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!
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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!

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts | Posted on 26-10-2010-05-2008

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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!

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?

Are Teens on Twitter? My 2 Cents.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Blogging, Concepts, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Strategy, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 31-08-2009-05-2008

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Another week, another blog post about the continuing debate of the question “Are Teens on Twitter?”

We first heard from Mashable, who reported in early August that the “Stats Confirm It“.  Then, the phrase ‘Teens Don’t Tweet’ was a trending topic all day long. Not because of the usual Mashable RT crowd, but because of teens coming out of the woodwork. At any given moment, search.twitter.com results would resemble something like this that day:

So the latest ‘research’ comes from a TechCrunch post, and it’s again spreading like wildfire. Don’t miss the first line of the article: “This guest post is written by Geoff Cook, cofounder and CEO of social networking site myYearbook.”

This research (or is it just a well-positioned promotion for MyYearbook??) is now causing people in higher ed to exclaim on Twitter that “More teens tweet than Facebook“.  False. Absolutely False. According to the post, a higher percentage of twitter users are teens than the percentage of Facebook users who are teenagers. But when it comes to straight numbers, teens on Twitter don’t even compare to teens on Facebook. Not yet, anyways.

Looking at Quantcast.com data, 22% of Facebook’s 98.7 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger.  That’s 20,614,000 teens.  On the Twitter side? 9% of Twitter’s 28.0 million monthly US viewers are 17 or younger. That’s 2,520,000 teens. According to that count, there are 818% more teens on Facebook each month vs. Twitter. More teens tweet than Facebook? Hardly.

Are they on Twitter? Are they not? What should we do?

Here’s the thing.  Twitter should not be at the core of your marketing strategy. Yet. But should you have a presence? Absolutely. Do you need to know how to use the site? Yes.  Are you building your presence and community as the site grows? I hope so.

If you use Twitter, remember the last time you complained about a bad experience with a company or site and they weren’t there to listen online?  What about your favorite brands that you desire to interact with online and receive valuable information from?  What do you think of them when they aren’t on Twitter, ready to listen? It’s a huge customer service opportunity. Conversations about your institution are happening all the time online, and in increasing frequency on Twitter.

Apply the same thought to your institution or office.  Twitter is not going to solve all of your goals and objectives.  But there are teens out there ready to engage and interact with you.  They want to connect with you, and if you are not there, you’ve missed an opportunity.  (Or worse, someone else takes over your brand/identity and runs with it like many universities we see in our research.)

Final Thoughts

The research is nice. But how much weight should you actually put into it? My challenge do you is this: do your own research.  Throw a quick survey together and integrate it into first week activities.

IU East did, and found out that 67% of incoming students are on MySpace, while only 60% are on Facebook. (Twitter? 6%.) If IU East had just ‘followed the research’, they’d be listening to everyone who says MySpace is dead and missing out on reaching a large percentage of their student and alumni base.

Almost a year ago I reminded everyone to do their homework after a conference.  The same thing goes for any research online.  If you’re changing your entire marketing strategy based on what Mashable or TechCrunch posts on their site, you’re going to have some issues. And if you’re retweeting and spreading this information without even reading or confirming it… please stop.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the research that’s out there? Disagree? Indifferent?  Let me know below in the comments!

ACU Live! Building Community around the Globe

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Community, Concepts, Embedding, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, Twitter, Video, Web | Posted on 26-08-2009-05-2008

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As many open their campus doors this week to new students, Abilene Christian University decided to open its doors to the entire globe.  And when the Opening Chapel kicked off at 11am on Monday, there were hundreds of alumni, parents and campus friends watching and praising along with the students.

BlueFuego and ACU paired up to create a virtual Opening Chapel, complete with uStream, Facebook and Twitter embeds at http://www.acu.edu/live.  In total, over 1500 people visited the stream within the hour, and a consistent 300-375 people watching at any moment. In total, there were 367 viewer hours on uStream for the hour of broadcasting! Alumni from around the US and as far as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil, Germany, and even a village of 400 people in Ukraine tuned in to participate in the opening festivities.  For many, it was the first time seeing a Chapel since graduating from ACU.  From others, it was a way to participate when they couldn’t make the annual drive this year.  But for all, it was an experience that built affinity and pride in their alma mater, ACU.

And ACU is back at it again tomorrow night, for the season opening Football game.   Pictures on the scoreboard from the 1,000+ students with iPhones in their hands (take THAT, SEC!!), live viewing parties from around the US being pulled into the scoreboard via Skype, and much, much more.  All a part of the continued initiative to increase affinity and school spirit and utilize the available technology.  I can’t wait to get down to Texas tonight to prepare for tomorrow’s event, it’s going to be a blast.

Take a look below at the ACU Live page, complete with uStream Watershed, Facebook Fan Page and Live Stream embeds, as well as Twitter hashtag updates. Below that, read some of the updates from everyone watching the event. I’ll be honest, I got goosebumps seeing the community interact with each other and participate in this event.

You want to see a school who’s doing some of the most cutting-edge stuff in higher education?  Keep an eye on ACU.

Social Web Callouts: Research from BlueFuego!

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Callouts, Facebook, Flickr, Higher Education, Research, Social Media, Strategy, Technology, YouTube | Posted on 03-08-2009-05-2008

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SquaredPeg is back with a new design and ready for another academic year! After a few months off from blogging I’ve had some time to get re-energized about this site and am looking forward to the coming months!

We released our initial BlueFuego research on Social Web Callouts on SquaredPeg 6 months ago and figured that the numbers were going to quickly grow. Now that we’ve compiled and crunched the numbers again, we’re excited to share some of our findings with you. Please feel free to pass this along to your co-workers and colleagues, especially if you are trying to make the case for your institution!

Social Web Callouts in Higher Ed

Of the 1,387 four year schools researched on August 1, 2009:
562 schools (40.5%) had one or more Social Web Callouts (SWC’s) within the criteria.
54 schools (3.9%) had SWC’s on all three criteria (Main, Admission, Alumni).
161 schools (11.6%) had SWC’s on 2 of the 3 criteria.

Of the 1,387 schools, 247 (17.8%) had SWC’s or links on the main .edu homepage. Of these 247 schools:
78.1% linked to Facebook
64.4% linked to Twitter
44.5% linked to YouTube
21.0% linked to Flickr
12.2% linked to MySpace
9.3% linked to LinkedIn
6.1% linked to YouTube (Embed)

Of the 1,387 schools, 235 (16.9%) had SWC’s or links on the main Admissions site. Of these 235 schools:
80.9% linked to Facebook
45.6% linked to Twitter
29.8% linked to YouTube
12.3% linked to Flickr
10.2% linked to MySpace
9.9% linked to YouTube (Embed)
3.4% linked to LinkedIn

Of the 1,387 schools, 282 (20.3%) had SWC’s or links from main Alumni site. Of these 282 schools:
87.23% linked to Facebook
42.20% linked to LinkedIn
40.78% linked to Twitter
18.44% linked to YouTube
12.06% linked to Flickr
11.77% linked to MySpace
5.32% linked to YouTube (Embed)

AIKCU and SMSummit

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Branding, Facebook, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Thoughts, Twitter | Posted on 10-06-2009-05-2008

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Yesterday was quite a day.  I drove down to Louisville, KY to meet with the good people of AIKCU and do a 3 hour workshop on the social web for higher ed. For the first 30 minutes of our time together, we connected in to the Social Media Summit, presented by Mark Greenfield from the PSUWEB09 conference. I ‘took the stage’ for 15 minutes to share a few Twitter and Facebook research tidbits from our extensive 60 day data.  It was really neat to be able to do this, and present at a conference from a conference.  The AIKCU members got to watch the participation of over 300 other higher ed professionals in real-time, and we had a great time.  (Yes, that was our laughter you heard… :) )  From there we moved into a lively discussion on a wide range of topics and had a great discussion.

(You can see some of the backchannel from yesterday here.)
(You can see the slides from SMSummit embedded below, or click here.)

But the coolest thing I saw all day was at Campbellsville University.  When I walked in to the building, I met Katie.  Her title — Director of First Impressions.

How awesome is that? How would your front desk person think differently about each visitor if they had a title like that? Kudos to Campbellsville and Katie for making a great first impression on me, and for having BlueFuego in town for the day!


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Simple Tip: Find and Follow

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Higher Education, Recruitment, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web | Posted on 18-05-2009-05-2008

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We’re heavy in commencement season, which means hundreds and thousands of people are sitting uncomfortably close to strangers and relatives for what seems like eternity to watch someone walk across the stage for 15 seconds.

So what’s a person to do when boredom sets in and they’ve read the pamphlet 3 times?  For some people, it’s time to update Twitter.

Bored Commencement

So what’s an institution to do?  Find and Follow.

Get on http://search.twitter.com, search for your institution and try several variations.  Abbreviations of the name, acronyms of the school, and the words commencement, graduation, etc.   You might be surprised at how many people you find.  And isn’t that what Twitter is all about?  Expanding your network to be able to interact with and share information with people who have an interest or connection to your institution.

Define your Efforts: Social Web Recruitment Funnel

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Facebook, Flickr, Higher Education, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web, YouTube, Zinch | Posted on 13-05-2009-05-2008

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I’ve had this thought bouncing around in my head that came out of a client visit/strategy session… a visualization of the traditional recruitment funnel in terms of the social web.  This is what I came up with.

(Click Photo to Enlarge)

*NOTE* –   This chart is by no means inclusive of all sites or tools available. This chart is meant as a visualization of strategy to help you think about a framework for your recruitment efforts.  This chart is meant to be thought about, modified to fit, and executed as resources are available.

The Social Web Recruitment Funnel

The Funnel resembles a traditional recruitment funnel (suspects -> prospects -> applicants -> admits -> enrolled), and is designed to dissect 3 areas of recruitment:  Seek, Engage and Retain.

Seek.

The students are not always going to look for you.  Traditional methods such as name buys, print and email still hold a place in your marketing/recruitment arsenal.  But take a good look at web-based tools and sites, for example: Zinch, CollegeBoard and Cappex. Facebook might also be a method of seeking potential applicants and this platform can be leveraged as a great place for prospective student Q&A.  Use email and print to reinforce your message and to drive students to your social web efforts. Your .edu website is still important and things such as ‘Get more info’ need to be prominent and easy to find/fill out.

Engage.

This is where it gets fun.  Build your social web presence to start engaging and interacting with these prospective students.  Think outside of the box. Never before have we had access to so many opportunities to connect and utilize free tools, but approach with caution and don’t overwhelm your audience.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.  It’s easier to make your web presence bigger. It’s much harder to shrink your web presence and cut connections and friendships with others on a platform you decide to no longer utilize or maintain. Allow them the opportunity to engage with you from the moment they show interest to the moment they step on campus.

Retain.

After the applications come in, your pool has decreased significantly in size.  Take the opportunity to create community with these students and allow them to interact with each other.  Host the conversation or set up a Facebook group for them to interact.  Promote it heavily through traditional methods such as email and print, but drive them to the conversation. If possible, scale back your efforts to a smaller collection of tools for this select group and focus on community management and getting them excited about your school and brand. Outside of the social web, continue interactions via yielding events and personal phone calls.  Use the web to enhance these connections and to network the students together.

Final Thoughts

These thoughts are from the 30,000 ft. view and hundreds of other decisions and ideas would go into each effort. A well-defined strategy would incorporate many, but not all, of these social web tools.  The most important thing is to know where your audience is and cater to them.

If you have any thoughts or comments, leave a message below or shoot me a message on Twitter (@bradjward).


Are you ready to Ignite the Fuego and work with BlueFuego on your strategy? Contact us today.
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Who’s Linking? Research on Social Web Callouts.

Posted by Brad J. Ward | Posted in Alumni, Analytics, Callouts, Embedding, Facebook, Flickr, Higher Education, Integration Week, Marketing, Recruitment, Research, Social Media, Technology, Thoughts, Twitter, Web, YouTube | Posted on 13-03-2009-05-2008

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This post wraps up Integration Week at SquaredPeg.  Be sure to check out the posts from Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday!

Today I’m lending the platform over to my partner and co-founder of BlueFuego, Joe Gaylor. Joe has spent the last week working on some very interesting research.  Over the past several months we have noticed that some schools are very up front with their social media efforts, other bury their hard work deep in a 3rd level text link.

While we don’t have specific research on this, we can tell you one thing:  To your target audience, the Facebook ‘F’ is probably just as familiar as other ‘brand name’ logos. So why not put it where they can see it? If you have a great Facebook page with tons of quality content and engagement, brag about it!

BlueFuegoAnalysis of Social Web Callouts on .edu Sites

Read the rest of this entry »