Is FacebookGate ‘Troll Marketing’?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Ethics, Facebook, Recruitment | Posted on 08-12-2010-05-2008

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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!
—-

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:

URoomSurf: FacebookGate 2010?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 19-01-2010-05-2008

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If you’ve searched for your school’s Class of 2014 group on Facebook, you might have noticed another group come up in the search results. The group has your institution’s name in the title, but it’s a “roommate finder” sponsored by URoomSurf.com. The logo for the group, a gigantic blue U.

When I first saw these groups popping up, I immediately thought back to the College Prowler / MatchU incident for the Class of 2009, or as you might know it better, FacebookGate.  And here are the two things I thought to myself:

  1. Whoever is behind this is fully aware of what happened with FacebookGate last year.
  2. Whoever is behind this learned that as a community, we weren’t big fans of them 1) using our official logos and 2) calling it an official group.
  3. Whoever is behind this learned that it’s best to be transparent about who is behind the group.

This year’s story starts with Scott Kilmer from Abilene Christian University, a BlueFuego client. He started with a general inquiry to URoomSurf asking for them to provide the contact on ACU’s campus that has purchased their services and/or given permission for URoomSurf to host a matching program with the indication that ACU’s residence halls would be able to fulfill the requests created there. After URoomSurf noted there is no affiliation, Scott asked that they remove the group, which URoomSurf would not. They did, however, change the name of the group from “Abilene Christian University 2014″ to “ACU 2014″. (Luckily, ACU owns the copyrights for both and Scott will now be pointing to 2 lines of the Facebook TOC: 3) We will provide you with tools to help you protect your intellectual property rights. 5) If you repeatedly infringe other people’s intellectual property rights, we will disable your account when appropriate.)

So this is where it gets interesting. I passed the email chain over to the rest of the BlueFuego team to keep them in the loop, and Joe comes back to me with a simple email.  ”Does this name ring a bell???” The WHOIS on URoomSurf.com brings up this name: Justin Gaither.

Either the person behind URoomSurf is so intimate with the details of FacebookGate that they even decided to register the domain name after one of the perpetrators, or it is indeed Justin Gaither who is again behind it, back for round 2.  The same Justin Gaither who owned a company last year called MatchU, which had no web presence and was left largely unremembered/unscathed through the whole incident as College Prowler took the majority of the PR hit.

I’m leaving it open as to whether it’s Justin Gaither behind this again, but here’s what we also know.  It certainly makes sense to forget the MatchU name all together and go with something else to match roommates, such as “URoomSurf.” It also lines up that there’s yet to be a website for URoomSurf.com, just as last year with MatchU.

So, here we go again. :) Here’s the spreadsheet of all of the groups and member names to date, feel free to chip in. We’re already seeing the same trends as last year, such as common names starting groups as admins.

http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AoR-2dTA7L87dGRlZVRNUFRHaFJXN3M4REtBYS0yQmc&hl=en

Here’s the list of 499 colleges and universities that URoomSurf intends to target (also listed on the 2nd tab of the Google Doc). Feel free to search schools and fill in the spreadsheet with the information.

Last year I mentioned that I thought this would be less of an issue if they had 1) not pretended to be official institution accounts, 2) used copyrighted images, and 3) had been transparent about who was behind the group.   They certainly listened to the community.  So now that you know the information at hand, what do you think?  What is the institution’s place? Discuss in the comments below.

And a huge thanks to Joe and Scott for kicking this off and making this post happen with their sleuthing!

UPDATE: Scott has successfully gotten the ACU and Abilene Christian University trademarks removed from the group name. It’s now called “Incoming students going to college in Abilene and looking for roommates!!” and no longer shows in a search for ACU 2014.  Nice work, Scott!

UPDATE 2: It’s nice to see they’ve actually put a placeholder on their .com site. We’ll see what happens from here.

UPDATE 3: I removed erroneous claims pointing to a Craigslist ad.  After last year’s Craigslist connection with hiring students to do the dirty work, I overlooked a sentence and did not fully read the Craiglist ad I posted.

How I Use Twitter

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Interview, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 13-11-2009-05-2008

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If you don’t use Twitter, this post will be largely irrelevant for you.  For those who do tweet, I hope it provides insight to my perspective and is a learning opportunity for others.

If you have been unfollowed by me, please take the time to read this so you can better understand.


(Tweetdeck for iPhone = I hate it. And yeah, that guy creeping over my shoulder threw me off at the end…)

I thought it’d be helpful to explain how I use Twitter, so that you better understand how my usage of Twitter might differ from yours.  I owe it to you and I want you to better understand me as a person and the motives behind my decision to cut back.

I Cut Back on Twitter


Late this summer, I was following around 750 people on Twitter, with about 2,500 people following me. (Overall, I’m a small fish in the Twitter pond.)  If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know that I have never hoped or intended to follow back everyone who follows me.  For me, it’s not feasible or beneficial to use Twitter in this manner. (Everyone views Twitter differently, and you are welcome to disagree with my view, but that’s what it is for me.)

Twitter started to ruin my Facebook experience.  I would see updates from someone on Twitter,  then again on Facebook.  I view Facebook as a more intimate relationship, so it made sense to me at the time to cut the cord on the Twitter side. Also, I was receiving these updates through the @BlueFuego account, which I monitor and filter through each day.

At the same time, I have made a conscious decision to cut back on using Twitter, as it cuts into things that are more important to me, such as time with family and putting food on the table.

How I Cut Back


I started systematically removed people, using a mixture of TweetStats.com, TwitterCounter.com, and FollowCost.com.  Factors that weighed into my decisions were the volume of updates, the signal-to-noise ratio (your definition of this ratio will differ from mine), and the amount of conversations irrelevant to me or my interests.  Not a single person was removed from my following list without a combination of these tools to decide. I did my downsizing in two waves, from 750 to around 400, and then down to 200 a month later. Looking back, that number could likely have been at 250 or so, as cutting people got harder towards the end of this process. And many of those last few are the ones whose feelings I have hurt. I should have known when to stop, but, again, if you know me you know that when I set a goal I reach it.  200 was the finish line for me.

During the this time I closely monitored my follower #’s and the amount of interactions I was having with people. For every single person, I was having the same amount of @replies and interactions with them as before, but I was able to follow Twitter better by not receiving as much noise.

Methods to ‘Following Everyone’ and Information Overload

Yes, there are MANY tools to help someone follow 50,000+ people if they wish.  Tweetdeck, Seesmic, and other desktop-based tools allow a user to segment people into groups (not to be confused with Twitter Lists, which we’ll talk about in a bit.). I’m positive that every person reading this utilizes something like Tweetdeck.

For me, following hundreds of thousands of people is not valuable.  These people usually have alternate ways of *actually* following along. You just don’t see them.

Even one of the most prominent bloggers and tweeters in the Social Web space, who I respect and admire greatly, has a separate twitter account called @My100, a blank account that is used for following a small crowd of less than 30 people. This person has recently blogged about Twitter Lists, and said he refuses to use them because people will feel left out.  It’s the same for his personal account.  It’s no longer possible to NOT follow people without backlash, because the precedent has been set, so this is one way that he has been able to cut back. At face value, everyone gets followed back and all is well. *Most* people with 5-10,000+ just sit on @replies and DM’s to interact with people. They don’t read what you’re actually up to unless it relates to them.

What about Twitter Lists?

Twitter Lists have recently been added, and they provide a way to follow a group of people without “following” them.  After trying a few higher ed lists, I have found Anne Peterson’s Higher Ed Twitter List to be the best one out there, and the one that most closely resembles the way I used to use Twitter.  It’s the one I follow, and when I’m at a desk, track to see what’s going on in the community. For me, this is a great way to stay abreast of what’s happening, in addition to the @BlueFuego twitter account. I have enjoyed Twitter Lists so far, because they offer me the flexibility to “stick my head into the fire hose” at my leisure and consume tweets when I can, rather than being forced to see them. But as far as mobile goes, they are useless to me. So let’s talk about mobile usage for a second.

Why YOUR Twitter is not MY Twitter

Here’s the deal:  Your view and my view probably differ.  Why? Because the way we use Twitter is different.  More than likely, you have a desk job (right?). You are able to use tools l have mentioned above to track, target, segment and follow many more people than I can.

This month, I will be ‘in the office’, meaning physically sitting at a desk for extended periods of a day, for a total of 4 work days. Four.  If you work a desk job,  you’ll be at your desk for 19 days this month.   You already have a strong advantage over me, because you can use tools like Tweetdeck and Seesmic to stay up to date with everyone, and let them run in the background of your computer all day.

While this month is hectic for me, it’s not that out of line of most months. I’m in and out of 3 conferences in one day each (i.e. not staying to sit and listen to other presentations, which would be more like a ‘desk day’ to me). I’ll spend 6 full days on site visits for clients, and I’ll have 19 flights.

So please imagine being in my shoes for a moment. (They’re size 13) Not only am I consuming tweets in chunks, catching up between meetings and flights,  but I’m doing it while mobile (and usually, while driving….).

I’d estimate that this is how I use Twitter for over 80% of the time.  This leaves a lot… A LOT… of scrolling and filtering through my iPhone Twitter app to get through everything. And that’s not how I want to use Twitter.

The Final Straw

If you’re still with me, I hope you understand this one thing:  I don’t tell you all of this so that you will empathize and feel sorry for me.  I tell you this so that you will understand me.

Rule #1: Family comes first. It absolutely kills me to miss tweets from my wife, my mom, my brother and cousins, and other friends that I interact and see IRL weekly.  One week during September, while traveling, I heard the same question from my wife or another family member three nights in a row on the phone. “Hey, did you see what I tweeted today about work/what the dog did/your dad/etc.?”
..…silence..….
“No.”
It kills me to say that.  I value the communication and relationship with my family above all else, and the moment at which I was frequently missing their updates because they were squished in hundreds and hundreds of other updates was the moment i knew I needed to downsize.

I have never intended to hurt someone’s feelings by not following them, but my personal decision to downgrade was first and foremost about family, secondly because I was usually receiving the same message across multiple platforms, and thirdly because my personal work lifestyle (mobile) does not match with my previous work lifestyle (desk job). Yes, there are mobile people who can handle it (at least at face value), but that is not my style.

What could I do better?

A LOT.  I could manage my time better.  I could travel less.  I could do a lot of things.   But this is where I am right now. I signed up for it, and I love it, but it’s not where I was 12 months ago. I’m a different type of Twitter user than I was before. My time is limited, my attention is stretched, my family is now involved. It’s a new ballgame.

Applications like Boxcar, which provide me push messages from Twitter for @replies allow me to be aware of anyone who messages me during the day, even more quickly than a direct message, email or Facebook message.  (Like yesterday, when I was criticized for not following to someone or responding to them, yet I got back to her within 60 seconds. :) )

If you’ve been offended by my unfollowings, here’s what you could do better: Understand.  Understand there is more than one way to follow a conversation, there are multiple ways to track what’s happening, and understand that you and me are very different people at the end of the day. That’s the beauty of the social web.  You use it how you want to, and let me use it how I want to.

And you know what I could do better? Understand. Understand the value you put on a connection and relationship with me. I horribly underestimated it, and for that I apologize. My intent has never been to hurt someone’s feelings. My intent has been to align my usage of Twitter with my personal needs.

You’ll Get There One Day

The day is going to come for you as well.  You’ll hit the point where there’s just too much.  You’ll undoubtedly cut down your list one day after you define and realize how you want to use this tool.  And when you do, when that time comes, I certainly hope you’ll better understand both sides of the issue.

If you want to be proactive, look around the higher ed community. There are people who have work/personal accounts, so that they don’t have to filter through the community noise. There are other people in the community who have never followed more than double digits. One person DM’d me to say she/he used Twitter lists to create a private “NOISE” list and a private “People worth following” list, and only track one of the lists. I’ll let you guess which one is used most. :)

Give Me Your Thoughts!

I continuously review my actions. If you think there is a better way for me to manage my Twitter presence, I’m all ears.  Please leave a comment to let me know where I’m missing a tool or opportunity to do better with staying connected. If you somehow fell through the cracks and I’m truly not seeing your updates somewhere, please let me know so I can fix that as well.

Thanks for understanding! And if you got this far, I thank you for your time and attention!
Brad
@Bradjward
Bradjward on Facebook

**Update** When you’re done reading the comments, go check out this fantastic post by @robin2go: http://www.personal.psu.edu/rvs2/blogs/renegade/2009/11/connections.html

Butler University sues Anonymous Blogger

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Community, Ethics, Higher Education, Management, Thoughts | Posted on 16-10-2009-05-2008

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As I noted on Twitter at the beginning of the week, Butler University has come forth with a lawsuit against an anonymous blogger for making libelous and defamatory statements about administrators on his blog, The True BU. This post is intended to be a glimpse at how The True BU got started, as well as provide additional insight regarding my previous communications with the defendant. Everything posted here is factual to my knowledge.

Several things about this story (more at Inside Higher Ed) are interesting to me, being a former employee of Butler and one who had several conversations with the student being sued (while under his moniker).

  1. A year ago to the day I posted the lawsuit link on Twitter, this student got his start as an anonymous commenter in our BUForums, an area that I was in charge of and the community manager for.
  2. This student had previously applied to be a Butler Blogger, and I had several email correspondences with him regarding it.
  3. We correctly guessed who the anonymous commenter was about 2 weeks after he began commenting in our forums, due to several pieces of ‘evidence’ that matched what he said with who we thought it was.

There is also a huge difference between how we handled the anonymous blogger in the Admissions area, and how the higher level university employees handled it.

Read the rest of this entry »

FacebookGate, Take 2?

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Ethics, Facebook, Strategy, Thoughts | Posted on 12-10-2009-05-2008

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Hard to believe it’s been nearly a year since ‘FacebookGate‘ took place, but here we go again! I received an email on October 8th about the squatting that’s already occurred, and saw a recent tweet from Rachel on Twitter about the issue.  The email notes:

Groups with the same few members exist for at least the following colleges and universities:

Swarthmore College
Widener University School of Law
University of the Arts
University of Pennsylvania
Ohio University
Millersville University of PA
St. Andrew’s University
Muhlenberg College
In addition, there are numerous other “2014″ groups that do not share the same small set of members.  However, they all have group descriptions that are strikingly similar. The description for each of these groups is something along the lines of the following, with the appropriate school name and location filled in for each respective school:
“This is THE best place for all the incoming freshmen/transfers of the Class of 2014. Just for those heading to ______ in 2010, this will be the group where we can talk about what’s going on and around campus.”
The fact that all these groups share similar descriptions suggests that these groups are all run by the same organization. I had hoped you would share your thoughts on the matter.
My thoughts on the matter: While I admittedly haven’t checked these groups for myself to see what’s going on, my initial thought is …. don’t miss out on this again.  It’s time to begin implementing your strategy of utilizing Facebook for customer service, retention and yieldin your incoming Class of 2014.  It’s ok to start the group and still let it run organically from there. Don’t view it as controlling the content, you just have the keys to it.
Also, consider a Page over a Group this year.  Both have their pros and cons, which I might outline in a future post, but the changes to Facebook Pages last April make it a very attractive platform over Groups.
What are you doing to get ahead of the game this recruitment cycle? How can you/we stop another FacebookGate from happening?

There’s something going down on Facebook. Pay attention.

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 18-12-2008-05-2008

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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.
Cornell.
Indiana University.
George Washington University.
Duke (?).
University of Alabama.
Tulane
.
Brown.
Northwestern.
Vanderbilt
.
Pittsburgh
.
University of Illinois.
Auburn.
West Virginia University
.
Michigan State University.
Boston University.
Penn State.
University of Wisconsin
.
Washington University in St. Louis
.
Temple University
.
University of Georgia
.
University of Chicago.
University of Iowa.
University of Vermont
.
Georgetown.
Dartmouth
.
Virginia Tech
.

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.

Justin Gaither.
Patrick Kelly.
Jasmine White.
James Gaither.
Josh Egan.
Ashley Thomas.
And more.

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?

That’s huge.

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.


*added 5:47pm

*added 10:28pm

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!

*added 11:37pm

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.

*added 12:25am

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’.

*added 1:03am

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.

*added 1:26am

We feel we can reasonably confirm that College Prowler is behind the mass creation of ‘Class of 2013′ groups on Facebook. More to come.

*added 1:40am

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.
Responsibilities
- 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.

(View screenshots here)

*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
Average:    3.71

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
Average:    3.66

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. :)

*First time to SquaredPeg?  Subscribe via Email or RSS today or follow me on twitter for more frequent updates.*

10% of Admission Counselors…..

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Concepts, Ethics, Facebook, Higher Education, Research, Social Media, Thoughts | Posted on 22-09-2008-05-2008

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Follow me on a journey… a journey of bad data, stretched conclusions, and mysterious results.

On Sept. 18th, Kaplan released a survey (remember this one?) that “at ‘top schools’, one out of ten admissions officers has visited an applicant’s social networking Web site as part of the admissions decision-making process.” The survey was conducted with a whopping 320 admission counselors.  [Link]

I caught the story on Sept. 19th when the Chronicle Wired Campus posted the results [Link].  They state that “One in 10 admissions officers has looked at an applicant’s social-networking profile”, which is a much broader statement than the original survey. Kaplan notes that they looked at an applicant’s social-networking profile as part of the admissions decision-making process. Reporting Fail #1.

And here’s Reporting Fail #2: The Chronicle article states that “The company surveyed 320 institutions among U.S. News & World Report’s and Barron’s top 500.”  Look back at the Kaplan article to see that the methodology “for the 2008 survey, 320 admissions officers from the nation’s top 500 schools – as compiled from U.S. News & World Report’s “Ultimate College Directory” and Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges – were surveyed by telephone between July-Aug 2008.”

So unless the Chronicle can prove or reasonably assume that they only surveyed 1 worker at each school, this statement is incorrect and unreasonably stretches the data across a wider sample.  We have 10 counselors at Butler. Kaplan could have called 32 schools and interviewed 10 people at each.  We don’t know, because it does not say.  But what we do know is that there is not a possible way to interview someone from all 500 schools when only 320 people were interviewed.

I admit that I should have clicked back to the original Kaplan press release to read more, but I took the Chronicle post for what it was worth, and commented “10% of counselors? Hardly an issue. Most of those who looked were probably only there because the student requested to be their friend.”  I can think of several instances where my co-workers have had prospective students friend them on Facebook, myself included.  And most of the time, I look at their profile to see who they are.

Fast-forward to September 21st on Slashdot, which a member reports “10 Percent of Colleges Check Applicants’ Social Profiles” [Link].  The schools involved are now only “prestigious” ones.  Following this article is a very heated discussion about this, over 300 comments at the time of this writing.

So we’ve gone from 32 out of 320 admission officers saying they have looked at a social networking profile of an applicant as a part of the admissions decision-making process, to 320 institutions being surveyed and 10% saying that they look at social networking profiles, to now…. 10% of colleges checking social profiles.

I’ve given the office a pretty basic explanation of how social media fits into the admission process. If you do it for one, you must do it for all.   And since you can’t do it for all, then just don’t do it.   Seems to work fine so far.  But when a student reaches out to be my friend on Facebook, then I friend them. And they usually ask me questions, because that is how they communicate.   It’s probably easier for me since I don’t read apps or make decisions, but I know our staff does a great job at evaluating the applicant the same as everyone else, and based solely on the materials included in the app.

How does your school handle all of this?

Legally Drinking Before College? Maybe…

Posted by Chris Potts | Posted in Ethics, Higher Education, Thoughts | Posted on 20-08-2008-05-2008

7

So many of you may be aware that in the past several weeks there has been an age-old nationwide debate re-surfacing regarding lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18. This time, however, colleges and universities are squarely in the middle of the debate as there is a petition circulating among collegiate presidents, urging federal and state lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age.

I was surprised to read the other day in the Indianapolis Star a summary article about this, where Butler’s president Dr. Bobby Fong came out in strong support of this measure and has signed the petition – much to the chagrin of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and some other organizations (see: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080819/BUSINESS/80819011 for the full story).

I don’t know enough of the facts and haven’t thought about this enough yet to form my own rational opinion. But my question is: should colleges & universities be on the leading edge of this national debate, and if so – how (if at all) will it affect what we do as recruiters?

Clearly there are numerous implications should the drinking age actually change from 21 to 18, arguably the most noticeable differences being seen on college campuses; I suspect that is why many college presidents are weighing in. But I wonder if any college or university who publicly supports (or voices opposition against) this proposal will suffer the consequences in public image? If this is true then CLEARLY this will impact recruitment efforts.

Our Director of Admission has recently warned us that we may get calls and/or e-mails about this Indianapolis Star article, and so we are attempting to get a formal statement from our Marketing and PR folks about how to handle such contacts. I am curious to see how this all develops over the next couple of weeks and months – and welcome any comments from you, the readers of this blog.

Give them more than the expected.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Conferences, Ethics, Facebook, Flip Ultra, Google, Logo, Marketing, Research, Social Media, Speaking, Technology, Tuition, Usability, YouTube | Posted on 04-06-2008-05-2008

6

Let’s talk a little bit about expectations of an admission website, and the evolving nature of it. I’m going to speak in terms of the Whole Product Concept, which some of you might be familiar with. It looks like this:

Read the rest of this entry »

Admission Espionage

Posted by Jesse | Posted in Ethics, Higher Education | Posted on 02-05-2008-05-2008

11

The education industry is a funny creature. We go to conferences and openly share experiences, strategies, and methods. Then we go home, sign up fictitious characters on other schools’ mailing lists with our home addresses to get the actual materials and communications. We create applications (not submitting them of course…) with other schools’ to see what kinds of designs others have, and what questions are asked.

My question- Is this Ethical?

Could you consider this espionage? Let’s break it down. Our communication flows and application process is considered our informal intellectual property. It’s how we put things together to make our class every year. It’s how we hope to create a program that will be better than our competition (schools our size and region). Would you want to disclose your entire communication flow to a school with comparable size and region?

If your answer is no, then your stance on this subject seems to be set in stone.

If you are willing to share your information with competitors, then this issue takes on a different light. There’s no harm in asking your counterparts in other institutions how they do things. I think most of the time (especially at conferences) you will find people extremely receptive to sharing at least the framework of what they are doing. The likelihood increases when the information sharing is reciprocal.  You also have the added benefits of being open, honest, and helpful.

This Admission espionage is something that you can’t really enforce, or even identify – it’s just up to the honor system here. One thing people may or may not think about is the amount of money you cause a school to spend on fake prospects. We all know each school has a substantial budget and money for 1 campaign doesn’t seem like much – but what if 10-20 schools are “testing” another institutions’ communication flow? Now we’re talking about hundreds of dollars being spent – and they’re making a direct financial impact on the “target”.

So what do you think? Is this just something we do, or should we think twice about signing up Mickey Mousee to check out University X’s visit piece?