The trouble stems from academics always perceiving social media as a marketing initiative when it really, really is not. Social media, in an academic context is about communication and sharing in a public sphere. It is not about straplines, corporate content or being on message. It is about what we do, not just what we say. This is why one might call it authentic. Marketing people, however nice they are and however good their intentions are, just cannot do this for academics, they MUST do it for themselves.
And students need to be fully in this loop, not told what to do or how to make a better job of it. Sure, we need to work as a team with our student groups but to think that correcting them over details we see as sloppy or amateurish is just totally missing the point. We want the messy! It’s real! It’s not a lie! Someone didn’t come and iron out all the creases and make it horribly glossy and perfect (complete with that annoying blurry background).
The thing that has most changed as a result of our modern connected world is how we interpret content. TV changed how we interpreted advertising, and we became a lot more sceptical about the claims advertisers made about their products or services. The world of Don Draper (Mad Men) looks very very naive to us. And with the explosion of information on the internet, magnified exponentially by social media, we are now 100% more savvy than we were before. We are now exposed to hundreds of news stories a day – we see around 300 of a potential 1500 in our daily Facebook newsfeed, some trivial, some serious, some global, some personal. All this exposure leads us to develop highly tuned bullshit detectors which are essential to sort out the when to click when not to click dilemma of everyday existence. Facebook knows how important this is as they constantly tweak their newsfeed algorithm (aka Edgerank) to provide a better experience for their users. They recently began to penalise click bait sites like Buzzfeed or Viral Nova for their ‘…And then this happened!’ type of headlines which always lead to vacuous unsatisfying content. Soon they will likely do the same with boring corporate headlines too, unless of course they are sponsored ad’s. Because we can tell the difference, we don’t click on low quality content and this impacts the usefulness of the newsfeed. Facebook want the newsfeed to be very useful to their users, otherwise it loses its value and consequent worth to advertisers and shareholders. The 1.2 billion and growing Facebook Nation will begin to dwindle and no one wants that. Twitter won’t give us statistics on clicks and reach, probably because the truth would perhaps make us re-evaluate the worth of Twitter in these terms so it’s difficult to measure direct comparisons between platforms (impossible). We also don’t know if Twitter controls our feed in the way that Facebook does, although they are about to introduce more control in what we see by placing tweets from people we don’t follow, not only sponsored tweets into our tweetstreams.
Overall, if social media is to be really useful to prospective students as well as everyone else involved in the WHOLE student life cycle, academics must learn to take hold of this way of communicating and embed it in fundamental ways to their work practice. This is not about adding it here and there in tokenist and largely pointless ways. It’s about harnessing the real power of these communication tools to reinvent how students and lecturers work together to achieve their aims and goals.
We are so far only at the beginning of the impact of a post information revolution society, it is up to us to invent the ways that these tools can enhance and improve what we do and how we do it. So we need to be clever about it. I thought that’s what universities did best.
- Why Our Obsession with Facebook Page Post Reach is All Wrong, by Jon Loomer (2013)
- 10 Ways Universities Share Information Using Social Media (2009 Mashable article)
- Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media, by Moran, Mike; Seaman, Jeff; Tinti-Kane, Hester (2011, full text pdf available)