list of what I find.
University of Michigan.
George Washington University.
University of Alabama.
University of Illinois.
West Virginia University.
Michigan State University.
University of Wisconsin.
Washington University in St. Louis.
University of Georgia.
University of Chicago.
University of Iowa.
University of Vermont.
And guess what? This is only from the first 7 pages of a search that returns more than 500 results. Start looking at the names of the group creators and admins.
See how many times those names appear in admin for these groups, and look at their friends and see how many times those names pop up. A LOT. This isn’t just the Common App Effect, where students apply to every school under the sun. These people aren’t interested in going to every school they have started a group for. No, this is an inside ring with a common purpose. They don’t always create the group, but they do always get in, friend someone, and get control rights.
You might have the same thought I had at first. I responded to Megan, “That is very interesting. I don’t really see where squatting could be beneficial. After all, the students who join and participate will steer the group in whatever direction they take it. I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
Sure, not for one school. Not for tiny little Butler, with 900 incoming students.
But for 500+ schools? Owning the admin rights to groups equaling easily 1,000,000+ freshman college students?
Think of it: Sitting back for 8-10 months, (even a few years), maybe friending everyone and posing as an incoming student. Think of the data collection. The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links. The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.
I’ve said many times, step back and let the student group start on its own. Today, I change that position. It seems that we have been gamed, and we need to at least own the admin rights to the group in an effort to protect our incoming students. To end the possibility of them being pushed ads and “buy these sheets for college” stuff this summer. You know there is a motive behind all of this. And you know it has to do with money. And you KNOW you’re going to get calls about it when it happens.
Tomorrow I will set up the OFFICIAL Butler Class of 2013 group. Tomorrow we will promote it to our students, and explain to them why the other groups are potential spam. Tomorrow I will let them know we are not there to moderate them, but merely to provide the safe platform for them to interact and get to know each other. I encourage you to consider the same.
For most of us, tomorrow is too late already. Luckily my group has 2 students in it. Most schools are at 300+ students and growing every day. Make an effort now.
I can’t wrap my head around this all the way yet. I’ll be back around 9pm to write more. Please, join me and comment with your thoughts. What I have said above might not be the right solution. Maybe it involves Facebook’s help to take the ring down. For the first time, I truly believe we can’t sit back on this one. If you see more schools, add them to the list. Together we can figure out a solution for our incoming students.
And please, blog/tweet/email this out to others and link to this so we can have a common place to figure out the best steps.
I have created a Google Doc to start trying to tie the schools all together. Collab with me! http://bit.ly/W1Cg
It’s pretty neat to see everyone working together! Check it out. Thanks for your help!
About 15 people have joined me on the Google Doc (THANK YOU!!) and we are approaching a list of 150 schools now. Click here to see the progress.
To keep an eye on the twitter backstream as well, click here.
We have over 200 schools and are starting to notice some patterns. Certain names are affiliated with bigger schools, and others are with smaller schools. Some people are usually ‘creator’ and others are always ‘admin’.
A lot of the names are linking back to College Prowler. More updates after we do some research. *HUGE SHOUTOUT to the 15+ people helping out in the Google Document and on Twitter. You’re all awesome. Be sure to leave a comment so I can recognize you properly.
We feel we can reasonably confirm that College Prowler is behind the mass creation of ‘Class of 2013′ groups on Facebook. More to come.
Out of the 243 ‘Class of 2013′ groups we listed on the Google Doc, these are the most frequent names (n=493) listed as Creator or Admin of the group:
- Ron Tressler – 58
- Justin Gaither – 55
- Josh Egan – 42
- Jasmine Smith – 20
- Ashley Thomas – 20
- Mark Tressler – 10
- James Gaither – 10
Searching these names on Google, my colleagues found several direct connections to College Prowler via LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and more. Perhaps the most disheartening tidbit we found was a post spread across the US on Craiglist. Here is an example of a local ad put out for a ‘Facebook Marketing Internship‘.
“Viral Marketing Internship (Spring Semester)
An internship that combines the addicting glory of facebook with viral marketing? It’s true. College Prowler Inc., the Pittsburgh-based publisher of the only complete series of college insiders’ guides written by students, is actively seeking an unpaid viral marketing intern who has a solid understanding of the web, social networking, and interactive marketing.
- Implement Facebook marketing campaigns that will engage high school and college students
Hours: 15 hours per week
Salary: Unpaid, internship credit
UNPAID to do the dirty work. What a shame.
I am not here to say that College Prowler is a bad company. There was obviously a business motive behind the decision to create 250+ Class of 2013 groups. Unfortunately, we may never know that decision now that this has been brought into the light by the higher ed community. Stories can quickly be changed. An incentive can be a service with one PR release. Truthfully, I hope we don’t find out what future plans were down the road for this massive infrastructure that has been laid across Facebook to unsuspecting high school seniors.
I do need some sleep. I’ll revisit this again in the morning. Please add your thoughts and reflections and ramifications as a comment below. And again, thanks for your help everyone.
*added 5:50am, Friday
One thing that concerns me, after sitting back and looking at this. Most (75+%) of the students who are joining these groups list themselves as ’09 high school students. The position is for a college internship. I don’t know too many high school seniors looking to pick up an internship in the spring of their junior year. It reeks of inauthenticity. I also noticed several high school names popping up throughout as the networks that these people were a part of. Last I knew, to be a high school student and join a network you just had to have 3 people confirm you went there. Join a school, add random people as friends to confirm you (you’d be surprised at how many students would probably do this for someone they have never met or heard of), and you’re in. Also, I have noticed that the friend list of these ‘students’ are often alphabetical. Start with an A search and friend students until you get what you need.
*added 9:45am, Friday
With recent talk on Twitter about what a school’s role should be on a Facebook group, I thought this research would be timely. (To see all of my Class of 2012 Facebook Group research from last year, please visit this page.) I surveyed our incoming class of 915 students, and about 315 responded. These questions relate to the Class of 2012 Facebook Group:
16. Did other universities and colleges use these type of sites to contact you?
Yes: 70 22.44%
No: 242 77.56%
17. Were you ever helped with a question about Butler through a social media site?
For example: Facebook, Butler Bloggers/Forums, Zinch, etc.
Yes: 195 62.50%
No: 117 37.50%
18. How helpful is it to ask questions about Butler on sites like the BUForums or Facebook?
1 being ‘Not helpful. I would rather call.’
5 being ‘Very helpful. I like using the internet to get info.’
1 – 23
2 – 17
3 – 80
4 – 93
5 – 94
21. Butler Admissions’ involvement in the Class of ’12 Facebook group was:
1 being ‘Too much. Let us have our own area.’ 1 4
5 being ‘Perfect. Got questions answered when I needed help.’ 2 13
1 – 4
2 – 13
3 – 114
4 – 110
5 – 52
My research shows that it’s ok for us to be involved in a ‘Class of xxxx’ group.
*added 10:19am, Friday
Breaking News: @hollyrae may have found our list of intern students behind the creation. http://www.collegejolt.com
*added 12:03pm, Friday
Update: Luke Skurman, CEO of College Prowler, has left a comment.
*added 4:15pm, Friday
I have chatted with reporters at both The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed. Serious interest from them. Also emailed my contacts at Chicago Tribune and Campus Technology. Thanks to Sarah Evans at http://www.prsarahevans.com for her PR help. Might have a lead for a CNN story next week.
*added 7:51pm, Friday
I’m planning a small, free web-based roundtable next week for anyone who is completely lost and needs some help or clarification. More details to come. Thanks again for all your content creation and collaboration.
I’ve started Butler’s official group and drafted the email to all admitted students to notify them of the group and the tiny role we will play in it. I have asked in the email for students who wish to be the moderators/admins of the groups. That’s where we are at right now.