University uses Facebook to connect with students, alumni

The TCU Facebook Fan Page, “TCU – Texas Christian University,” is quickly becoming an active online tribute to the university.

Launched April 2, it has accumulated close to 2,000 fans. The page, which is updated several times daily, runs updates on everything from sports scores to photos of new buildings and videos of speeches given on campus.

What sets this site apart from others is that this site is run by the university rather than students.

According to an online Time Magazine article from April 3 , Web sites like Facebook are transforming the way some universities interact with their students. Facebook and Twitter give universities the ability to gauge student thoughts and opinions more intimately than ever before, and some are taking advantage of the opportunity by creating official pages, the article stated.

New Media Designer Amy Peterson, who runs the university’s Facebook and Twitter pages, said the purpose of creating an official Facebook page is to better help students and alumni maintain a close connection with the school.

“I think that as far as the university is concerned, it’s a really good way to stay connected to (students and alumni) and to have a two-way conversation,” Peterson said.

In creating the new page, though, the university ran up against an existing student-run Facebook page, she said.

Peterson said that when the university decided to build the page it began by looking at similar pre-existing sites. As it turned out, there is an unofficial Fan Page very similar to the one the university recently set up that boasts more than 1,000 fans. Peterson said that the university originally looked into cooperating with the page’s administrator to run the page jointly, but in the end decided to start a new one because the site’s manager could not be found.

Peterson said that the existence of a similar site did not deter the university from creating its own. Although it has many fans, Peterson said the site had gone stagnant. It was last updated in June 2008.

Other universities have taken their activity on Facebook even further. The New York Times reported that Emerson College is one of a few schools that not only publish an official page, but actively monitor and communicate with students as well. Emerson’s Facebook group for admitted students, “Emerson College Class of 2013!,” originally created by a student graduating from high school this year, is largely run by Emerson faculty.

Michael Petroff, a Web manager at Emerson, regularly answers student questions and makes recommendations about upcoming events for the incoming class members. Tim Douglas, another Emerson staff member, is also a group administrator.

Peterson said Texas A&M University, Southern Methodist University and Oklahoma State University also publish official Facebook pages, although none approach the level of activity among their students that Emerson does.

Ray Brown, dean of admissions, said his department has neither the desire nor the resources to monitor Facebook on the level that Emerson does.

“We’ve thought about doing something like that, but you know the reality is, who’s got the time?” Brown said. “This time of year we’re putting in 60-hour weeks and there’s really nothing else that we have time for, including our families.”

In addition, Brown said that as far as he knows no one in his department monitors the student-run forums on Facebook. The student-run groups are active enough as they are, and current TCU students do a good job of answering questions on their own.